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How VAWA protects your college life from sexual assault

The Violence Against Women Act has had a significant impact on ending sexual violence.  Even so, college students remain at risk of sexual assault. 

As per the 2019 campus climate survey on sexual assault, women are being victimized at an awfully high rate. Numbers were up by three percentage points to 26.4%. And yet, most students never report an incident. 

RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, reports that nearly 80% of female student victims hide incidents of sexual assault. A shocking figure! Do colleges have a responsibility to address sexual abuse? What laws and regulation exist to address this problem? 

How VAWA protects your college life from sexual assault

The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) imposes obligations on colleges to address the problem of sexual assault. It amended the Clery Act, and it created regulations for combating sexual violence in colleges. All colleges participating in federal funding need to follow these regulations. 

The VAWA amendments to the Clery Act add sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking to the list of Clery crimes. They are often referred to as VAWA crimes. Colleges need to maintain the statistics of these offenses. These statistics must be made public via the annual security report (ASR) every year. 

Colleges also need to have policies and procedures in place for tacking sexual assault, and handling complaints of VAWA crimes. 

Other significant clauses include –

  • Support services for victims, 
  • Use of due process for resolving VAWA complaints, and 
  • Permitting the accuser and accused to use advisors during the grievance process. 

There’s more. Colleges need to conduct VAWA training for incoming students and employees as well. These programs should cover sexual assault, prevention techniques, and reporting. All students, faculty, and staff should receive such training on an ongoing basis.

VAWA compliance is mandatory

VAWA requirements are not optional. Colleges must incorporate all VAWA requirements into their policies and procedures. As you compile the annual security report, scrutinize the crime statistics carefully. Ensure that you do not misreport VAWA crimes. 

It’s important. Last year, the Texas State University went under the hammer for incorrect reporting. The US Department of Education found flaws with the University’s crime statistics. Why did Texas State misreport crimes? As per the university, there were flaws in their crime reporting process, and this led to inaccurate statistics. 

In a similar case, University of Montana was slapped with a $1 million penalty. The university was fined for leaving out eight sexual offenses from their reports. 

Read on to learn how VAWA affects your campus safety and security program. 

Legal obligations

First, let’s understand your legal obligations under the law. 

  1. You need to disclose the number of dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking incidents in your annual security report. These crimes should be reported separately under the VAWA offence category. 
  2. You need to put in place procedures for addressing incidents of VAWA crimes. And, you must have policies to address and prevent such crimes as well. 
  3. The college should also conduct training and awareness programs for discouraging sexual assault. The training program should be ongoing. And it should involve all staff, faculty and students of your college.

Disclosure requirements

The VAWA amendments add certain disclosure requirements that you must follow. Now, colleges need to disclose statistics of VAWA crimes as well.  

Here’s the list of disclosures that you need to make in your annual security report (ASR) –  

  1. As stated above, you need to disclose the statistics of dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.  
  2. When reporting hate crimes, add the statistics of crimes in which victims were selected because of their national origin or gender identity.
  3. Disclose the number of ‘unfounded crimes’ in your annual security report. 
  4. Do not disclose a victim’s name in timely alerts. 

Colleges also need to describe the training and awareness program put in place for educating the campus community against sexual assault in their ASR. You must add your policies and procedures for handling complaints of such offenses as well.

Policy and Procedural requirements 

VAWA also adds certain policy and procedural requirements to your campus safety program. These requirements affect how you handle the complaints against sexual assault.

Here are the five main points that you need to know. 

  1. College policies should inform students how to file a complaint against sexual assault. 
  2. Support services should be offered to the victim. 
  3. All complaints of sexual assault must be handled via due process. 
  4. Both parties should receive adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, and an impartial hearing. 
  5. Both parties should also get a chance to appeal against the final decision. 

You also need to put in place policies and procedures that address sexual assault. Your policies and procedures need to cover – 

  1. The standard of evidence the college would use for VAWA crimes. 
  2. Disciplinary actions that the college may enforce upon final determination.
  3. How to maintain the confidentiality of the victim’s identity.

Your policies should be clear about the victim’s rights. Victims must be informed of their option of contacting (or not contacting) the law enforcement or campus authorities.  

Standards for investigation and hearing

Here are the procedural standards prescribed by the Violence Against Women Act. Colleges must follow these standards when handling complaints of sexual assault.  

  1. Officials involved in the grievance procedure should be well-trained. This includes training on matters such as investigation and hearing.
  2. You need to allow the accuser and accused to have others present during proceedings. This includes their right to have an advisor of their choice. 
  3. Both parties should receive all notifications concurrently and in the written form. 

Training Requirements

Share this message in clear terms – Your institution prohibits sexual violence. 

VAWA requires you to train all your students, staff and faculty on an ongoing basis. New students and employees should be trained as soon as they join the institution. 

Awareness program

You need to conduct awareness programs to promote awareness against sexual assault. The program should cover sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Topics such as common intervention techniques and how to report incidents should be covered as well.

This should be an ongoing process over your campus. And, it should involve all students, staff and faculty of your institution. 

Training program

Your training program should concentrate on VAWA offenses and primary prevention techniques. The training should cover definitions of VAWA crimes, consent, and risk reduction techniques. It should also help the learner understand how to identify abusive behavior. 

Include bystander intervention too. Learners must know how bystanders can intervene in a risky situation to prevent harm. 

In Conclusion

Implementing VAWA into your campus safety program shouldn’t just aim at creating better policies and procedures. Your goal should be reducing sexual violence on your campus. This can be achieved only by changing the attitude and behavior of the campus community.  

Regular awareness programs against sexual assault are extremely necessary. As mentioned in the beginning of the blog, 80% of female student victims do not report an incident. Common reasons for such behavior include, fear of retaliation, fear of being blamed, self-shame, and so on.  

Your program against sexual assault would work only if your students have confidence in the way you handle their complaints. You can promote this attitude by 

  1. Having a firm policy against sexual violence, 
  2. Ensuring victim confidentiality, and 
  3. Handling their complaints seriously. 

Only a strong and ongoing training and awareness program can drive such behavioral changes. 

Do you need help with VAWA compliance? You can post your queries about compliance and training in the comment section below.

Jessica Holland

Jessica Holland

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