Just before college students filed into the dorms this fall, Congress (spearheaded by Senator Claire McCaskill) introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act or “CASA” .
There are two laws that, up until now, dictated how educational institutions dealt with cases of sexual assault - the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, known as the “Cleary Act” and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
There is a lot to like about CASA. There hasn’t been any major updates to sexual assault legislation among academic institutions since 1990. Here’s what has happened since then…
- Prior to 2012, the federal definition of rape had not been altered since 1927. It stated that “forcible rape [was] the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” This definition excluded a long list of sexual offenses and crimes, including oral and anal penetration and penetration with objects, as well as rapes of males. The current, updated federal definition of rape is, “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This definition was effective January 1, 2013.
- The Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, with reauthorizations passing ever since.
- The Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act was passed in 2000.
- The Department of Justice conducted a Campus Sexual Assault Study in 2007
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey was conducted in 2010.
Unfortunately, CASA isn’t as comprehensive as we hoped. Many colleges and university judicial systems claim that Senator McCaskill’s proposed legislation reads as though she did not take to heart the feedback from her three Capitol Hill roundtable discussions this summer. One of the most common refrains heard from folks actually dealing with these cases at schools is the conflicting guidance between Cleary and Title IX. Many hoped that Senator McCaskill’s anticipated legislation would clarify what were intended to be basic instructions for administrators, campus police and other actors in the chain of responding and reporting to these. In the eyes of many people close to the issue, this legislation falls short of its intended goal - and it hasn’t even passed yet.
And does it even have a chance of passage?
This legislation was announced practically moments before both houses of Congress left on August recess. There hasn’t been much journalism on this bill. This was understandable in August, as the shooting of Michael Brown in McCaskill’s home state of Missouri occurred just days after the introduction of CASA. Introduction of CASA was timed for the back-to-school season, with the vote open to occur at any time while Congress is in session. Since then, our news media has turned its attention to Airstrikes in Syria, ISIS, the Ebola outbreak - all leading up to a November off-year election dominated by the Republican party. The chances of a CASA passage are looking pretty low.
Meanwhile, on the state-level, we have an example of what strong legislation looks like that addresses prevention of sexual assault. The hotly discussed California “Yes means Yes” law that passed last month applies to colleges that receive state funding. We’re fans of this law at PARC, and give it our enthusiastic consent! (wink) The law calls for "affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity" that is "ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time." That is, a law that approaches campus sexual assault and rape at the prevention level and is focused on educating college students on the difference between consensual sex and sexual assault. With one law, the fault and blame shifted from the accusing to the accused.
So here are my questions: why does CASA address just colleges? Some say the best defense for this law is that this will get a conversation going about what consent is and what a crime is - whether it’s worthy of expulsion from your university or criminal punishment by the state. We, at PARC, want to help guide this conversation. But why stop just in California? Why couldn’t Sen. McCaskill's bill have been more like Yes Means Yes?