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On 51st anniversary, Michigan legislators hold universities accountable for sexual abuse

Bipartisan, bicameral bill by Peters, Stabenow, Slotkin, McClain would require university leadership to review sexual abuse cases involving employees


By Black Headline News

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Representatives Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-07) and Lisa McClain (R-MI-09) reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to hold universities receiving federal funding accountable for sexual abuse cases. The Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations (ALERT) Act – which the members reintroduced with U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10) – would require university leaders to confirm they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuses perpetrated by university employees. The reintroduction of this legislation comes on the 51st anniversary of the enactment of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which banned discrimination in education on the basis of sex including sexual harassment or violence.


“We simply cannot accept the ‘I didn’t know’ excuse from university leadership when students fall victim to sexual abuse by those who were supposed to keep them safe. Survivors and their loved ones deserve better,” said Senator Peters. “That’s why I’m reintroducing this bipartisan, bicameral bill to hold accountable higher education officials to their responsibility to protect students and faculty from harm.”


“When I met with survivors, they were very clearly focused on the future and making sure other young people never have to experience what they have gone through,” said Senator Stabenow. “This bill is just one step we can take to make sure all universities take sexual abuse more seriously and that their leadership is held publicly accountable.”


“As the Representative for Michigan State University, I feel a unique obligation to stand up for brave students who have come forward to share their experiences, demand justice, and call for change,” said Representative Slotkin. “As I know from my time at the Pentagon, culture is set at the top, and senior university administrators must be fully informed of any allegations of sexual harassment and assault on campus. This legislation will ensure accountability in these cases, and guarantees that no one can make excuses and say “I didn’t know.”


“Abuse and harassment on college campuses can never be tolerated, especially when its be perpetrated by those in power against college students,” said Representative McClain. “Here in Michigan, we saw abuse happen at MSU that was unconscionable, and it has left a scar that will never fully heal. I am proud to reintroduce this bill with my colleagues that will hold universities accountable and ensure our future is free from the tragedy of abuse.”


“We are proud to support the ALERT Act and the increased accountability measures for sexual harassment by university employees that it requires, which ultimately will help to create safe spaces for all,” said Shiwali Patel, Director of Justice for Student Survivors at the National Women’s Law Center. “Unfortunately, despite the continued prevalence of sexual harassment in schools, too often schools are sweeping it under the rug. The ALERT Act will ensure that university leaders review reports of sexual abuse by university employees, making them aware of sexual abuse happening by employees within their institutions and thus not allowing it to be ignored by high level officials.”


“A cornerstone of women’s economic security is ensuring that all women and girls to have full access to education free from fear or violence and harassment,” said Gloria L. Blackwell, CEO, American Association of University Women (AAUW). “AAUW supports the ALERT Act, which would prioritize responding to sexual assault committed by employees at colleges and universities by involving the highest levels of leadership – the president and boards of the institution. At a time when Title IX complaints are on the rise, the ALERT Act as a tangible step that Congress can take to ensure that schools work to protect students from sexual violence.”


The bipartisan ALERT Act is supported by the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center.


Under Title IX, colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to establish clear procedures for promptly responding to instances of sexual violence on campuses. They must also have a Title IX coordinator in place to oversee investigations, coordinate disciplinary actions, and ensure compliance with federal guidance.


However, after university leaders have continually failed to take action on or even claim they were unaware of reports of sexual abuse by university employees, such as in the cases of Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University, official Title IX or external investigations as currently constructed have not proven to be sufficient motivators for high-ranking university officials to report the truth.


The ALERT Act would require federally funded colleges and universities to submit an annual certification to the Secretary of Education affirming that the school’s President, or equivalent officer, and at least one other member of the Board of Trustees have reviewed all sexual abuse investigations involving an employee reported to the Title IX coordinator that year. The annual certification would also require confirmation that neither the President, or equivalent officer, or board member had interfered with or inappropriately influenced an ongoing investigation.

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