Know Your Rights: The Campus SaVE Act
Author: Robyn Boche, M.S.Ed. and Anita Dincesen, M.Ed.
Reviewed by: Amy Cavender and Colleen Gallopin, Break the Cycle on February 24, 2014
As you've learned, sexual violence unfortunately does happen on college campuses. So what happens to the victim or survivor and the perpetrator when an incident of sexual violence (also called sexual misconduct) is reported to school authorities? The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act is a law that requires higher education institutions to follow certain procedures.
What Is the Campus SaVE Act?
To understand the Campus SaVE Act, it's important to first know a little about laws and judicial process. Every state in the United States has laws against sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Additionally, all colleges and universities have a judicial process for sexual misconduct that functions independently from state laws.
Find out what the sexual violence laws are in the state where you attend college: check out the WomensLaw.org website.
While laws and judicial processes vary by state, by school, and by crime, the Campus SaVE Act, enforced as of March 2014, represents improvements to the handling of sexual misconduct on every U.S. college and university campus.
At its core, the Campus SaVE Act increases transparency about incidents of sexual violence, guarantees victims' rights, sets standards for campus disciplinary proceedings, and requires campus-wide prevention education programs. It amends the Clery Act, which was signed into law in 1990 and affords additional rights to campus victims of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.
For students, the Campus SaVE Act has the following provisions, which afford transparency, protection, and accountability for both the accuser and the accused:
The total number of incidents of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are disclosed in annual campus crime statistic reports (without revealing identifying information about the victims or offenders).
Colleges must provide students or employees who report an incident of sexual violence a written list of their rights, which include:
- assistance in reporting a crime to law enforcement
- guidance on changing academic, living, transportation, or work situations to avoid a hostile environment
- instructions for obtaining a restraining order
- a clear description of the institution's disciplinary process and the range of possible sanctions
- written notification of available services for mental health, victim advocacy, legal assistance, and other services available both on campus and in the community
Colleges must publish information on the procedures for reporting sexual violence, including:
- how to preserve evidence of the incident
- to whom and how to formally report the incident (on and/or off campus)
- the right to decline formally reporting to law enforcement
Colleges must provide "prompt, fair and impartial" disciplinary proceedings that ensure an equitable process to both parties, including:
- proceedings conducted by campus officials who have received annual training on appropriate handling of cases involving allegations of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking
- the right for both the accuser and the accused to have an advisor of their choice present during the disciplinary process
- written notice of the outcome of all disciplinary proceedings, provided to both parties at the same time
- the rights of both parties to appeal disciplinary proceeding decisions or advocate for changes to the final outcome
Colleges and universities must provide primary prevention and awareness programs for students and employees. Education must include:
- training on safe and positive options for bystander intervention
- information on recognizing warning signs of abusive behavior
- ongoing prevention and awareness programs for students and faculty
What Does the Campus SaVE Act Mean for Victims / Survivors of Sexual Violence?
According to the Campus SaVE Act, survivors of sexual violence are not legally obligated to report an incident to anyone—and some might choose not to report. But it's important to know what options are available on your campus and in your community. One reason you're reading this information now is to increase the chances that you'll know your options right away if you or a friend ever needs to make a report. Reporting an assault (or harassment or stalking incident) can give survivors an opportunity to hold the perpetrator accountable and make the campus safer for everyone. The bottom line is: there is no right or wrong answer here. Survivors need to make a decision about reporting based on what's right for them and their healing process.
Reporting an Incident
If the survivor chooses to report the incident to law enforcement (local police), an investigation will likely be launched and, depending on its outcome, formal criminal charges may be presented to the local prosecutor for review. The prosecutor will decide whether the case will go forward. If it does, the prosecutor will represent the government, a defense attorney will represent the accused, and the survivor will be a witness in the case. Many law enforcement agencies and local nonprofits have advocates who provide help and support to a survivor during a criminal case. If a survivor chooses not to report an incident for a long time, it's possible that the statute of limitations (two years for this type of criminal reporting) will prevent the perpetrator from being prosecuted. However, even in those instances, making a report can be valuable because it can help establish a pattern that helps in future cases against the same person—many people who commit acts of sexual violence perform them against more than one person, and may continue to offend over a long period of time.
If the survivor chooses to use the civil justice system, she or he can bring a case on her or his own. Unlike the criminal justice system, civil cases involve a person suing another person; the government is not directly involved. The most common type of civil case in dating/domestic and sexual violence situations is a restraining order (also known as a protection order). This kind of case involves a survivor asking the court to order the offender to have no contact with the survivor and may also include other orders, such as moving out of a shared residence, staying away from certain locations, or not using shared property. Damages may also be sought in civil court for mental, physical, and sexual harm caused by the incident, and for property damage, too, if relevant.
If the survivor chooses to report the incident to a school official, a campus investigation is conducted. This investigation may lead to disciplinary proceedings against the accused and/or to other campus-based remedies that protect the survivor's safety and help prevent future incidents of sexual violence. The Campus SaVE Act ensures that any disciplinary proceedings are fair and equitable to both the accuser and the accused.
A survivor can choose to use all three systems—criminal, civil, campus—or only one or two (or none). Each system has its own pros and cons. The best way to know what is right for an individual survivor is to talk with a campus or community advocate, or another trusted person who can help the survivor figure out how to proceed.
What Does the Campus SaVE Act Mean for Perpetrators of Sexual Violence?
The simple answer is….It depends. Primarily, it depends on the nature of the incident, which system(s) the victim uses to report it, and the outcome of any investigation that follows the report. Keep in mind that the criminal justice process and the campus response will vary dramatically from state to state and from college to college. Generally, if a report is made to campus authorities, once the report is reviewed, the campus authority will decide whether the school's policy or the Student Code of Conduct was violated. Depending upon the decision, campus authorities' responses could range from an informal administrative action to an on-campus investigation and a formal board hearing. Depending upon the results of the investigation, disciplinary proceedings may take place. Disciplinary outcomes can include campus restrictions, temporary suspension, permanent expulsion, or a loss of scholarship money. If a report is made to local law enforcement, the outcome could include prosecution for a misdemeanor or felony and, ultimately, probation or jail time.
How Can the Campus SaVE Act Help Me?
Regardless of whether you're a survivor, a bystander, or a perpetrator of sexual violence, the Campus SaVE Act is a huge step in the right direction to reduce sexual violence on campus. It requires education, transparency, accountability, survivor's rights, and equitable processes for all parties, and it can be used by the campus community to handle incidents of sexual violence in a proactive, positive way.
If you or a friend is experiencing sexual violence, anonymous help is available 24/7. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or talk with someone via the National Sexual Assault chat hotline.
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