Heller calls for new law on campus sex assault reporting

After meeting Friday with campus sexual assault victims’ advocates, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said a law needs to be changed to ensure such attacks are properly reported and tracked to protect women at universities and colleges nationwide.

One in five female students are assaulted or face an attempted attack, according to statistics Heller cited.

The shocking figure comes as the federal Department of Education investigates 57 colleges and universities accused of failing to properly deal with sexual assaults on campus. One of the schools was attended by Heller’s daughter. None is in Nevada.

Heller said his daughter has graduated from Arizona State University, which is part of the investigation. But he and his daughter should have been able to find out how safe the campus was for women, he said.

“I don’t know if we would have ultimately changed (universities). But as a parent, I want to know,” Heller said.

“The reason I’m here is because I have two daughters,” Heller said of the private round-table discussion he arranged with two dozen university administrators, advocates and women’s groups.

“Obviously, something needs to be done,” Heller said at a news conference at the College of Southern Nevada’s West Charleston Boulevard campus, where the 90-minute meeting took place.

Heller said he and a half-dozen other senators are working on legislation that has three goals: protecting victims; educating parents and students; holding universities and colleges responsible for preventing, recording and properly handling sexual assaults on campus.

“In some cases there’s no penalty” for not reporting assaults, dismissing reports or trying to cover up complaints from students, Heller said.

In April, the Obama administration announced that 55 universities and colleges were under investigation for violating Title IX, the federal law requiring schools to advise campus sexual assault victims of their rights, conduct investigations and ensure victims’ safety. Heller said the investigation has since added two more institutions.

The schools include institutions such as Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, Vanderbilt and Harvard, which had 100 cases of sexual assault reported over the past three years.

At the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, only one “forcible sex offense” was reported in 2011 and none in 2012, the latest data available. A university official said Friday the figures don’t reflect incidents off-campus, where most students live, as well as fraternity and sorority houses.

Nationwide, colleges reported nearly 5,000 forcible sex offenses in 2012, putting college women at a higher risk than those not attending universities, the Education Department said.

After the task force issued its first report in April on the prevalence of sexual violence at U.S. universities and colleges, Heller and Senate colleagues sent a letter to the leaders of the task force. It said they would be working on legislation “to develop a coordinated federal response to campus rape and sexual assault.”

Heller and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., also urged the task force to adopt key recommendations to combat campus sexual assault, including streamlining enforcement actions, requiring annual school surveys of campus assaults and launching a searchable database of all federal complaints and investigations of campus violence.

“College students should be worried about cramming for exams or fitting in time for their internship, not about becoming victims of sexual assault,” Heller said then. “Ensuring that students’ complaints get processed and providing better access to information about the extent of the problem on campuses is an important step towards fostering a more respectful environment. Sexual assault has no place on our campuses.”

UNLV plans a two-day training seminar in July that will examine the task force report on campus sexual assaults and its recommendations.

Title IX requires colleges and universities to respond to sexual assault and harassment cases on campus and have policies in place to help prevent such incidents. The Jeanne Clery Act mandates that colleges and universities must report information on crime on and around campuses and provide victims with select rights and resources.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.