Violence act includes campus safety laws

Obama is expected to sign the new Violence Against Women Act today.

Violence act includes campus safety laws

Janice Bitters

Federal legislation to be signed into law this week requires colleges to create prevention and education programs on sexual violence and assault for incoming students.

Parts of the soon-to-be reauthorized Violence Against Women Act mandates programs that address issues of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking for all students.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to reauthorize an expanded version of VAWA that included provisions for LGBT persons, immigrants and Native Americans.

Originally enacted in 1994, the law provides services to sexual assault and violence victims and strengthens laws to prosecute offenders. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the new bill Thursday.

Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center at the University of Minnesota, said the University already has many of the mandated programs.

The Aurora Center conducted nearly 50 training presentations on topics such as sexual and relationship violence and stalking in their fiscal year 2012, according to the center’s 2012 annual report. Attendees included University students and faculty, as well as visitors from other colleges, local high schools and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Another new provision in VAWA requires training for all university police officers in effective responses to sexual and domestic violence. In addition, police must separately track incidents of dating violence, sexual assault and stalking to better understand the prevalence of each.

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said his department doesn’t currently track these crimes separately.

However, he said he thinks the University police department is well prepared to follow the new requirements because of guidelines currently in place for University law enforcement.

“Essentially, colleges and universities have to report way more crime statistics than any other [police] department does,” Miner said. “If you compare us to the Minneapolis Police Department, we have to compare much more data.”

Eichele said the University is already looking into programs that can potentially be administered to all first-year students, including online training modules.

Sociology of law, criminology and deviance senior Jodi Dornbusch said the additional outreach and violence education may be beneficial to new students at the University.

“People don’t want to be victims, so I think that sometimes people who experience [violence] are hesitant to do something about it,” Dornbusch said. “They think, ‘That’s not me — the person who experiences that thing.’”

Dornbusch said she’d like to see outreach that shows common situations college students find themselves in.

“On campus, you see all this information all the time, and you don’t really connect it to an experience you might have had,” Dornbusch said. “But ads that point out those [common situations] can make people really think, ‘Yeah that happened to me,’ or, ‘That happened to my friend.’”

Legislators failed to reauthorize VAWA for the first time in more than 16 years in 2011 because of language in the bill that provided new protections for members of the LGBT community, immigrants and Native Americans, according to the Associated Press.

A version of the House bill caused similar controversy this year by excluding provisions for the additional groups, but an expanded version eventually passed.

The only Minnesota congressperson to vote against the expanded bill was Rep. Michele Bachmann, who said she felt the House version of the VAWA bill was stronger.

Eichele said she is happy with the final vote.

“The reality is that we want VAWA to benefit everyone,” she said.