Leading the way in VAWA rulemaking and implementation

January 24, 2014

In March of 2013, President Obama signed the extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), reinforcing the United States’ commitment to combat and reduce violence against women in many areas, including domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

CU-Boulder is helping to set the standard on implementation of the requirements of VAWA, and is part of the conversation on the national stage. The U.S. Department of Education has chosen CU-Boulder Office of Victim Assistance Director Jessica Ladd-Webert to serve on the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee for VAWA, where she serves as an alternate negotiator representing Mental Health Services. Ladd-Webert will travel to Washington, D.C., on three occasions this year to participate in these meetings.

“The hope is that the law will continue to bring more prevention and awareness around sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking," said Ladd-Webert.  I’m pleased to lend my voice to the discussion and not only represent CU-Boulder and my mental health colleagues from campuses around the country, but also the voices of survivors.”

One of the greatest successes of VAWA is said to be its emphasis on a coordinated community response to violence against women. The university has been coordinating and implementing many aspects of the extended legislation well before its March 7, 2014 implementation date – as well as integrating our Clery Act compliance with VAWA compliance standards.

Setting the stage for an informed and responsive community, in 2005 the university created the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH). Since that time, all employees (including student employees) are required to take the Discrimination and Harassment training course within the first 30 days of employment with the Boulder campus. All CU-Boulder faculty members must complete the training within their first semester of employment. After completing this initial training, all employees and faculty members are required to take a Discrimination and Harassment training at least once every five years, although some departments require employees to complete the training more frequently. Volunteers, affiliates and students who interact with K-12 student populations are also required to take the training.

In June 2013, nine months ahead of federal compliance deadlines, ODH added VAWA-required elements to the Discrimination and Harassment training. This includes explanations and prevention information on domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. The training also states that CU-Boulder prohibits sexual offenses including sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Since June 2013, approximately 4,200 employees (including student employees) have completed either the online or on-site training.

“We want to be ahead of the curve,” said Ryan Huff, who chairs the campus Clery Compliance Committee. “As soon as the law was passed, the committee got to work right away to ensure we were compliant with VAWA months ahead of schedule. We want to follow best practices and be a national leader in Clery Act compliance.”

For years, CU-Boulder’s Student Code of Conduct has been in compliance ahead of new directives from VAWA. These include the “preponderance of the evidence” threshold for finding suspects responsible for sex offenses. Furthermore, both parties in Student Conduct cases have the same rights, such as bringing an advisor to conduct hearings and notifying both parties of the outcome in writing.

The university has also provided training to all incoming freshmen at Orientation, including information on consent, bystander intervention, definitions of sexual assault and more. In addition, Student Affairs is currently working on an online tool for all new students, with training and information on sexual violence and other safety-related topics.

As part of the university’s efforts to expand our Clery Act reporting as part of VAWA guidelines, effective Jan. 1, 2014, the CU Police Department started collecting data on three new crime categories: domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Furthermore, in the existing hate crime category, federal law has added two new protected classes. They are “national origin” and “gender identity.” The Police Department has also begun tracking these new protected classes within the hate crime category.

One of the most visible elements of Clery Act compliance is the issuance of the “timely warning” to the university community. VAWA prohibits the use of a victim’s name in a timely warning. Historically, CU Police have not used victims’ names in timely warnings because it’s not relevant to the timely warning’s main intention – to provide pertinent information to campus affiliates so they can take whatever protective actions they deem appropriate.

CU-Boulder‘s Clery Compliance Committee meets at least quarterly to address the university’s compliance and best practices. The committee will continue to monitor VAWA rule-making and implement national best practices. 

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