(WOMENSENEWS)–While on the Midwest campaign trail earlier this month, Hillary Clinton, leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, railed against campus rape, a problem that’s inspired a song by Lady Gaga and fresh research about the prevalence of sex assault at the country’s leading colleges and universities.
Clinton also said she had a proposal to unveil. So far, however, it’s tough to get a grip on the specifics of that proposal and repeated messages to her campaign’s press representative and others received no response.
Some news reports suggest it is similar to the bill the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, or CASA, introduced by lead sponsors U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. (In June Women’s eNews reported that a Senate vote on that bill could be expected soon, but three months later a voting date has not been set.)
With the bill floundering and the Clinton campaign not providing full details of her proposal it’s hard to know how the proposal will be received by those actively engaged in policymaking on campus rape.
A bipartisan coalition of 33 U.S. senators–including Clinton’s closest rival for the Democratic presidential nomination U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and one candidate for the Republican nomination, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.–are co-sponsors of CASA.
CASA has plenty of supporters and it also has some ardent foes. The bill has been criticized from all sides, including women’s safety activists, university representatives and the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, which fears civil liberty violations will be unleashed against accused perpetrators.
One of those most strongly opposed is Wendy Murphy, a former sex crimes prosecutor and contributing editor to Women’s eNews, who has been pioneering the application of Title IX civil rights law to women’s right to safety from rape and sexual assault on campus. Most recently, Murphy won a judgment against the University of Virginia on behalf of a client who was sexually assaulted on campus. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the University of Virginia announced last week that UVA has entered into a resolution agreement to ensure that the university’s handling of sexual violence and sexual harassment complies with Title IX.
Murphy fought the implementation of a law similar to CASA, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as Campus SaVE, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and incorporated into the 2012 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, which President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2013.
Murphy argues that Campus SaVE “puts violence against women in a segregated legal space, subject to much weaker legal protections” than under Title IX.
She argues against CASA for similar reasons.
So the question is whether Clinton plans to generally embrace CASA or salvage some components if the Senate never actually votes on it.
Clinton’s CASA Views Unclear
Several Senate co-sponsors’ staff and women’s safety activists contacted by Women’s eNews did not know whether Clinton supports CASA. It could be considered likely because McCaskill, a CASA co-sponsor, is among Clinton’s principal supporters for president in 2016 and one of her earliest major Democratic backers, endorsing her two years ago.
Some news sources have said Clinton’s plan reflects provisions in CASA.
However, in her second speech in Iowa, Clinton went beyond CASA by voicing support for LGBT survivors of rape and sexual assault. Some campus safety activists have pointed out that CASA does not single out LGBT victims for protection, even though their rates of rape and sexual assault are higher.
In line with others, Murphy suspects Clinton is leaning toward CASAand finds it “mind-boggling” that “a woman who wants to become the first female president of the United States would express enthusiastic support for ideas” proposed in CASA.
CASA, she says, “will weaken women’s civil rights under Title IX for the first time in history.”
Clinton, Murphy adds, “hasn’t uttered the words ‘civil rights’ ever when talking about women’s rights in education. Why does Clinton want to weaken civil rights for rape victims and strengthen the rights of perpetrators?”
Title IX, which has been on the books since 1972, stipulates that no one “on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Title IX mandates that schools found in violation of students’ civil rights, including safety and protection from rape and sexual assault, can forfeit all federal funding. Currently, the Office of Civil Rights is investigating 167 cases of sexual violence at 141 colleges and universities, according to U.S. Department of Education Press Officer David Thomas.
The New York Times Magazine recently described a new generation of younger female activists who “see the law as a tool of resistance against oppression,” including campus sexual violence. One member of this cohort is Annie E. Clark, one of two young women’s safety activists featured in “The Hunting Ground,“the acclaimed documentary about campus rape. Clark is cofounder and executive director of End Rape on Campus, based in Washington, D.C.
Unlike Murphy, Clark, in a recent phone interview, commended Clinton for introducing the subject of combating sexual violence on campus to the presidential campaign at this early stage.
“The fact that the issue is on the table now is huge,” says Clark. ”I would like to see more candidates speaking up about it on both sides of the aisle. Violence is not a partisan issue.”
Despite the candidacy of Rubio, a CASA supporter, Clark points out, “it hasn’t come up in the Republican forum at all.”
Clark says Clinton’s interest in rape-prevention education is monumental. ”It’s amazing that we’re hearing this from a presidential candidate. Clark believes education about consent to sex acts has to begin much earlier, even in middle school.
”If we are waiting until college orientation to talk about consent and sexual assault, then it is way too late,” Clark says. “Introducing this educational piece in high schools and in age-appropriate ways in middle school would be a game changer.”
Clinton is the first prospective presidential candidate to tap gender for support. Campaigning in Wisconsin and Iowa early last week under the auspices of Women for Hillary, a grassroots organization, the Democratic frontrunner made three speeches in which she pledged to end rape on college campuses, praised the Obama administration’s efforts to do so, vowed to build upon them and outlined a plan of her own.
Women’s eNews‘ efforts to obtain copies of Clinton’s speeches or details of her new plan got no response from her New York City campaign headquarters, Hillary for America, housed on three floors in an imposing building on the corner of Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Messages sent through the Clinton Foundation and New York County Democratic headquarters went unanswered.
However, several news outlets that covered Clinton’s speeches did outline her new three-point plan to end campus rape.
According to these press sources, Clinton’s plan includes:
- Comprehensive support network for survivors of rape and sexual assault, including health care;
- Increased focus on disciplinary proceedings for both accusers and the accused, and fair treatment for both; and
- Prevention efforts and starting sexual violence prevention programs on college campuses, and earlier in high schools.
Women’s eNews will continue to follow the progress of Clinton’s plan and the issue of sexual violence in the presidential campaign.
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