Violence Against Women’s Act reauthorized

By Natalie Daher / Staff Writer

Changes recently adopted to the Violence Against Women Act could lead to new measures combating sexual violence on college campuses nationwide.

A revised version of the VAWA was signed into law on Feb. 28, and it incorporated protections for groups that were not previously recognized in its initial 1994 draft. Congress previously revised VAWA in 2000, 2005 and 2012, and the update this year extended protections for immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community as well as women.

On March 7, President Barack Obama included the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE) in the VAWA reauthorization. This law will require institutions of higher education like Pitt to take preventative measures to address issues regarding domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Prior to the 1970s, “sexual harassment” was a term that barely existed in American political discourse. But the growing legislation against it — including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Title IX Act of 1972 and the Campus SaVE Act of 2013 — exhibit the incremental progress of the nation in recognizing and combating the issue.

As an extended version of the Clery Act of 1990, which requires universities to disclose sexual crime statistics publicly, the Campus SaVE Act takes an additional step by addressing the need for preventative measures.

Sex crimes are prevalent on college campuses, but they are rarely reported. A survey conducted by the National Institute of Justice in 2007 reported that 19 percent of females on college campuses experience attempted or completed sexual assault, yet less than 5 percent of sexual crimes are reported. The survey indicated that major reasons behind keeping hush included fear of others’ judgments, fear of retaliation by the perpetrator and lack of knowledge on how to report the crime.

According to Pitt, a total of 15 forcible sex offenses were reported on campus between the years of 2009 and 2011, while 11 were reported off campus.

Specifics of the Act

The Campus SaVE Act requires that universities take specific actions to prevent, judicate and eliminate sex crimes on campus. According to the Clery Center for Security on Campus, the act is anchored on platforms of transparency, accountability, education and collaboration.

Building its recommendations on these four pillars, the act requires that schools create annual reports of documented sexual crimes. Furthermore, students or employees must be provided with printed information about accommodations that will be made for victims of sexual violence. These accommodations may include direct assistance from campus authorities, adjustments to their schedules and residences to evade hostility, clear descriptions of their schools’ disciplinary policies and contact information for medical, counseling or legal services.

Additionally, educational programs must be instituted for incoming students and employees when they arrive on campus. These educational measures include prevention and awareness programs, information about secure tactics for bystander intervention and information about the red flags of abusive and dangerous behavior.

The SaVE Act establishes cooperation between the U.S. departments of Justice, Education and Health and Human Services. The act has also been endorsed by 29 organizations, including the Clery Center for Security On Campus, the One Love Foundation, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The legislation also demands that universities abide by minimum standards in legal handlings of sex-crime cases. The proceedings must include a thorough and objective investigation, and each party involved has rights to the accompaniment of an adviser and the receipt of printed verdicts at the same time.

Politicians weigh in

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey introduced the Campus SaVE Act in 2010, and it faced much congressional gridlock along the way. Earlier this year, it passed through the Senate by a vote of 78 to 22 and the House of Representatives by 286 to 138, with Democrats unanimously supporting the bill and 87 Republicans voting in the affirmative.

According to an email from Casey’s press secretary, John Rizzo, the senator “believes the Campus SaVE Act is important because it closes a serious gap in current law by requiring colleges and universities to clearly spell out their policies regarding sexual violence on campus.”

House Republicans who refuted the reauthorization of VAWA supported their own version of the bill that included only limited protections for Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ community and didn’t include the Campus SaVE Act. This version of the bill was rejected 257 to 166 in the House.

Laura Mengelkamp, the press secretary for Repulican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, said that although Barrasso supports VAWA, he voted against the bill that Obama signed into law because it “included a number of controversial, unconstitutional provisions.”

Mengelkamp didn’t disclose why Barrasso believed portions of the bill were unconstitutional.

“As a doctor who has treated victims of domestic violence, Sen. Barrasso has worked throughout his career to help protect women,” Mengelkamp said in an email. “Because he strongly supports VAWA, Sen. Barrasso voted in favor of an alternative bill that would address these concerns.”

VAWA on Campus

Pitt’s administration must now harmonize its current sexual violence codes with those outlined in the Campus SaVE Act.

Ted Fritz, an associate general counsel at the University, said that VAWA will not create too many changes for Pitt. He said that Pitt has “always taken sexual assault and domestic violence seriously” through such measures as instituting an anti-sexual violence program and preventative components such as the SAFE program, which requires the establishment of a sexual assault examiner program in hospitals,, a Title IX coordinator, Sexual Assault Services, a student judicial system and a responsive campus police force.

But Campus Women’s Organization President Bella Salamone said that Pitt’s current standards aren’t sufficient and that the Campus SaVE Act — particularly the educational aspect of it — is a step in the right direction. As a peer educator for the Sexual Assault Services program in the counseling center, Salamone is often disappointed by the turnout at non-mandatory workshops about sexual violence that she runs.

“If people aren’t coming to the workshops because there’s not a requirement that your dorm has to attend this workshop, then that information isn’t going anywhere,” she said.

Additionally, Salamone said that she hopes Pitt’s campus changes in terms of street harassment and allows women to feel safer while traveling by foot at night. She feels that every female student on campus could share an anecdote about being taunted by a cat call while walking Oakland during the late-night hours. She attributes this to a “hostile environment” for female students.

“Obviously not everything is sunshine and daisies,” she said. “But it would be nice if we have an environment where not every female student has a story about suffering street harassment.”

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