Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to guests gathered for a campaign event at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Sep. 10, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wis. 
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty

Clinton: ‘We need to end campus sexual assault’

Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton added her voice Monday to the growing push to combat the scourge of sexual assault on college campuses. And she said her rival Bernie Sanders is “doing a great job.”

“It is not enough to condemn campus sexual assault. We need to end campus sexual assault,” Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in a speech in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Clinton’s three-pronged plan largely reflects the approach laid out by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) in a bill she unveiled in July. It involves programs aimed at preventing assaults, to be conducted both on college campuses and in high schools; increasing access to support for assault victims; and requiring that colleges and the criminal justice system create processes that provide fairness for both alleged victims and the accused.

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But policy details aside, Clinton, speaking at a “Women for Hillary” event heavy on college students at the University of Northern Iowa, sought to portray herself as an ally and advocate of victims of college sexual assault— a group that a recent Washington Post survey found includes an estimated one in five women.

“To every survivor of sexual assault,” Clinton said, “you have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed. We’re with you.”

She added: “Every student deserves a safe environment in which to learn and thrive, not live in fear.” 

Last year, President Obama unveiled the “It’s On Us” campaign to raise the profile of the issue. He was joined by Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering whether to challenge Clinton for the presidential nomination.

McCaskill’s bill has 33 co-sponsors, including Republicans like Sens. Marco Rubio and Joni Ernst. It would mandate that colleges participating in federal student aid programs create procedures designed to ensure a fair and effective investigative process, and report data on sexual assaults, among other requirements.

California and New York have recently passed “affirmative consent” laws aimed at stopping sexual assault on campus. The laws require both parties to actively give consent at each stage of a sexual encounter.

In a question and answer session after her speech, Clinton also sought to express sympathy with Americans worried about the impact of undocumented immigrants on employment, calling it a “legitimate concern.” The answer, she said, is creating a path to citizenship so that undocumented workers can’t be exploited, allowing employers to undercut wages.

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And asked about Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, who has been gaining on Clinton in recent polls of the race for the Democratic nomination, Clinton said Sanders is “doing a great job.”

“I think it’s great that we’re having a real vigorous discussion of issues in the Dem primary,” she said. “We’re going to have some debates, and we’ll be able to talk about where we agree and where we disagree.”