Clery Act unfair to students accused of campus rape, critics say

Jeanne Ann Clery’s rape and murder at the hands of a fellow Lehigh University student was every parent’s worst nightmare.

Connie and Howard Clery channeled their pain and rage into the Clery Act, a law — passed 25 years ago Sunday — that requires all colleges and universities that receive federal funding to share information about crime on their campuses and establish a policy for investigating sex-assault allegations.

Long touted as a strong tool to determine the safety of a campus, the law is now under fire, mostly as it pertains to sexual assaults. Critics say it violates the rights of the accused by giving colleges the power to investigate assaults and take action outside the court system. Proponents caution that any change in the law that would force victims to report sexual assaults directly to police would have a chilling effect.

The controversy coincides with a clamor over the handling of rapes on college campuses, buoyed by a recently released survey of students at 27 major universities that found one in five college women reported being sexually assaulted in the 2014-15 academic year.

“It’s a polarizing debate,” said Alison Kiss, director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, the agency founded by Jeanne Clery’s parents after her 1986 murder. “What critics want is a blanket solution, and as we know, there is no blanket solution.”

Several bills aimed at changing the law are heating up in Washington, D.C., where creators of the Clery Act will gather Friday to celebrate Jeanne Clery’s legacy and discuss ways to improve campus safety.

Some would require police not associated with colleges to investigate rape claims and for accused students to have legal representation through the process.

Under the Safe Campus Act — a bill sponsored by Republican Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona, and Pete Sessions andKay Granger of Texas — a college could not launch an internal investigation if the accuser declined to file a police report. The bill is supported by national fraternity and sorority groups and opposed by victim advocates.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has proposed amending the Clery Act by having campuses designate advisers to help victims navigate the law and create student safety surveys. Her bill also would require the U.S. Department of Education to publish all pending investigations and actions on a website.

But actually McCaskill would prefer the Clery Act be scrapped, saying it “doesn’t accomplish squat.”

Connie Clery said she is scheduled to meet with McCaskill before Friday and hopes to convince her of the law’s value.

“I’d like to tell her why this act is so important and should never be done away with,” Clery said. “I’d like to see her say that to these parents who have kids in college.”