Law Targets Sexual Violence On College Campuses : The Two-Way When President Obama signs an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act on Thursday afternoon, the law will include new requirements for how colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault.
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Law Targets Sexual Violence On College Campuses

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Law Targets Sexual Violence On College Campuses


President Obama is to sign a law today that sets new requirements for how colleges and universities handle allegations of sexual assault. The law addresses problems that NPR's Joseph Shapiro reported on several years ago, in a series where one story began with this young victim.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Laura Dunn trusted the two young men. She knew them at her school in Wisconsin. They'd all been drinking, so Dunn was confused and ashamed about what happened. And when she finally reported her allegations that she'd been raped, campus officials took nine months to investigate.

In 2006, when the university decided against punishment, there was little Dunn could do.

LAURA DUNN: Just from my personal experience, I found a system that wasn't fair and balanced. There was no appeal process for victims if they felt an improper investigation occurred.

SHAPIRO: The new law changes things. It gives a woman new ability to appeal an outcome and requires schools to fully inform victims of their rights and options, and tell them where to get counseling and legal help. It's part of the broader Violence Against Women Act, which assists all victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Laura Dunn told her story on MORNING EDITION in 2010, as part of a series by NPR with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit news group. Those stories showed problems in the way colleges handled rape and sexual assault investigations.

Even when men were found responsible, they were almost never expelled. In many cases it was the woman who dropped out of school rather than live in the same dorm or take classes with the man she'd accused.

DANIEL CARTER: Victims of sexual violence on campus were being re-victimized by a process that was not really geared to their needs.

SHAPIRO: Daniel Carter says the new law will create campus procedures that work more fairly for victims of sexual violence. Carter is with a campus safety group started by the families of victims and survivors of the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech. Carter says one of the best features of the new law is that it requires schools to do prevention education, to teach men and women the meaning of consent and how bystanders can intervene to stop sexual violence.

CARTER: Ultimately, the intent is to change the cultures that tolerate sexual violence on campus and try to eliminate it at the source.

SHAPIRO: Not everyone is so sure that the law properly balances the rights of all students. Will Creeley is with the non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He worries that with the new law, the pendulum is swinging too far back the other way, to give too much protection to students who make accusations over the rights of the accused.

WILL CREELEY: The need to secure justice for victims of sexual assault is paramount. But campus judicial processes don't have the kind of procedural safeguards that we should expect, given the severity and the life-altering punishments that are at stake. A student found guilty of sexual assaults will be expelled from campus and will be effectively labeled a rapist.

SHAPIRO: Creeley worries about rules that say schools should determine responsibility based on the lowest standard for the burden of proof. That was dropped from the new law, but it's still part of guidelines to schools that were developed by the Department of Education in 2011.

For Laura Dunn, a lot has changed. Nine years ago, she was ashamed to report what happened to her. Now she's an advocate and lobbied Congress to pass the new law. She's enrolled in law school to keep making change.

DUNN: Absolutely, my goal is to be a victim's rights attorney because victims deserve to be made whole. And that's the purpose of the law.

SHAPIRO: She's been invited to the ceremony today when President Obama signs the updated Violence Against Women Act into law.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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