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Sen. McCaskill: ‘I Am OK with Removing the Clery Act Completely’

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill calls Clery Act ‘a mess’ and ‘flawed’ in calling for repeal or simplification of the law that tracks campus criminal activity. 

The Clery Act’s days are numbered if Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has her way. Speaking at the Campus Safety National Forum on Thursday, McCaskill did not mince words about her views on the law.

“That Clery Act… what a mess! I don’t need to tell you it’s flawed. To be honest with you, I am OK removing the Clery Act completely,” she told an audience of campus safety officials from around the nation, many of whom greeting her declaration with a spontaneous round of applause.

“My goal is to remove it… at a minimum simplify it,” she added. “One of the challenges is to fix the Clery Act so it is not just a waste of time pushing paper.”

But according to the senator, “fixing” the Clery Act is not as easy as it might sound, especially when many of the members in Congress that created and passed the law originally are still on Capitol Hill. “It’s hard for politicians to admit that they didn’t get it right,” she admitted.

McCaskill’s comments came in the context of espousing her own pending legislation in the U.S. Senate called the Campus Safety and Accountability Act (CASA).

“This bill is not Clery that causes paperwork that doesn’t accomplish squat,” she said bluntly, adding that the legislation offers “more due process, real accountability and access to a confidential advisor for sexual assault victims” that would be responsible for explaining the Title IX and criminal justice prosecution options to the victims.

The confidential advisor provision in CASA is similar to a program instituted by the U.S. military that has resulted in a 29% drop in sexual assaults and an increase in the ratio of sex crimes reported from just one reported for every 12 that occur to one in four today.

CASA also requires campuses create a memorandum of understanding that delineates who has responsibility for the assault investigation, promotes evidence preservation and agrees to sharing of information with municipal authorities, McCaskill explained.

“The bill also designates who will not investigate alleged sexual assault… and that includes the athletic department,” she said emphatically.

Senator Cites Jameis Winston Case
McCaskill began her speech with a harsh critique of Florida State University’s handling of football star Jameis Winston’s alleged sexual assault of another student back in 2013.

“This case was terribly unfair to the accused… both sides need fairness,” she said, claiming that a timely investigation did not occur. McCaskill says the first witnesses were not interviewed by investigators until 342 days after the alleged crime occurred.

“Quick and effective investigation is vital,” she added, which is why she believes the confidential advisor provision in CASA is important to help alleged assault victims come forward immediately. “Interviewing witnesses and gathering physical evidence either corroborates people or make them liars. I know due process is important, but don’t give him [the suspect] a pass. Use standard professional interview techniques. Nobody in the Senate has held more hands of sexual assault victims than I have,” she noted, in reference to her years as a lawyer.

Research Shows Colleges Aren’t Handling Assaults Properly
As part of her due diligence before introducing CASA, McCaskill held several roundtable discussions with students from campuses in her home state. She also initiated a detailed nationwide study on the matter with 440 colleges and universities responding to the questionnaire. All respondents were guaranteed that their data would only be revealed in aggregate.

According to the data, nearly one-third of campus law enforcement departments said they had conducted no training in how to respond to sexual assaults. Also, 22 percent of Division I and Division II athletic departments played a role in sexual assault investigations. Moreover, 40 percent of colleges said they had not investigated a sexual assault in the last five years.

“Think about that… could that even be possible?” asked the senator rhetorically to the audience. “Of course not!”

McCaskill said she is confident CASA will pass Congress. It has strong bipartisan support and was revised last fall to make it stronger.

“This bill is not crazy stuff… it is grounded,” she continued. McCaskill recently asked a gathering of school athletic directors to write letters to their own campus safety officials asking them to “treat athletes the same as any other student” during an assault investigation. “I hope some of you receive that letter,” she said.

“I know you might think it takes real nerve for me to come here and lecture you on this topic when Congress is so dysfunctional,” she noted to the audience made up primarily of law enforcement, but McCaskill said it is a topic she is passionate about changing.