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Congress could change how to report campus sexual assault

Congress could change how to report campus sexual assault

October 29
02:42 2015

Eline de Bruijn | Staff Writer 

@debruijneline

A bill working its way through Congress would require victims of sexual violence to report incidents to police before university officials could take action, something many at UNT say would actually deter students from reporting sexual assaults at all.

Executive director of the Texas Association of Sexual Assault Annette Burrhus-Clay said in an email that this bill sends a message to both victims and potential rapists that it’s not a university problem, it’s a criminal justice problem and the university would have no responsibility to the students.

“This is obviously risky to the victim, but also makes the rest of the student population vulnerable as well,” Burrhus-Clay said. “As a parent, I would find that chilling. I have no doubt this legislation would result in fewer victims reporting their sexual assaults or receiving accommodations they need to function at school.”

The Safe Campus Act of 2015 was introduced on Capitol Hill in July by Reps. Pete Sessions and Kay Granger, both Republicans from Texas. Both the National Panhellenic Conference and the North American Interfraternity Conference had been lobbying for the bill, but backtracked in November.

Vice President of Phi Kappa Sigma Doug Campbell said it seems that most sexual assault cases are being underreported and that reporting to the school is easier than reporting to the police.

“A lot of times the victims may not be comfortable going to the police,” Campbell said. “I think anyone with common sense would agree that this bill is biased and stupid. Just no, anyone in general would not agree with that.”

Although the bill would prohibit university’s to take disciplinary action, they could still provide the victim with healthcare services.. Victims of sexual assault sometimes may be in the same classroom, dorm or building as the offender. Universities would also be able to continue to change class schedules and housing for the accused and the victim.

At UNT, there were 12 cases of rape reported on campus during 2014, according to data released in September. Renee McNamara, who is a survivor advocate with the Dean of Students, said about 95 percent of victims don’t report sexual assaults to the police.

Sexual assault awareness information is posted around campus and outside the Dean of  Students Office in Stovall Hall. Ranjani Groth | Staff Photographer

Sexual assault awareness information is posted around campus and outside the Dean of
Students Office in Stovall Hall. Ranjani Groth | Staff Photographer

“I’m here to serve our students and help that student make the decision that is best for them and empower our students and let them know I support them, regardless of whether they want to go to the police or not,” McNamara said.

If the bill goes into law, law enforcement would have a 30-day period to investigate upon being notified of the allegations. If investigations take longer than 30 days, an additional 30-day period would be allowed as an extension. The emphasis here is that the “public interest is best served by preventing the institution from beginning its own investigation and disciplinary proceeding.”

Only authorized campus police officers at universities may be involved with the investigation.

“[Currently,] anytime a campus security authority gets aware of sexual assault, we create a report for Clery,” UNT police spokesperson Kevin Crawford said. “The amount of information is different each time. It depends on the victims’ willingness to provide the information. Per UNT, they have to let the police know immediately.”

Dean of students Maureen McGuinness said the legislation would conflict with federal Title IX requirements. “I think that it negates some things in Title IX under federal law,” she said.

Currently, universities may suspend accused students, but the bill would only allow a maximum of 15 days. When the authorities complete the investigation, universities could slap another 30-day suspension on the student. The suspension would have to run concurrently with the university’s accusation hearings.

Under Title IX universities are required to make a ruling on sexual assault allegations, however the bill allows schools to investigate only after law enforcement completes its investigation.

Other crimes, such as theft and assault, would not be required to go to the police before the university can launch an investigation. The university would continue enforcement of current policies for those crimes.

“I think it adds an extra layer of reporting expectations that we don’t have for other physical crimes on campus,” said Dr. Suzanne Enck, communication studies professor. “I’m bothered by that. It’s certainly very targeted toward victims who are less inclined to go to the police anyway because of cycles of stigma and shame.”

Featured Image: The Dean of Students Office enforces the Code of Student Conduct. Ranjani Groth | Staff Photographer

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