Capitol Hill Discussion on Campus Sexual Assault

September 23, 2015

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing entitled “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses.” The hearing was hosted by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. Among the main topics addressed in the hearing were the need for transparent expectations for investigations, sexual assault prevention techniques before and during college, and the balance between criminal prosecutions and respect for the victim’s desires.


House Education and the Workforce Committee Hearing: Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Members in Attendance:  Chairwoman Foxx (R-NC), Rep. Hinojosa (D-TX), Rep. Curbelo (R-FL), Rep. Kline (R-MN), Rep. Scott (D-VA), Rep. Roe (R-TN), Rep. Adams (D-NC), Rep. Guthrie (R-KY), Rep. Davis (D-CA), Rep. Heck (R-NV), Rep. DeSaulnier (D-CA), Rep. Salmon (R-AZ), Rep. Jeffries (D-NY), Rep. Allen (R-GA), Rep. Polis (D-CO), Rep. Messer (R-IN), Rep. Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Speier (D-CA)


The following are the main points and facts from the hearing:


Creating clear, transparent expectations for Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigations.

  • Currently, campuses are expected to complete investigations of allegations of sexual assault in as close to 60 days as possible.
    • OCR has kept investigations at some schools open for up to four years.
  • Creating a safe harbor under Title IX and VAWA/Clery that will provide colleges and universities support when they are addressing the requirements of conflicting state and federal laws simultaneously by creating a presumption that institutions are acting in good faith in their compliance efforts.


According to the Center for Disease Control, two programs have been found promising to prevent sexual assault using less rigorous methods.

  • Bystander intervention training
    • Strategy to provide students, faculty, staff, and other members of the campus community with the awareness, skills, and ability to speak out against rape myths and intervene in a moment of potential sexual violence.
  • Social norms training
    • Refers to the acceptability of an action or belief, and that training challenges misperceptions that affect behavior.
    • Looks at discrepancy between what people think themselves and what they believe other people think.
      • E.g. Some people believe the notion that others think that alcohol consumption means one wants to have sexual intercourse, but they don’t actually believe that themselves.


Need for a trained on-campus advocate to support survivors of sexual assault with information and consultation.


Competency Gap: Difference between what university officials are equipped to do and what the Department of Education requires them to do.

  • Colleges are unequipped to conduct sexual assault investigations.
    • E.g. finding out if rape occurred without forensic evidence, subpoena power, etc. leads to inconsistency and inaccuracy.
  • Adjudicating cases in courts
    • Students that are expelled and not jailed are susceptible to repeat assaults.
  • Colleges are well equipped to provide counseling, medical attention, and housing accommodations.
    • Not equipped to enforce civil law.
  • Reporting a criminal case does not mean that the complainant must comply, but it means law enforcement can take action in terms of amalgamating evidence that many times disappears within 48 hours.
    • E.g. blood-alcohol level
  • Conversely, mandating reporting of criminal cases infringes on the victim’s desires and may restrict disclosure.

Click here to view the hearing.


Tomas Alcala, Federal Relations