Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Susan Davis, both California Democrats, on Wednesday proposed new legislation to address campus sexual assault, just hours after a broader bipartisan package on the same topic was unveiled.
The Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act, or SOS Campus Act, would require the designation of a survivor advocate who acts independently of a university and must report to "someone outside the university’s sexual assault adjudication chain of command," according to Boxer's office.
"Wherever a conflict exists between the university’s interest and the victim’s interest," a one-pager on the bill explains, "the advocate must side with the victim."
The advocate would be available to guide victims of sexual assault through reporting the assault; counseling; administrative procedures; medical, health and academic accommodations; and legal processes of the institution or local law enforcement. The advocate would be required to attend any university adjudications on the assault on behalf of the victim, if the victim requests. The advocate also would be required to "maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the victim."
Under the legislation, every university employee who receives a report of sexual assault would be required to provide the victim with an advocate's contact information.
"Victims of a sexual assault need to know someone is there for them, especially the learning institute they have entrusted their future to," Davis said in a statement.
The SOS Campus Act was introduced by Boxer's office with the support of the University of California, a system home to some of the nation's top public colleges. Its flagship, the University of California at Berkeley, is currently under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases. A recent audit of Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego State University and California State University-Chico found fault with how employees responsible for addressing sexual violence are trained.
In a letter from UC President Janet Napolitano to Boxer, provided to The Huffington Post, the university chief praised the SOS Campus Act for potentially allowing schools to "build on their own efforts, rather than follow a one-size-fits-all approach."
"The University of California strongly agrees with the goals of this legislation to ensure that all colleges and universities have a single point of contact for victims of sexual assault, and to provide victims of sexual assault with ready access to the information and services they need," Napolitano said.
Boxer said her bill aims to "encourage more victims to come forward and report these heinous crimes," and promised to work to pass "other broader legislation to end the epidemic of violence on our nation’s campuses."
Boxer on Wednesday signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation spearheaded by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and their offices say the bills are not meant to be competing. However, it's unclear how much the bills would overlap -- a portion of the McCaskill and Gillibrand law also includes requirements for campus advocates. Boxer worked with Gillibrand previously on a military sexual assault reform effort.
The bill from Boxer and Davis also carried the endorsements of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Women's Law Center, Jewish Women International, the American Association of University Women and Legal Momentum, a nonprofit organization that has helped students file Title IX complaints against colleges.