‘Safe Campus Act’ creates controversy

Under the Safe Campus Act, colleges and universities would be barred from taking any action against a student accused of sexual assault if the victim chooses not to involve police.

Colleges and universities could soon be barred from taking any action against a student accused of sexual assault unless the complainant agrees to report the incident to police first.

The Safe Campus Act, a bill currently making its way through Congress, is sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Arizona.

“The Safe Campus Act is a much-needed piece of legislation to protect the fundamental due process rights of all parties in campus sexual assault cases,” Salmon said in a press release. “It protects the rights of student organizations and encourages institutions to offer access to sexual assault prevention programs, further benefitting the student population.”

Per the current law, colleges and universities are allowed to address cases of sexual assault as they deal with any other crime, such as stealing or underage drinking. If enacted, the Safe Campus Act would make it illegal for institutions of higher education to address sexual assault cases without police involvement.

The Clery Center said a law that restricts a college’s ability to conduct its own investigation would hurt victims.

“(The Safe Campus Act) will hinder campus reports of sexual assault by mandating a system that removes power from survivors,” the Clery Center said in a statement. “We oppose lawmakers limiting options for survivors and defining what justice ‘should’ look like.”

The Clery Center also expressed concern that the bill would force survivors of sexual assault to go to the police against their will, stating that survivors should have the option to go to law enforcement, but that this should not be a requirement.

Greek life organizations, such as the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference, as well as civil liberties advocates such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, support the bill.

These organizations cite the need for proper investigations and a fair trial as reasons for their support.

“Allegations of sexual assault should be investigated by impartial, trained law enforcement officers with the necessary skill and expertise to reach just conclusions, and the punitive power to hold those convicted accountable to the victim and society,” FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director Joseph Cohn [told the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education}(https://www.thefire.org/congress-introduces-due-process-legislation-the-safe-campus-act/).

NIC stated that sexual violence is a crime best handled by law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

“Institutions of higher education are simply not as well equipped as law enforcement to handle crimes of sexual violence,” NIC said on its website.

The Clery Center stated that universities would be prohibited from offering schedule changes or housing reassignments unless the victim chooses to involve police. The NIC said the opposite, stating that these services would still be available under the Safe Campus Act.

The NIC and NPC do not represent the opinions of all students involved in Greek Life. Shira Braiterman, sorority member at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said she felt misrepresented by the NPC. She also said that she would be happy to see her sorority, as well as others, part ways with the NPC.

“I think step one in decreasing the prevalence of sexual assault is to get people to feel comfortable reporting it and the Safe Campus Act does exactly the opposite,” Braiterman said. “… The Safe Campus Act is not safe, it doesn’t make campuses safer, (and) it doesn’t make sorority women or any women safer. I was really horrified to find out that NPC was lobbying for this.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, publicly criticized the Safe Campus Act, specifically challenging the fraternity and sorority groups who are lobbying for the bill.

“You don’t protect students from sexual violence by tying the hands of school administrators — and you don’t achieve safety and security for survivors by making the process contingent on a criminal justice investigation that many victims choose not to pursue, and which could take years to resolve,” McCaskill said in a news release.

McCaskill is currently sponsoring her own education reform bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. If passed, McCaskill’s bill would implement a uniform process that colleges and universities must follow when dealing with cases of sexual assault, but would not keep universities from conducting their own investigations or carrying out punishments.

An online petition against the Safe Campus Act has gained support in recent weeks. The petition, which was created by the advocacy group Know Your IX, has gained more than 20,000 signatures as of Nov. 2.

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