Safe Campus Act Referred to House Subcommittee, Faces Student Opposition
LUCY CAI The Safe Campus Act (H.R. Bill 3403), sponsored by Matt Salmon (R-Texas) and Kay Granger (R-Texas), has been the subject of significant controversy since the bill’s introduction to the House of Representatives in July of 2015. The bill aims to reduce sexual violence on university campuses and false sexual assault accusations. One section of the bill (SEC. 163), however, has elicited fierce opposition.
SEC. 163 states that “During the period in which a law enforcement agency is investigating a covered allegation reported by an institution, the institution may not initiate or otherwise carry out any institutional disciplinary proceeding with respect to the allegation, except to the extent that the institution may impose interim sanctions under subsection.” In other words, an academic institution is not permitted to investigate the crime unless the alleged victim has reported the crime to law enforcement and law enforcement has concluded their investigation.
Unless the alleged victim consents to reporting to law enforcement, the academic institution cannot impose any sanctions on the accused perpetrator. If the victim consents to reporting, the academic institution is also only able to impose minor, interim sanctions, which cannot exceed fifteen days, on the alleged perpetrator if the alleged assailant is deemed to pose a campus security threat until the police investigation of the report has concluded and indictment successfully imposed.
Under Title IX, universities are currently permitted to conduct their own investigations, but proponents of the bill argue that universities have traditionally handled instances of sexual assault poorly, often attempting to cover up such cases in order to maintain reputations. Universities also do not have the jurisdiction to convict perpetrators, and proponents often state that universities have wrongfully punished alleged perpetrators before, consequences that have devastated the falsely accused. By removing the right to handle sexual assault cases from universities and transferring it to law enforcement, cases would be handled with a more standardized, impartial approach.
On the other hand, an overwhelming majority of campus safety and victims’ advocate groups have decried the bill, citing that according to a recent study, the vast majority (nearly 80%) of sexual assault victims do not report the crime to law enforcement and that this bill would severely hinder reporting of sexual assaults. Of the 20% of victims who do report the crime to the police, only 18% of reports result in a conviction, which belies the accompanying statistic – more than one-fourth of women who do not report the assault believe that they would face reprisal and blame from law enforcement.
Victims, who tend more than average to be minorities or gender-nonconforming, often fear increased criminalization and brutality, as well as a lengthy and costly trial. Universities can provide a less risky alternative and can take disciplinary measures such as removing the perpetrator from shared classes with the victim and providing housing reassignments.
Under the Safe Campus Act, however, universities’ ability to take disciplinary measures would be significantly reduced. In addition, the Safe Campus Act targets only sexual assault cases – universities would still be able to enact usual disciplinary measures against instances of theft, drug abuse, and underage drinking.
Law enforcement officials, including Police Chief Anne P. Glavin also noted, “I think you won’t find many in the law enforcement world who support this because of the way it is stacked and, frankly, my own opinion is that all of this legislature on sexual assault — we already have enough in place and I don’t think we need any more of any kind.” Galvin also went on to say that this bill benefits suspects’, rather than victims’, interests.
Student groups have also opposed the bill. Student Government (SG) at the University of Texas at Austin passed a unanimous resolution (A.R. 14) in opposition to the Safe Campus Act on October 27; the bill has been sent to UT Austin administration and President Gregory Fenves.
Juan Saez, the UT Undergraduate Studies representative and a coauthor of the bill, argues that universities play a vital role in assisting sexual assault victims. The Daily Texan also reported that,
Taral Patel, SG chief of staff and [another] co-author of the legislation, said SG members, among others, decided to write the legislation because they think the House bill will discourage survivors of assault from reporting incidents — both because of the short time frame students have to report and because it would limit the University’s ability to help students.
Lee Lueder, the president of UT’s Interfraternity Council, also voiced his support for the SG bill and called the Safe Campus Act’s name “ironic, since it will not keep anyone safe.” His opposition to HR 3403 mirrors the actions of several national Greek organizations which have withdrawn their support from HR 3403.
Alpha Phi, the third largest sorority in the United States, was the first Greek organization to formally announce its withdrawal of support, releasing a statement on November 12th,
We believe our sisters who are survivors should have choices in how, when and to whom they go to for support or to report their crime. They should have their own voice and the support and encouragement they need to move forward including reporting as they choose to.
Since, then, several Greek organizations have withdrawn their support after dissent from members. Despite spending nearly a quarter of a million on intense lobbying efforts in favor of H.R. 3403, the North-American Interfraternity Conference and National Panhellenic Conference (national umbrella Greek organizations) have also withdrawn their support for the bill, citing opposition from member sororities and fraternities.
As increasing criticism of H.R. 3403 for eliminating the methods for which sexual assault survivors can seek support arises from student governments, sexual assault advocacy groups, and Greek organizations, Lueder may have aptly called the Safe Campus Act’s name “ironic.”