7:38pm

Wed March 6, 2013
The Two-Way

Law Targets Sexual Violence On College Campuses

Originally published on Fri March 15, 2013 11:30 am

When President Obama signs an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday afternoon, the law will include new requirements for how colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault.

Laura Dunn, who's been invited by the White House to attend, plans to be there.

In 2010, Dunn told her story on Morning Edition: She believed her Wisconsin school failed to properly investigate her allegations that she'd been raped by two students — young men she knew and trusted. Dunn and the men had been drinking. The school took nine months to investigate. By then, one of the men had graduated; Dunn would see the other on campus. And when school officials declined to punish him, there was nothing Dunn could do to appeal. (Note at 11:30 a.m. ET, March 15: Scroll down for more about Dunn and a statement from the school.)

The new law — the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which was added to the Violence Against Women Act — clarifies the rights of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking on campus. It gives victims a new ability to appeal an outcome. It also requires schools to inform victims of their rights and options, and to tell them where to get counseling and legal help.

The new law addresses issues raised in NPR's 2010 series of stories, Seeking Justice for Campus Rapes. That series, a joint effort with the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, revealed that judicial proceedings were often secretive on campuses, and women often faced barriers when they tried to report rape complaints.

Even when men were found responsible, they were almost never expelled, NPR and CPI concluded. In many cases, it was the woman who dropped out of school rather than live in the same dorm or take classes with the man she'd accused.

"Victims of sexual violence on campus were being revictimized by a process that really was not geared to their needs," says S. Daniel Carter, who has long pushed for the change.

Carter, of VTV Family Outreach Foundation, a campus safety group started by the families of victims and survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, says one of the most important parts of the new law is that it requires schools to create prevention education. Those programs teach men and women the meaning of consent, and show bystanders how to intervene to stop sexual violence.

Not everyone is so sure that the law properly balances the rights of all students.

Will Creeley, of the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, worries that with the new law, the pendulum is swinging too far back the other way, giving too much protection to students who make accusations at the expense of the rights of the accused.

"The need to secure justice for victims of sexual assault is paramount," Creeley says. "But campus judicial processes don't have the kind of procedural safeguards that we should expect, given the severity and the life-altering punishments that are at stake. A student found guilty of sexual assaults will be expelled from campus and will be effectively labeled a rapist."

Creeley raised concerns about rules that say schools should determine responsibility based on the lowest standard for the burden of proof. That was dropped from the new law when it was debated by Congress. But it's still part of guidelines to schools that the Department of Education developed in 2011.

For Laura Dunn, a lot has changed. Nine years ago, she was too ashamed, at first, to report what happened to her. Now she's an advocate who lobbied Congress to pass the new law. She's enrolled in law school.

"My goal is to be a victims' rights attorney," she says. "Because victims deserve to be made whole. And that's the purpose of the law."

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET, March 15. Statement From Dunn's University.

Laura Dunn was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Lori Berquam, the university's dean of students, sent us the following statement:

"It is the university's practice to take every student's disclosure of a sexual assault seriously and to respond with compassion.

"We respect the confidentiality of survivors and will not respond in detail to their personal feelings and experiences. But we strongly believe in both the dedication of our caring staff and the transparency of our campus processes.

"Should a student decide to come forward to report a sexual assault to a university official, our guiding principle is to honor their wishes and ensure their safety throughout the process.

"We encourage reporting because we know it is an under-reported crime. We publicize the number of reports we receive each year. It is our ultimate goal to create a safe and respectful campus community, free from sexual and dating violence."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama is to sign a law today that sets new requirements for how colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault. The law addresses problems that NPR's Joseph Shapiro reported on several years ago, in a series where one story began with this young victim.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Laura Dunn trusted the two young men. She knew them at her school in Wisconsin. They'd all been drinking, so Dunn was confused and ashamed about what happened. And when she finally reported her allegations that she'd been raped, campus officials took nine months to investigate.

In 2006, when the university decided against punishment, there was little Dunn could do.

LAURA DUNN: Just from my personal experience, I found a system that wasn't fair and balanced. There was no appeal process for victims if they felt an improper investigation occurred.

SHAPIRO: The new law changes things. It gives a woman new ability to appeal an outcome and requires schools to fully inform victims of their rights and options, and tell them where to get counseling and legal help. It's part of the broader Violence Against Women Act, which assists all victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Laura Dunn told her story on MORNING EDITION in 2010, as part of a series by NPR with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit news group. Those stories showed problems in the way colleges handled rape and sexual assault investigations.

Even when men were found responsible, they were almost never expelled. In many cases it was the woman who dropped out of school rather than live in the same dorm or take classes with the man she'd accused.

DANIEL CARTER: Victims of sexual violence on campus were being re-victimized by a process that was not really geared to their needs.

SHAPIRO: Daniel Carter says the new law will create campus procedures that work more fairly for victims of sexual violence. Carter is with a campus safety group started by the families of victims and survivors of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. Carter says one of the best features of the new law is that it requires schools to do prevention education, to teach men and women the meaning of consent and how bystanders can intervene to stop sexual violence.

CARTER: Ultimately, the intent is to change the cultures that tolerate sexual violence on campus and try to eliminate it at the source.

SHAPIRO: Not everyone is so sure that the law properly balances the rights of all students. Will Creeley is with the non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He worries that with the new law, the pendulum is swinging too far back the other way, to give too much protection to students who make accusations over the rights of the accused.

WILL CREELEY: The need to secure justice for victims of sexual assault is paramount. But campus judicial processes don't have the kind of procedural safeguards that we should expect, given the severity and the life-altering punishments that are at stake. A student found guilty of sexual assaults will be expelled from campus and will be effectively labeled a rapist.

SHAPIRO: Creeley worries about rules that say schools should determine responsibility based on the lowest standard for the burden of proof. That was dropped from the new law, but it's still part of guidelines to schools that were developed by the Department of Education in 2011.

For Laura Dunn, a lot has changed. Nine years ago, she was ashamed to report what happened to her. Now she's an advocate and lobbied Congress to pass the new law. She's enrolled in law school to keep making change.

DUNN: Absolutely, my goal is to be a victim's rights attorney because victims deserve to be made whole. And that's the purpose of the law.

SHAPIRO: She's been invited to the ceremony today when President Obama signs the updated Violence Against Women Act into law.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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