The Violence Against Women Act


The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act

The law in about twenty words or less: There’s a lot of violent crime directed at women (often  in their homes); so (as  as a nation) we must do something about it.

More In depth Information:  Signed into law in 1994, as a part of a larger omnibus crime bill, the Violence Against Women Act  (also known as VAWA) was a groundbreaking piece of federal legislation that sought to support and reinforce state and local community responses to sexual assault and intimate violence.

Awareness of a National Problem

During the 1980s, there were two made-for-television films, that  really rocked the nation, in terms of the manner in which they raised  awareness of the severity of the problem of domestic violence. Both films were based on real life accounts of victims of domestic violence. The first one was  “The Burning Bed”  released in October of 1984. This film was based on the true story of Francine Hughes, who, in the film,  was brutally and relentlessly beaten by her husband for years, and was unable to secure any assistance from any community resources (law enforcement, community centers, family). As a result, in order to escape the abuse, she set her husband’s bed on fire and destroyed her home in the process as well. That film was quite an eye-opener, to what was often the end result of a very serious national problem that clearly wasn’t being appropriately death with.

If the Burning Bed wasn’t enough to drive home the severity of the problem, there was the  a 1989 television movie, A Cry for Help: The Tracey Thurman Story. This was another film based on a true story that resulted in  a law suit that was  impetus for  sweeping national reform in the area of domestic violence, as well as in the state of Connecticut.  On June 10, 1983,  Tracey Thurman was viciously attacked, stabbed thirteen-times, in her neck, shoulder and face, and nearly killed by her husband, after contacting law enforcement. In her subsequent 1984 civil lawsuit she alleged that  the local police had ignored growing signs of domestic violence and had casually dismissed restraining orders and other legal bars to keep  her husband away from her.  Thurman prevailed in the suit and was awarded $2.3 million dollars.   She was the first woman in America to sue a town and its police department for violating her civil rights,  and also pointed out a very common and prevalent problem with regard to domestic violence, the non-responsiveness of law enforcement.

Law Enforcement, Courts, Community Service Providers

Thus began a watershed of national dialogue and discussion of the huge problem of domestic and intimate violence in our society. These films, and many others  that followed, shed a light on the difficulties women have in trying to escape violent intimate relationships.

Specifically,  in the area of sexual assault and intimate violence, nationally there were a lot of barriers that prevented, law enforcement, courts and community service providers from adequately addressing the issues. For example, law enforcements’s lack of responsiveness was clearly an issue, but also, there were jurisdiction issues. When victim’s crossed state lines in an effort to escape violence and abuse, when and if perpetrators followed, protection orders issued in one state, became invalid in the other. Shelters and other community resources for victims were severely underfunded.

The Purpose of VAWA

The purpose of VAWA, was to provide sources of federal funding to fill in many of these gaps. and encourage a breakdown of all of the barriers that were getting in the way of victim assistance.  Greater responsiveness of law enforcement was encouraged. Protection orders were to be recognized across state lines. Service providers and communities were to receive access to greater resources.

What does VAWA require schools to do: VAWA requires that schools implement the Campus SaVe Act, which is also summarized in this overview.


American Council on Education. “New Requirements Imposed by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.” (n.d.): n. pag. American Council on Education. American Council on Education, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Clery Center For Security On Campus. “The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.” Clery Center For Security On Campus. Clery Center For Security On Campus, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Gore, Donna. “Landmark Domestic Violence Legislation: Tracey Thurman vs. Torrington, CT Is There a Downside?” Donna R. Gore. Donna R. Gore, 30 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Grigsby, Susan. “‘The Burning Bed,’ 30 Years Later. And Ray Rice, Now.” Daily Kos. Daily Kos, 14 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Legal Momentum. “Violence Against Women Act Overview.” Legal Momentum The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. Legal Momentum, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

U.S. Department of Justice. “About the Office.” U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Not Alone

not-aloneThe White House Task Force “Not Alone” Report

The White House Task Force “Not Alone” Report

The guidance in about twenty words or less: There’s a lot of sexual assault occurring on the nation’s college campuses that is not being appropriately handled. Let us (the White House Task Force) provide even additional guidance (in the vein of the “Dear Colleague Letter”) on how the nation can deal with this crisis best.

More In depth Information: The White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault was established on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to help combat sexual

assault on their campuses.   

In April of 2014, the “Not Alone” report was  issued, and in that report, more guidance was developed that extended far beyond the  sort of specific regulatory guidance provided in the Dear Colleague Letter, which focused narrowly and primarily on  a school’s appropriate response to complaints of sexual and intimate violence.

In the executive summary of the Not Alone report, four core areas of focus were:

1. Identification of the problem;

2. Prevention of Sexual Assault on Campus;

3. Effective School Response to Sexual Assault

4. Increased Transparency and Improved Federal Enforcement

Identifying the Problem: Campus Climate Surveys

With regard to the identification of the problem, the very first recommendation is a campus climate survey. A climate survey examines both the amount of sexual assault occurring (prevalence or incidence) and perceptions of campus climate. Perceptions of campus climate are attitudes among students, faculty, staff, and/or administrators about the campus atmosphere regarding sexual assault.

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Engaging Men

With regard to preventative sexual assault, the “Not Alone” report has some real unique recommendations around prevention, one of which is getting men more deeply involved in the work of sexual assault prevention. This is a call to develop prevention programs that will change attitudes, behavior – and the culture, which, many sexual assault and intimate violence prevention advocates refer to as “rape culture.”

The term “rape culture” refers to the  idea that our society allows rape to occur, for the most part with impunity.  It’s a society where rape, is  more or less encouraged, through normalization of non-consent.  This normalization occurs through images and narrative presented in mainstream media, social media, pornography, as well as the kinds of ideas and values that become acceptable in the culture, as a result of the images and narratives.

The term “rape culture” is a highly controversial one; but whether any one particular individual agrees or disagrees with the idea of rape culture, is irrelevant. The fact that there are many in our society who do believe that such a culture exists, and who do refer to it being at issue, with regard to sexual assault and intimate violence, requires that the idea be examined and considered with regard to the management of complaints of sexual assault and intimate violence; and that certainly such ideas should be discussed with regard to the prevention of sexual assault and intimate violence

The “Not Alone” report actually calls for an examination of the attitudes and behaviors that we engage in as a culture, in order to determine what can be done to prevent sexual assault.

Effective Response

With regard to responding to sexual assault, the “Not Alone” report  has recommendations that reinforce and expand upon the guidance offered in the Dear Colleague Letter.  One of these recommendations is that students receive services and treatment that take into consideration the trauma of sexual assault; which can affect students differently than other types of trauma.

The “Not Alone” report recommends that students be permitted to speak confidentially with a faculty and/or staff member about the assault, if that is their preference.

The “Not Alone” report also recommends, (and I would agree that this is critical)  that schools adopt comprehensive sexual misconduct policies. To this end, the task force provides a tool kit, where schools can access a checklist for schools for use in drafting (or reevaluating) their sexual misconduct policies.

Additionally, appropriate training  for responding. The “Not Alone” report makes it clear, that not just anyone should be responding to individuals who are reporting sexual assault, but only individuals who have received trauma informed training, should be on the front line of response to these kinds of complaints.

The “Not Alone” report also strongly recommends that schools begin developing partnerships with community agencies that have more training and skills with regard to dealing with sexual and intimate violence; as well as partnerships with local law enforcement agencies that would be responsible for investigating a criminal allegation of sexual assault.

With regard to the crime of sexual assault, neither law enforcement’s or a community agencies involvement with the victim’s allegations absolves the school of taking the appropriate action on their end; however, for the sake of providing the best support for victims, schools are encouraged to develop partnerships so that all three organizations are working collaboratively on the issues.

Finally, the “Not Alone” report takes a critical look at the adjudication processes many schools use to deal with allegations of misconduct, including sexual assault and suggests that, with regard to sexual assault, other processes, such as the investigative model that has been used successfully in the civil rights realm for many years, might be the better model to deal with these.

Increasing Transparency and Improving Enforcement 

The “Not Alone” report also makes it clear that the federal government needs to be involved in ensuring that college campuses understand how to respond to sexual assault effectively, and to this end,  more resources will be provided from the  Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in the form of additional guidance around  student’s rights, and a school’s obligations, under Title IX.

While the “Not Alone” Report insists that the “new guidance clarifies that Title IX protects all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear that students who report sexual violence have a right to expect their school to take steps to protect and support

them, including while a school investigation is pending.”

It’s an interesting statement given that there have been accusations of the Department of Educations Dear Colleagues guidances going to far to protect reporters of sexual assault (who are primarily, but not always women) while ignoring the rights of those who must respond to the reports of sexual assault (who are usually, but not always women.) Which will be discussed in greater detail below, under case law, but one such case, that received quite a bit of attention was Nungesser v. Columbia University. You know the case, here’s a hint, it involves a mattress. 

What does the “Not Alone” Report  require schools to do:  The Not Alone report requires that schools begin considering innovative ways to assess and change campus culture with regard to preventing and responding to sexual assault.


The White House. NOT ALONE – The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault (n.d.): n. pag. notalone. The White House, Apr. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

The Jeanne Clery Act of 1990

clery-monumentThe Jeanne Clery Act

The law in about twenty words or less: Parents and students cannot assume that college environments are safe. Universities must track, report and effectively communicate violent campus crime statistics.

More In depth Information: The way that this law came about is truly tragic.  On April 5, 1986, Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm, by a fellow student whom she did not know. As a result, her parents became champions of a law requiring the disclosure of crime on college campuses that we now know as the Jeanne Clery Act, or more colloquially referred to as just the Clery Act. 

Clery is about extensive record-keeping and statistics compilation. Under Clery schools must disseminate  an annual security report, that contains very specific information, to current students and employees every year by October 1. How the information is to be collected is specified in great detail, as well as the manner in which the report is to be communicated.  Where schools often run into difficulties with Clery is in not collecting the information as specified and not disseminated it as specified. This Act has been amended a few times, since it’s initial passage, and as a result of the 2013 VAWA reauthorization, the Act has been amended to include specific communication that must take place with regard to victims of sexual assault and intimate violence.

What does Clery require schools to do: Clery requires that schools keep pretty extensive documentation regarding the kinds of crimes that occur on their campus annually. The information is to be gathered from local law enforcement agencies as well as campus authorities. The information regarding the crime is to be communicated via an annual security report, which is to be disseminated in some way that assures easy access via faculty and students alike. This is usually done by making the report available on the campuses website. Clery also requires that schools provide timely warnings and notifications regarding crime that is occurring on campus that could potentially endanger anyone on campus. Today, this is typically accomplished via an electronic alert system, accessed via cellphone.


Carter, S. Daniel. “Jeanne Clery Act Information.” Jeanne Clery Act Information. S. Daniel Carter, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

Clery Center For Security On Campus. “Summary of the Jeanne Clery Act.” Clery Center For Security On Campus. Clery Center For Security On Campus, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.


Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The law in twenty words or less: A students educational records are private, and by the way, they have the right to review those records.

ferpaMore In Depth Information: So what is the deal with  the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, colloquially known as FERPA? Why would such a law need to be passed? Does anyone remember, (as I do) the  traumatic cliche “it’s going to be on your permanent record?” That used to be a thing. I think that has by and large lost it’s stigma (as we now live in a society where everything, everywhere is on everyone’s permanent record, always the internet is forever.)

But before social media, and before so much in the world was so transparent, (for better or worse) these so called “permanent records” were often deep sources of trauma, for people who suspected that erroneous or damaging statements, or facts had been placed on their permanent record, much to their detriment. Enter FERPA.

Prior to 1974, apparently information was placed on one’s permanent record and they often times had no knowledge of it or access to it.

Student’s were haunted by damaging labels or information that followed them through-out their secondary educational experience, which also apparently led to detrimental experiences later on. Neither the students nor their parents were able to to access this information and understandably that was problematic for them. FERPA attempted to correct this problem. As a result of FERPA,  parents were able to access their children’s educational records and once the children turn 18, that right transfers to them. It is important to note that FERPA also intersects with Title IX, with regard to the kinds of documents that may be produced during the investigation of an investigation of a Title IX investigation. These documents are also considered educational records. To that end, student’s who participate in these investigations do have the right to access and review these records. Schools may want to implement a specific policy with regard to these investigative records, as these records are highly sensitive and need to be protected somewhat for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of the investigation.

What does FERPA require schools to do: Schools are required to allow students over 18  access to their educational records; and additionally all school employees who access or create these records are required to keep the records confidential, only to be released to the appropriate party – parents of students under the age of 18, and the actual students themselves for students 18 and over.


US Department of Education. “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).” Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). US Department of Education (ED), 26 June 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2016.

The Complications of Compliance

Compliance – It’s Complicated, but It Doesn’t have to be

There are so many laws, regulations and guidances that have an impact upon how higher education is expected to deal with sexual assault and intimate violence on college campuses. There is Title IX of the Education Act of 1972, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act,  (Campus SaVE Act) which is incidentally, a part of the  Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act,  which then spurred amendments to the Jeanne Clery Act. Also, let’s not forget the April 2011  “Dear Colleague” letter, which identifies a host of responsibilities, to be undertaken by a (often newly appointed) Title IX coordinator.

In this “Dear Colleague” letter, the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights highly recommends that every institution of higher education appoint at least one individual into a Title IX coordinator full-time position for the express purpose of overseeing compliance efforts in the area of sexual assault and intimate violence.

Also, on April 29, 2014, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report entitled, Not Alone. This report contains a number of recommendations and action items which, institutions of higher education are expected to implement in order to combat sexual assault and intimate violence.  The problems presented by a need to be in compliance with so many laws can be pretty complex.  Proposed solutions involving all these numerous and sometimes conflicting, laws, guidances and recommendations seem complicated.

But this cannot get too complicated because the moment that happens any attempts to actually solve the problem become ineffective. This is where Alchemy Enterprises can help. We take the complicated and we simplify it. With all this information that is coming at you, whether you be a Title IX coordinator, a Provost, a Vice President of Student Affairs, a Sorority President, a Fraternity President, A Student Activist, or a member of the PanHellenic council, or Student Government, Alchemy Enterprises can help.  We understand that you need to understand the issues and your responsibilities with regard to them and then you need to do something. And not just anything, but the right thing. And that’s where Alchemy Enterprises can help.