By Meghan Keenan at Red Alert Politics
Democrats and Republicans are divided over campus sexual assault legislation, but so far, many students, school administrators and advocacy groups are united against the new Safe Campus Act.
The bill, introduced in July by Reps. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Kay Granger (R-Texas), and Pete Sessions (R-Texas), would compel universities to report allegations of sexual assault to a law enforcement agency. The bill would also prohibit the school from carrying out any disciplinary proceedings against the accused student other than “interim sanctions,” such as temporary suspensions, no contact orders, adjustment of class schedules, or changes in housing assignments.
This requirement would be a change from the current practice, as schools typically handle allegations of sexual assault independently.
Requiring early reports to police would help ensure that survivors have the evidence they need to pursue charges months after an assault, Rep. Salmon said in a Education and the Workforce committee hearing on Thursday.
However, several witnesses at the hearing warned the legislation could prevent rape survivors from coming forward at all.
“If you’re looking for a way to not have students report — not only just to the school, but also to law enforcement — make it mandatory,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations at the American Association of University Women.
The Education Department’s gender equity law, Title IX, requires colleges to address reports of sexual violence, but allows the student reporting the attack to choose whether to report it to their school, law enforcement, or both.
The advocacy group “Know Your IX” helped promote student protest against the bill with an online campaign calling the it the “Unsafe Campus Act.”
A Change.org petition against the Campus Safe Act that currently has over 5,000 signatures, says reporting sexual assault to the police can be a “shameful and traumatizing process” for victims.
“For undocumented students who might be afraid of deportation, or students of color who experience police violence at disproportionate rates, going to the police is often the last thing that they would do to feel safe after an attack,” the petition continues.
The Huffington Post reported Stanford University students attended the congressional hearing to protest the Safe Campus Act. The students held up signs that said, “Wrong,” after hearing statements in support of the bill.
The only witness at the hearing who was in favor of the Campus Safe Act was Joseph Cohn, the legislative and policy director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Cohn said legislation may not be able to bridge the gap between universities and courts coordinating with law enforcement to adjudicate campus sexual assaults cases, “but it can prioritize linking complainants with the proper authorities and medical professionals; help reduce bias; provide ample resources for education, prevention efforts and counseling services; set forth a framework for providing students with housing and academic accommodations; give institutions the tools to protect their campuses on an interim basis while the wheels of justice turn; and provide all affected parties with meaningful rights that will help them protect their own interests.”
Bills revising the procedure of campus sexual assault investigations have been introduced in both the House and Senate as lawmakers prepare for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.