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College Sexual Assault: Key Legal Issues

College is usually the first time young people get to experience freedom and independence. Many college students choose schools that are far from home in order to live on their own without interference from their parents. However, sometimes students aren't quite ready for the responsibility that comes with this sudden independence.

Unfortunately, this leaves college students especially vulnerable to sexual assault. In fact, sexual assault on campus is such a widespread and serious problem that there are various laws aimed at preventing and punishing it. Read on to learn about the key legal issues surrounding college sexual assault and the protections in place to help prevent it.

The Clery Act

The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges that take part in federal student aid programs to have school safety policies and report crimes that occur on campus. Under this act, any crime that occurs on school grounds and within school-owned property is considered "on campus." There are also other properties that are considered to be on campus, such as remote classrooms, buildings owned by campus groups, and fraternity and sorority houses.

The crimes that must be reported under the Clery Act are sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, robberies, aggravated assaults, arson, car thefts, burglary, and hate crimes. You can find information about these crimes in your school's Annual Security Report (ASR), which can be found on your school's website. If the most recent ASR isn't available on a college's website by October 1st, it means that the school failed to comply with the Clery Act. The Act also requires schools to warn students in a timely manner when there are known risks to public safety on campus.

Campus SaVE Act

The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act is an amendment to the Clery Act that increases the transparency on campus when it comes to sexual violence incidents. The Campus SaVE Act also sets standards for disciplinary proceedings and guarantees certain rights for the victims of campus sexual assault more rights. Finally, the Act requires that colleges and universities provide education programs addressing campus sexual assault prevention.

The Campus SaVE Act applies to the same schools that the Clery Act applies to, meaning colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs. In addition, the Campus SaVE Act applies to a greater range of crimes than just college sexual assault incidents. It also applies to incidents of domestic violence, stalking, and dating violence. The Act has many provisions, but its primary purposes are to improve both transparency about sexual violence on campus and the complaint process so that victims of campus sexual assault know their rights and know that they are supported.

The Campus SaVE Act broadens the reporting requirements outlined in the Clery Act to provide a fuller report of sexual violence, including any domestic violence, stalking, or dating violence incidents. The act also requires colleges and universities to provide sexual violence prevention and awareness programs for employees and new students, as well as ongoing programs. More specifically, the programs must include definitions of sexual violence acts, education on bystander intervention, risk reduction programs, and information on the schools' reporting system and disciplinary proceedings.

Victims' Bill of Rights

In 1992, the Campus Sexual Assault Victims' Bill of Rights was signed into law as an added part of the Clery Act. This law requires all public and private universities and colleges that participate in federal student aid programs to provide victims of sexual assault with certain basic rights. The law guarantees rights to survivors, accusers, and the accused.

The accused and the accuser are required to have the same opportunity to have others present (such as a support person or witness) at any disciplinary proceeding, and both must be informed of the outcome of any disciplinary proceeding. Survivors are entitled to receive notice of:

  • Counseling services available to them,
  • Their option to notify law enforcement, and
  • Their option to change academic and living situations.

Schools that violate this law can lose their eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs or be fined up to $35,000. If you believe that a school has failed to comply with this law, you can file a complaint under Title IX with the U.S. Department of Education.

Getting Help

If you're a survivor of a sexual assault on campus, there are people and organizations that can help. You can report the crime to the local police department. There are also organizations, such as RAINN, where you can find helpful resources for victims of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a serious crime that can carry severe penalties. If you or someone close to you has been accused of campus sexual assault, it's in your best interests to contact a local criminal defense attorney.

Related Resources:

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