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Denying sexual assault is a serious crime

BY GUEST OPINION | SEPTEMBER 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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Heading off to college triggers a range of emotions for students and their families. For students, turning the page on life’s next chapter elicits a mix of pride, excitement, and uncertainty.

It’s not an easy transition for parents, either, no matter if campus is across town or a day’s travel away. Parents naturally worry about their children but understandably expect that they’re sending their college-age children into a safe environment.

As the first weeks of college get under way, students get caught up in the excitement of their home-away-from-home and so many new opportunities.

But when the unthinkable happens, victims have a right to know that they will be treated with respect, and sexual assault will be treated like the crime it is, not swept under the rug or treated like a charge of plagiarism or cheating on a test. The best prevention is the deterrent effect of swift but fair punishment of perpetrators.

Underreported or unreported rapes that occur on college campuses are part of the problem. That sweeps an ugly reality under the rug. It’s time for a reality check that takes fairly into account the rights of victims while ensuring due process for the accused. The stigma attached to rape has discouraged victims from reporting sexual crimes in communities and institutions of American society, including the U.S. military.

Like so many areas of wrongdoing, transparency is key to shedding light on the issue. Improving reporting tools will help bring this issue out of the shadows so universities can work to build a safer environment. This summer, I joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce federal legislation that would hold colleges accountable for responding to sexual violence, including measures to improve reporting, counseling, and prevention.

Our bill would require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys, polling students about sexual misconduct on campus. Results would be published online. Prospective students and parents would be able to factor in these surveys during their college search. Transparency is a remarkable disinfectant to help root out wrongdoing.

The bill also would put teeth in the law that requires colleges and universities to report campus crimes, including financial penalties for noncompliance. It would require confidential advisers for students to call upon for counseling or to report a sexual assault. On-campus advocates would help vulnerable young men and women get through the difficulty, doubt, and uncertainty. It also would set the standard that sexual assault is a crime and ensure that colleges inform students that it will be treated as such, including full cooperation with local law enforcement when the victim chooses that path.

Many colleges are taking steps to address sexual violence. That includes the University of Iowa, which is implementing measures to prevent sexual assault, sanction perpetrators, and better communicate with students when sexual assault is reported. Already, three sexual assaults have been reported on campus and conveyed to students in the early days of this school year. Reporting the information to students is not only the right thing to do for awareness and enforcement, but it’s also federal law. For those colleges that need incentives to do more, our bipartisan legislation would spell out the consequences in federal statute.

Our institutions of higher learning ought to implement the highest standards of ethical conduct and expectations for respectful, lawful behavior among the nation’s next generation of leaders.

There’s no excuse for flunking the fundamental standards of fairness and justice that every college student deserves. Denying a problem exists is Injustice 101.

Sen. Chuck Grassley
R-Iowa


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