“The Safe Campus Act”: Two Steps Back for Campus Safety

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The Safe Campus Act (Matt Solomon, R-AZ; Pete Sessions, R-TX; Kay Granger, R-TX) is up for discussion this week in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.   This bill would prohibit colleges from investigating criminal sexual assault allegations unless they are reported to law enforcement.

The rationale behind the bill sounds like common sense: “If it’s a criminal act, it should be investigated by police.”

The truth of sexual assault on campus is much more complicated, however:

 

  1. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 80% of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement. Non-reporting is, in fact, higher among college students than others of this age group.  The Safe Campus Act would effectively mean that colleges would be helpless to protect men and women victims who want to be protected from further abuse, but who for any reason (including the too-often traumatizing process of making a formal police report) wish to keep their complaint anonymous and/or within the campus community.
  2. The Safe Campus Act would upend current Title IX protections for students and colleges for no good reason. Under the current Title IX, VAWA, Clery Act compliance structure, Colleges do NOT adjudicate criminal issues on their campuses via their investigation/hearing board processes.  Colleges cannot impose criminal penalties.  Colleges are required, however, to investigate and adjudicate violations of their own student and campus conduct policies. Penalties meted out where students are found “responsible for” (not guilty of) sexual assault are much less severe than criminal penalties.
  3. Under the Safe Campus Act, colleges would find themselves unable to investigate some of the most serious violations of their own conduct codes unless students reported these violations to law enforcement.  [If a student was raped, but did not report the rape to police, the college could not investigate the assault.]
  4. Given the unfortunate stigma of reporting rape and sexual assault, students (both male and female) would lose many of the invaluable protections afforded them by Title IX, VAWA, and the Clery Act under The Safe Campus Act.

Here are some reliable stats on campus sexual assaults–underscoring the need for increased, not decreased, protections for students:

AEQUITAE—is founded on the idea that everyone will be safer and better protected (accusers and accused) if the current rhetoric on sexual assault is lowered, if college students, administrators and law enforcement are educated about the issue, and if common sense and due process can prevail throughout a process of adjudication of sexual assault.  AEQUITAE believes and is committed to the idea that campuses can learn to adjudicate sexual assault in ways that are fair for both accused and accusers.

The Safe Campus Act is not the way forward.