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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Sexual Assault on Campus: Working to Ensure Student Safety”

“This is the eleventh in a series of hearings to inform this committee’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The focus of today’s hearing, campus sexual assault, is a profoundly important one.

“Too many students are being assaulted on our nation’s college campuses. According to current research, an estimated one in 5 women are sexually assaulted or victims of attempted sexual assault while in college.  As we will hear today, sexual assault does not just happen to women.  Approximately one in 16 men are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault.  Research also shows that LGBT students as well as students with disabilities may face a higher risk of sexual assault.  No student should have to endure something so terrible as sexual assault while they are in college and today we are going to hear from the Administration, survivors, and a researcher about the work they are all doing to make our college campuses safer for everyone. 

“I want to recognize at the outset, two survivors who are with us today.  Emily Renda is a recent graduate of University of Virginia, and John Kelly is a student at Tufts University.  These two outstanding students agreed to come here to share their stories and the work they are doing to help other students in our country.  I thank you both.  I know it is not easy to talk about these issues in such a public setting as a Congressional hearing, and we are very fortunate to have you here today and to be able to learn from both of you. 

“This hearing will also explore the Higher Education Act and Title IX, and how these two laws address issues related to campus sexual assault. The Clery Act provisions within HEA play a critical role in ensuring the proper reporting of campus sexual assault and that the appropriate supports and systems are in place for when sexual assaults occur.  The Clery Act, which was originally enacted in response to the horrific rape and murder of college freshman Jeanne Clery, requires colleges to collect and publish data on crimes, including sexual assault, that take place on or near the college campus.  The law has undergone several changes over the years, including most recently through the work of Senators Casey and Leahy during the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization last year.   Just this month, the Department of Education published its proposed rule to implement those VAWA changes to Clery, and I look forward to hearing from the Department today about those proposed regulations.

“Title IX, one of our nation’s landmark civil rights laws, which celebrated its 42nd anniversary just this week, also plays a substantial role in ensuring colleges have adequate processes in place to quickly and fairly address reports of sexual assaults.  Title IX is critical to providing survivors with some of the supports they need in the aftermath of a sexual assault.  Today, we will hear about the work the Administration is doing to ensure that colleges meet their Title IX obligations.

“Today, we will also focus on the good work that certain colleges are doing in the area of prevention training.  I look forward to testimony from Jane Stapleton of the University of New Hampshire.  UNH is a recognized leader in this field, and through the work of their Prevention Innovations center, they are helping other universities design prevention training programs, including training in bystander intervention.  I look forward to hearing about the work that UNH is doing, and how we can help other universities invest in training programs like those at UNH. 

“Many colleges are doing good work in this field, and we need to recognize that.  But there are also colleges that need help in responding to sexual assaults on their campuses.  The Clery Act and Title IX seek to address these issues in different ways, and I appreciate that some colleges are finding it challenging to understand their obligations under both Clery and Title IX.  I hope today’s hearing will bring to light how we can make it easier for colleges to understand their obligations under both important laws. 

“I want to acknowledge the good work being done in this field by the Department of Justice, an agency that is also responsible for enforcing Title IX.  In addition, I wanted to acknowledge the ongoing leadership of Senators Gillibrand, McCaskill, and Blumenthal, and I look forward to working with them in the coming months on this issue.

“I also want to note the absence of a witness representing institutions of higher education to talk about the work that they are doing to respond to sexual assault and comply with Title IX and the Clery Act.  A witness was scheduled, but unfortunately had to cancel at the last moment.   

“We are going to hear about a lot of good work being done today at the Department of Education and on some college campuses.  But we all know that much more work remains to be done on this issue.  No student should have to endure the trauma of a sexual assault or face the risk of being sexually assaulted while in college.  I hope this hearing today will provide insight on ways we can work together to reduce campus sexual assault and better ensure the safety of all our students.”