New Measures to Combat Sexual Violence

College campuses should be safe places where all students are free to focus on the joy of learning, forge lasting friendships, and explore the interests that lead to lifelong callings and careers. Even one sexual assault at our nation’s colleges and universities is too many.

This is an issue of great concern for President Obama, Vice President Biden, and all of us at the Department of Education. In hearing from many dedicated men and women from across the postsecondary and law enforcement communities — from college presidents, trustees, deans, and student affairs professionals, to attorneys and campus security staff, to student advocates, we know that many of you are devoting significant efforts to ending this threat because you are deeply committed to the health and wellbeing of our students and communities.

These cases are often difficult, complex, and emotionally harrowing. And we recognize that the problem of sexual violence doesn’t begin on college campuses, nor is it isolated to them. As we work to keep college students safe, we must also work more broadly, as partners – across the education pipeline, and throughout society – to address the issue, including by identifying and disseminating promising practices.

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” method to tackling this challenge, and our Department supports a variety of approaches. In addition, there are many different types of campuses and institutions. Some serve 800 students, others serve 80,000. Some have residential communities, some are exclusively commuter campuses.

In 2014, the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, co-chaired by the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls. The Task Force recommendations have led to:

  • The creation of the NotAlone.gov website for students and schools to access resources on responding to and preventing sexual violence;
  • The compilation of effective training materials for students and for school, health center and victim services staff;
  • A sample memorandum of understanding between higher education institutions and law enforcement agencies; and
  • The clarification of schools’ reporting obligations under all the applicable laws.

As an agency, we’ve worked to improve the coordination of our enforcement efforts. Our Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in particular, has taken steps to:

  • Issue policy guidance on schools’ obligations under Title IX to prevent and address sexual violence;
  • Provide resources and technical assistance, through our headquarters and regional offices, to inform school officials, parents, students, and others of their rights and responsibilities under the law;
  • Engage in more robust enforcement of Title IX through our complaint and investigation process;
  • Improve coordination between our Federal Student Aid office and OCR for Clery and Title IX compliance; and
  • Increase transparency by posting resolution letters and agreements with recipients on our website and NotAlone.gov, and by making public, for the first time, a list of colleges and universities under OCR investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

And, today, July 1, 2015, final regulations take effect implementing the changes made to the Clery Act by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. These new regulations reflect extensive public comment and the consensus of a broad-based negotiated rulemaking committee.

We will soon be sharing additional information with the higher education field to support implementation, including a summary of the final regulations. We are in the process of updating the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, reflecting the new requirements, and we will be reaching out to the field for help with the revisions. To help address questions about the final regulations, we will provide support and hold other public opportunities to assist the field.

The final regulations:

  • Increase transparency by adding dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking to the list of crimes about which an institution must disclose statistics to the public, its campus community and the Department; and
  • Require institutions to make enhanced disclosures regarding disciplinary proceedings used to resolve allegations concerning these crimes, protective measures provided by the institution following an allegation of these crimes, and the training programs in place to better inform its campus community about awareness and prevention.

In the months ahead, the Department will continue working with institutions, states, advocates and other higher education stakeholders to expand our shared knowledge, identify best practices and prevention models, and increase our capacity to combat sexual violence.

Maintaining our students’ health, safety and wellbeing is our greatest trust, and we’ll continue to make it our highest priority.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education