How Will Campus Sexual Assault Be Prevented With New Federal Rules For Colleges?

On Thursday, the Department of Education announced new requirements that colleges must follow in reporting and preventing sexual violence on campus. While schools that receive federal aid are already required to do some manner of reporting and prevention, a lot of those requirements are outdated or insufficient (such as, for example, the current operating definition of “rape”). The new regulations, which will be implemented under the new Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, seek to close those loopholes and make for a safer campus experience.

"These new rules strengthen schools' capacity to provide safer college campuses for students and to keep everyone better informed about campus security policies and procedures,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a statement.

The list of new requirements is lengthy and legalistic, but here’s the gist of what’s going to change.

REVISE DEFINITION OF RAPE

Under the new regulations, colleges would be required to revise their definition of “rape” when reporting sexual assault to the government. In 2013, the FBI revised its own definition of rape; it used to be defined simply as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” which is obviously way too vague and open to interpretation to be useful. (It also assumes that only women can be raped.)

The FBI now defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part of object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim,” and that’s the definition colleges will now be obligated to use when assessing the prevalence of sexual assault on their campuses.

EXPAND DEFINITION OF “HATE CRIMES”

Currently, the definition of a “hate crime” used by college campuses includes crimes wherein the victim was targeted based on their actual or perceived race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability. However, it makes no mention of gender identity or national origin, which means that trans victims of hate crimes, as well as those who were targeted due to their country of origin, aren’t counted as hate crimes victims at all.

Now, when colleges report hate crimes statistics, they’ll have use a more expansive definition that includes gender identity and national origin.

IMPLEMENT PREVENTION AND AWARENESS MEASURES

The new regulations will require colleges to implement “primary prevention and awareness programs” for new students and faculty. Those programs must include definitions of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and consent. Equally importantly, schools will have to inform incoming students and faculty what, in detail, the school’s protocol is for dealing with different types of sex offenses that are reported on campus — including what protective measures it offers victims.

Colleges will be required not only to institute these programs, but describe them in detail in their annual security reports to the Department of Education.

GIVE ASSAULT VICTIMS A FAIR TRIAL

The new regulations will lay out specific guidelines for colleges when it comes to dealing with accusations of sexual assault, domestic violence or hate crimes. In the name of a “prompt, fair and impartial disciplinary proceeding,” schools will have to do a number of things:

  • Train school officials in charge of conducting the proceeding and ensure that they don’t have a conflict of interest;
  • Give the accuser and the accused the same opportunities to have allies present during the proceedings;
  • Alert both parties of meetings wherein one or both of them may be present (in other words, tell the victim that their accuser might be present at one of the proceedings)
  • Give everybody access to information that will be used “during informal and formal disciplinary meetings and hearings.”

The new rules in their entirety will officially be unveiled on Monday, but you can read a draft of them here.