Holland Sentinel: Upton, Peters, Stabenow introduce bill to hold universities accountable for sexual abuse reporting

WASHINGTON — Legislation with bipartisan and bicameral backing in Congress would require leaders at higher education institutions to certify they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuses perpetrated by the institution's employees.

The Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations, or ALERT Act, was reintroduced in Congress by Democrat Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, along with Republican Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and others April 30.

The legislation would require any university or college that receives Title IX funding 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 the top official had not interfered with nor inappropriately influenced an ongoing investigation.

Title IX is a federal law that states no person shall be discriminated against, excluded from or denied benefits in education on the basis of sex. It also requires institutions to report instances of sexual discrimination, harassment or violence in a timely manner.

Lawmakers cited the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University, where investigations found that former university leaders failed to take action after reports were made that Nassar, a former MSU employee, sexually abused dozens of gymnasts at the university. In 2018, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in jail.

“The excuse of ‘I didn’t know’ can never be used again by university leadership — they have a solemn responsibility to protect students,” Peters said in a statement. “The ALERT Act would implement the measures necessary to hold college and university officials accountable. Survivors, their loved ones and our higher learning communities deserve better. I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to enact this critical legislation.”

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, speaks to media on Monday, May 3, 2021 following a tour of the West Michigan Vaccine Clinic at the DeVos Center in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich.

The ALERT Act is supported by the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center. The legislation was introduced in Congress' previous session in 2019, but failed to make it out of the House.

"We should be doing everything we can to protect student safety on college campuses. Our students deserve nothing less,” Upton said. “The bipartisan ALERT Act is an important step forward, ensuring university leaders are informed of incidents of sexual violence on their campus. Those reports can then be addressed quickly and in the correct manner.”

Source: Holland Sentinel