The Education Department proposed a new rule Thursday designed to provide a better picture of these problems.
The proposed rule change falls under the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to report crime statistics on or near their campuses and provide warnings in a timely manner if safety is threatened. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 signed by President Barack Obama amended the Clery Act by extending additional rights to campus victims. Victims' advocates have said the statistics, as currently compiled, don't paint an accurate picture of the extent of sexual crimes on campuses.
"These new rules strengthen schools' capacity to provide safer college campuses for students and to keep everyone better informed about campus security policies and procedures," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
Among the other proposed rule changes:
—Adding gender identity and national origin as categories of bias under the Clery Act's definition of hate crimes.
—Strengthening confidentiality protections for victims.
—Requiring colleges and universities to ensure that disciplinary proceedings in these types of cases are "prompt, fair and impartial" and that both the accuser and the accused have an equal opportunity to have an adviser of their choice present at these hearings.
The rule was developed by a committee that included survivors of sexual assault, advocacy groups, law enforcement and college personnel.
Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice, who served on the committee, said she's pleased with the outcome.
"We came to full consensus," Dunn said. "We actually agreed on everything at the end of the day, which was very surprising because there was some heated discussions in the session."
Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, which represents college presidents but wasn't at the negotiating table, said her organization will carefully examine the proposed changes to determine whether they would make campuses safer or add to the confusion colleges and universities face as they seek to comply with the law.
The announcement comes nearly two months after a White House task force reported that 1 in 5 female college students is a victim of sexual assault and recommended actions that colleges and universities should take to protect victims and inform the public about the magnitude of the problem. They included ensuring the availability of confidential victims' advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on their campuses.
That same week, the Education Department took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of 55 schools facing federal investigation under Title IX for the way they handle sexual abuse allegations by their students.
The public has until July 21 to comment on the new rule.
Lisa Maatz, an official with the American Association of University Women, said the changes are significant.
"Colleges and universities that want to keep sweeping it under the rug will find it hard to keep doing so given the reporting requirements," Maatz said.
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