Editorial: Sexual assault survivors should not have to be cross examined by their alleged abuser to report their crime

Missouri colleges and universities shouldn’t have to choose between protecting survivors of sexual assault and survivors of false accusations.

The proposed Title IX reform bills introduced by Missouri Republicans in the State House and State Senate are sending a foreboding message to sexual assault survivors that all Missouri colleges and universities should reject.

Missouri Senate Bill 259 and House Bill 573 were created to ensure due process for both parties involved in a Title IX investigation. However, the passing of either of these proposed legislations would create a systematic imbalance in the scales of justice and power in college sexual assault and harassment claims.

House Bill 573, sponsored by Rep. Dean Dohrman (R), would allow for the cross examination of those who filed the claim.

Giving the accused the right to cross examine the accuser is wrong and can be extremely detrimental to the survivor. Even though it would be the lawyer or representative questioning the survivor and not the alleged accuser, this process is extremely aggressive. Since many students can’t afford it, the right to a lawyer isn’t guaranteed at all schools. Additionally, a cross examination would be used as a tool to re-traumatize victims.

A process so invasive and intimidating discourages sexual assault survivors from coming forward. Ultimately, it could decrease the rate at which people report their sexual assaults – further perpetuating the grave prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. At least 20 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men have been raped during their time in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center.

Both versions of the bill would allow for students to sue the university and any employee who conducted the investigation if administrative courts rule that a student did not receive due process throughout the investigation.

This part of the legislation will most likely serve to benefit assaulters.

What’s even more problematic is that in Senate Bill 259, sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine (R), if the alleged assault happened but the accused student is not found responsible, this legislation would also make it possible for the accused to sue a survivor for simply filing the complaint.

The bill fails to properly distinguish a false assault claim from an assault claim that cannot be proven because a lack of evidence. This could be anything from a lack of physical evidence or credible witnesses.

As of Feb. 26, House Bill 573 has not had a hearing scheduled. This bill should be vehemently rejected and ignored by politicians in the Missouri House. Similar action should be taken in regard to Senate Bill 259.

All students deserve to be protected. While rare, false sexual assault claims are a problem and should not be tolerated. According to a 2010 study, 5.9 percent of rape allegations are later proven false.

However, further traumatizing rape survivors is not the way to solve that problem. Sexual assault survivors already have a difficult time reporting their assault. More than 90 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported, according to the National Sexual Violence Research Center.

What universities need to do is investigate each sexual assault and harassment claim on a case-by-case basis. More importantly, colleges and universities need to be encouraging their students to report the crimes committed against them, rather than making it harder for survivors to come forward.

These bills would allow the accused to be more protected than they are in any other state in the U.S. Before allowing these bills to pass, we must think of the message that would send to the rest of the country.

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