By Fiza Pirani at Atlanta Journal Constitution Online
A pair of bills introduced to Congress last month state that universities would have to notify local authorities of sexual assault reports before initiating internal investigations.
So if police aren’t notified, universities can’t act.
The Safe Campus Act and the Fair Campus Act were presented July 29 as the Senate held its first hearing on a bipartisan bill highlighting new regulations on how universities handle cases of sexual assault.
The legislation was pushed by national fraternity organizations — including the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference — which are promoting legislation that call for new protections for students accused of rape.
The bills’ supporters argue that because colleges often fail to treat sexual assault cases as violent crimes, an approach centered on law enforcement would be a better way to handle these types of cases.
“While it’s true the dean isn’t going to sentence a student to 20 years behind bars, a judge or jury in a hearing later might,” said Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
However, the legislation also has its critics. Victim advocates who have long opposed measures requiring schools to turn over sexual assault reports to law enforcement oppose the bills because victims often don’t come forward due to the fear they won’t be believed or because of the lack of prosecution for the few who have come forward.
Some higher education trade groups — including the Association of American Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities — also object to the restrictions imposed by the bills.
According to law enforcement documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, campus police at nine of Georgia’s largest universities logged 152 allegations of rape and sodomy since 2010 — none of which resulted in criminal prosecution.
In addition, the AJC review of law enforcement records showed that even when victims seemed willing to work with local authorities, prosecutors didn’t bring charges.
Earlier this year, the AJC also reported that sexual assault training will be mandatory for all campus employees to help identify and prevent sexual violence and harassment, as part of a new campus safety initative for the Georgia college system set to launch for the 2015-2016 school year.
Training will also be mandatory for campus police on responding to sexual assaults, and annual training will be required for campus officials in charge of enforcing federal sexual violence rules and investigating cases of sexual violence.