Will Confidential Advisor Provision of CASA Help Sexual Assault Survivors?

SurvJustice warns federal lawmakers that a Campus Accountability and Safety Act provision could pose conflict of interest challenges.

As U.S. Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand push for the passage of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) (S. 590), one non-profit dedicated to helping campus sexual assault survivors is working to rally a coalition of national organizations to stand against the confidential advisor provision as written.

“It will mislead and harm survivors while putting schools in the impossible position of advising someone with divergent legal interests and rights,” says SurvJustice Founder and Executive Director Laura L. Dunn.

While SurvJustice is supportive of CASA’s provisions requiring campus climate surveys and memorandums of understanding between campuses and community first responders, Dunn warns against the confidential advisor section of CASA.

RELATED: White House Task Force Pressures Colleges to Improve Handling of Sexual Assaults

“The idea of confidential advisors on campus makes for a nice sound bite, but CASA neither provides confidentially to such a position nor does it address the inherent conflicts of interest campuses would have if advising survivors,” she says. “Any attorney can tell you that campuses have an inherent conflict of interest that would prevent them from fully advocating for survivors, making this provision of CASA outright harmful to survivors.”

While the provision allows campuses to partner with local advocacy centers, Dunn notes the trend is for colleges and universities to keep everything in-house where they have more control over the information given and not given to survivors.

“Survivors of campus sexual violence deserve laws that will protect them from further harm,” says SurvJustice Board President S. Daniel Carter, who has over 25 years of experience on federal campus safety legislation. “We support improvements to CASA that will preserve survivors right to pursue accountability under Title IX and an option to learn about their rights and options from a confidential resource on campus.”

Carter emphasizes that having a confidential resource would ensure survivors get information without triggering mandatory reporting requirements under Title IX and the Clery Act, which was the original goal of CASA. To further these amendments, SurvJustice will be hosting a coalition meeting with several national organizations develop proposals for the Senate HELP Committee currently reviewing CASA.

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

“As a survivor who was assigned a dean as an ‘advocate’ when reporting campus sexual assault, I can tell you that they will not stand up for the rights of survivors when the school is facing liability for its actions or their job is threatened,” says Dunn who reported her assault to the University of Wisconsin-Madison back in 2006.  “The outcome is further trauma to survivors in the form of institutional betrayal and irreparable harm to their legal rights and interests.”

Dunn notes that several survivors have reached out to SurvJustice after campus-assigned advocates failed to properly represent them, and in at least one case, even destroying evidence of a school’s liability.

Photo: Thinkstock

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