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SUNY backs bill combating campus sexual assaults

Updated: 08/13/2014 7:10 PM
Created: 08/13/2014 7:11 AM WHEC.com
By: Associated Press

New York's public university system is the first to support a law that would strengthen colleges and universities' assistance for sexual assault victims while establishing strong penalties for non-compliance.

The proposed law was announced following a student's claim of sexual assault at Hobart and William Smith. That story made headlines in the New York Times.

On Wednesday, the Suny school system got behind the plan, making it the first school system to support the bill.

The bill has to be passed and schools have a year to implement the changes but there are provisions that should help you when you and your son or daughter sit down to pick a college.

Here are the main points to the Campus Accountability and Safety Act:

• Mandatory reporting of campus sexual assaults to the federal government
• A mandatory contract between colleges and local police on how they deal with assaults
• The creation of a confidential advisor -- someone who will work with victims of sexual assault they moment he or she reports it
• A mandatory yearly survey asking students questions about experiences with sexual assault. It would be anonymous and the federal department of education would publish an annual report that students and parents can access to see how many assaults took place at the school they're interested in.

“There's been a lot more talk about this but we've known that it's been a concern for years.” Libby Caruso is the Director of Health and Counseling Services at the College at Brockport. She says they talk to students about sexual assault prevention and the action afterwards during orientation, the first weekend at school and when they move into their dorms.

“So it’s reinforced throughout their freshman year,” said Caruso.

Brean: “If a student, God forbid, should be the victim of a sexual assault, are they going to know where to go and who to call?”

Caruso: “They should. Students who have that kind of concern would come through health and counseling. It’s a natural segway for that.”

So why do we need something like this? Look at these numbers:

• A woman in the United States who attends college is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than one who does not attend college
• An estimated one out of five women who attends college will be sexually assaulted during her time there
• 41% of the four-year colleges and universities in this country have not initiated a sexual assault investigation in the past five years

The authors of this bill think that shows some serious under-reporting.

If the Campus Accountability and Safety Act is passed, the Federal Department of Education will create a mandatory, annual survey of students to see how many sexual assaults happened at each school. Schools face a monthly $150,000 fine if they don’t administer the survey.

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