By S. Daniel Carter
President George H.W. Bush signed the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, now known as the Jeanne Clery Act, into law twenty-seven years ago today. The law, named in memory of a Lehigh University student raped and murdered in 1986 by a fellow student she didn’t know, is best known for requiring the disclosure of campus crime statistics. It forever changed college and university safety, from how campuses deal with security to spurring the establishment of specialized victims’ rights organizations like SurvJustice.
As Congress considered and then enacted this landmark legislation, the American public for the first time began having a serious conversation about campus safety including sexual violence that continues to this day. Once the epidemic of campus sexual violence was revealed through the Congressional testimony of brave survivors, and enumerated in statistics published on campus it could no longer remain cloaked in secrecy.
In 1991 building on the groundwork of the Clery Act, a determined group of campus sexual assault survivors, their advocates, and student activists joined with the non-profit organization Security On Campus, Inc. (now known as the Clery Center), founded by Jeanne Clery’s parents Connie and Howard, to push Congress to amend the law to address what was then called “date rape”, a relatively new term at the time. Then as now, about 80 to 90 percent of campus sexual assault is perpetrated by people known to the victim.
In 1992 Congress with strong bipartisan support (Democratic Senator Joe Biden from Delaware and Republican Representatives Susan Molinari from New York and Jim Ramstad from Minnesota led the initiative) enacted the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights, the first substantive amendment to the Clery Act. This law for the first time statutorily enumerated rights for survivors of sexual assault at institutions of higher education geared to ensuring they could continue their educational careers in a safe learning environment. This included the right to changes in academic and living conditions, and guidelines for campus disciplinary proceedings.
While the 1992 law led to dramatic improvements, fifteen years later it was clear more work needed to be done. From 2008 to 2010 the Center for Public Integrity along with NPR conducted a national investigation revealing systemic gaps in both how campuses were handling sexual assault, and how federal guidelines were being enforced. In response Joe Biden, at that time Vice President, Congress, and dozens of advocacy organizations all acted leading to a wave of change dramatically larger than had ever been seen before.
The federal government overhauled how campus sexual assault guidelines were enforced; Congress enacted the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act) a major update to the Clery Act as part of 2013’s Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, and using social media student activists began organizing as never before to demand that their rights be upheld. Beginning as a student activist organization and later as a professional not-for-profit legal services organization SurvJustice has been at the forefront of these changes, helping to develop many of them, and now as advocates for survivors helping them enforce these rights as part of the enduring legacy of the Jeanne Clery Act.
S. Daniel Carter has advocated for safer campuses and victims’ rights for over 27 years. He began his career as a student activist, helping to develop the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights. Later he served as a victim advocate with Security On Campus, Inc., and a founding board member of SurvJustice from 2014 to 2017. Carter is currently the President of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC.
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