Student gov’t wants broader changes to Safe Campus Act

The Association of Big Ten Students recently voted to lobby against the act.

Raj Chaduvula

Student governments across the Big Ten and victim support centers continue their search for a congressional bill that effectively assists sexual assault victims. 
During their winter conference, the Association of Big Ten Students voted to lobby against the Safe Campus Act, which requires victim-survivors to report incidents to police in order for adjudication processes to move forward.
National student leaders unanimously voted to oppose the Safe Campus Act after they concluded it doesn’t show adequate support for victims, said Nick Wilson, executive director for the Big Ten group and a University of Minnesota student.
“We think this would be a deterrent for victims and survivors to report,” he said. 
The group is also concerned that the act infringes upon the power of universities to launch investigations into cases of sexual assault, Wilson said, by requiring concurrent involvement by the criminal justice system.
The university adjudication process need to remain separate, Wilson said.
“We would like to see a trauma-enforced and victim-centric approach as established by experts in the field,” Wilson said. 
Keith Garcia, a coordinator for the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said many greek chapters stood against the bill last fall when his office held a meeting of campus presidents to discuss the Safe Campus Act.
Trained advocates at the University’s Aurora Center — which supports victims of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and harassment — have also taken issue with the bill. 
By requiring victim-survivors to report assaults, the Safe Campus Act narrows their options for reporting and seeking recourse, said the center’s director Katie Eichele. 
The diminished role of universities poses another problem, Eichele said, since the University investigates sexual assaults more like civil cases, and the government investigates them as criminal cases. 
“In criminal cases, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime took place,” she said. “[I]n civil cases … you have to prove to the investigators, by preponderance of the evidence, that this more likely happened than not.” 
Criminal lawsuits often cover sexual assault cases committed by strangers, whereas nearly 90 percent of sexual assault incidences are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, Eichele said. 
The Safe Campus Act places more importance on due process for institutional proceedings rather than on victim support and care, Eichele said. 
Wilson said the Association of Big Ten Students will follow the act as it goes through Congress. The group will be in Washington D.C. the week of April 10 to lobby against the Safe Campus Act.