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Senators Fight Sexual Violence on Campus

Sen. Claire McCaskill took a break from campaign preparation in early April on behalf of an important cause: sexual assault prevention.

The Missouri senator, who will seek a third term next year, teamed up with Democratic allies and Republican counterparts on April 6 to reintroduce the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. The bill aims to heighten nationwide training and protocols related to sexual violence and assault, while more strictly enforcing consequences.

“Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but protecting our kids and students is something that cuts across every political divide, straight to who we are as people,” McCaskill said in a recent press release.

McCaskill collaborated with senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Dean Heller (NV), Mark Warner (VA), Marco Rubio (FL), Chuck Grassley (IA), Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Joni Ernst (IA).

“Combating sexual assault and instilling respect and empowerment in our kids is a value all of us share,” she said.

The bill presents several strategies to defend this value: increased resources for survivors, stronger partnership between campus and local law enforcement and individualized training for personnel involved in the investigative process.

Junior Zana Robinson can clearly envision what this training should look like.

“Training should avoid victim-blaming and should also show that [rape] can happen across all sexes and all genders,” Robinson said. “It could be male-to-male, male-to-female… it could be experienced by anyone.”

The bill strives to boost students’ report rates by ensuring that schools cannot punish those reporting for non-violent conduct violations, like underaged drinking.

According to Michelle Kroner, manager of UMKC Violence Prevention & Response, UMKC already abides by this policy. A frequently asked questions page on the UM system website confirmed this account. The page states that Title IX pardons these offenses to better “foster reporting and participation.”

UMKC also already follows the bill’s mandate of reporting through a single office, rather than separate athletic and organizational offices.

Lastly, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act will implement a national survey. The confidential survey will be sent out across all American universities and colleges, attempting to gauge students’ experiences with sexual violence.

“I believe that this could be very helpful, especially for institutions that have never surveyed their populations,” stated Kroner. “However, the [survey] would have to be administered in a way that allows the participants to feel safe in answering honestly and encourages everyone to participate so that the sample reflects the majority.”

Once administered, the questions will be a tool for students and parents to compare rates of sexual violence across institutions.

However, freshman Emily Denny said such a resource wouldn’t have impacted her college decision.

“I already knew Kansas City had a high violence rate, but UMKC was still the best school for me,” Denny acknowledged.

In contrast, Robinson perceives this information as extremely significant. She shared that her likeliness to attend a school would plummet if students indicated widespread sexual violence.

“That would reflect that the [university] doesn’t stand up against sexual assault or violence in any way,” Robinson explained.

And if universities and colleges neglect to stand up and acknowledge violence, they’ll face a steep payout. Violations could cost up to $150,000, money that a university could earn back through a sexual assault and prevention research grant.

For Robinson and many others, this bill holds the potential to facilitate some much-needed improvements.

“My hope is that this bill will bring additional attention to institutions of higher education regarding the importance of addressing these serious issues on campuses,” Kroner said.  “I believe that anything that can be done to enhance consistency, transparency and accountability for all schools regarding all forms of violence is a step in the right direction.”

 

krl7b2@mail.umkc.edu

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