The Clery Act: How Penn State’s Scandal Could Affect Financial Aid

By: Dani Nispel,  Program and Policy Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations

NCAA president, Mark Emmert, announced this morning that Penn State Football would not face the “death penalty.” The team would not be suspended for a year, but it would face punishments including a $60 million fine. Some are saying the sanctions against Penn State are more crippling than the “death penalty”, but it may not be over yet. The NCAA has had its say, as the governing body of athletics. However, The Department of Education has been investigating since November to see if Penn State violated the Clery Act. If the University did indeed violate the Clery Act by covering up sexual harassment, it could put their federal funding on the line.

The Clery Act and Title IX are related pieces of legislation. The Clery Act requires that Universities make public information regarding crimes on their campus. Compliance with the Clery Act is also what’s necessary for universities to keep their federal funding (for financial aid). A report from the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education says, “When sexual harassment occurs, Title IX requires that schools take immediate, effective action to eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy the effects on the victim.” Under Title IX, sexual harassment (including sex based and gender based harassment) is not allowed to go unaddressed, and under the Clery Act an institution must publicly report all crime figures.

The Department of Education (DoE) has never completely cut off federal funding for an institution in violation of the Clery Act; it usually levies fines. However, the Department of Education has been increasing enforcement of the Clery Act, and in the past six years, “ten schools have been fined a total of $1.4 million for Clery Act violations.” In Penn State’s case, the DoE is looking through thirteen years of school records to see if in fact, officials were guilty of deliberately covering up the childhood sexual assault.

The Violence Against Women Act has also highlighted the importance of the Clery Act in keeping schools safe. The Senate’s version of VAWA helped to improve the Clery Act through measures that would create and improve services and policies for sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.

Interested in finding out more about your university’s compliance with the Clery Act? The DoE provides this tool, which allows you to look up crime statistics for college campuses. Here is a list of frequently asked questions about the Clery Act. And here are instructions on how to file a Clery Act complaint.

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