Michigan lawmakers in Congress propose legislation to hold universities accountable for sexual abuse


The Capitol is seen in Washington, early Wednesday, April 28, 2021, as President Joe Biden prepares to address House and Senate lawmakers on his first 100 days in office. Biden will speak before a pared-down gathering of mask-wearing legislators due to coronavirus restrictions. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WLNS) – Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, (D-MI) alongside Representatives Elissa Slotkin (MI-08,) Fred Upton (MI-06,) and Lisa McClain (MI-10) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that aims to hold universities that receive federal funding accountable for sexual abuse.

The Accountability of Leaders to Report Title IX Investigations (ALERT) Act, reintroduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Brad Schneider (IL-10) would require university leaders to certify that they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by university employees.

“The excuse of ‘I didn’t know’ can never be used again by university leadership — they have a solemn responsibility to protect students,” said Senator Peters in a joint press release.

“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.”

“When I met with survivors, they were very clearly focused on the future and making sure other young women never have to experience what they have gone through,” said Senator Stabenow. 

“This bill is just one step we can take to make sure all universities take sexual abuse more seriously and that their leadership is held publicly accountable.”

The ALERT Act is supported by the National Women’s Law center and the American Associated of University Women.

“As the Representative for Michigan State University, I feel a unique obligation to stand up for the students on campus who have shown incredible bravery and strength in coming forward and sharing their experiences,” said Representative Slotkin.

Title IX requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to establish procedures for responding to instances of sexual violence on campuses.

Title IX also requires higher-learning facilities to have a Title IX coordinator in place to monitor investigations and ensure compliance with federal regulations.

“We should be doing everything we can to protect student safety on college campuses. Our students deserve nothing less,” said Representative Upton. “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.”

The ALERT Act garnered support after high-profile cases of Title IX violations broke, such as the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University, or the Jerry Sandusky case at Pennsylvania State University.

This bipartisan coalition says that current Title IX regulations and/or external investigations have not been sufficient motivators for “high-ranking university officials to report the truth.”

“When we send our kids to college, we do so with the expectation that the institution they attend will provide safety and security on their campus.  Our youth should never be taken advantage of, especially by those in a position of power at a university. Many colleges and universities do a great job at this, but we need to ensure those that fall short are held accountable,” said Representative McClain. “What happened at Michigan State University was a tragedy and should never happen again, and I’m hopeful this legislation will bolster an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure it never does.”

“Senior administrators and board members have a responsibility to ensure our college campuses are safe environments for learning and personal growth by working diligently to protect these communities from harassment and sexual predators,” said Representative Schneider. “Recent events have exposed severe shortcomings in the processes universities use to handle incidents of sexual violence, including examples where university officials failed to act or claimed to be unaware of investigations into abuse. This bipartisan bill ensures leadership is informed of incidents of employee sexual misconduct and held publicly accountable for their response.”

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