Sex assault bill divides leaders

National fraternity groups met with U.S. senators last week to discuss victim protection.

by Benjamin Farniok

Universities nationwide might have to stay away from sexual assault investigations if a bill in Congress passes.
The Safe Campus Act would allow law enforcement agencies at least 30 days to investigate a sexual assault claim on campus without universities taking disciplinary action.
The bill would also restrict colleges from investigating sexual assault cases unless police are involved.
National groups, the University of Minnesota, fraternities and victims’ rights organizations are split over the proposed act, as well as another that would increase universities’ accountability. 
Joseph Cohn, the legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said the foundation favors the Safe Campus Act because police have more experience in investigating instances of crime than university investigators do.
“You shouldn’t be fixing planes if you can’t do that well, and you shouldn’t be fact-finding if you can’t do that well,” Cohn said
He said spreading an investigation between different groups could help eliminate bias in investigations.  
FIRE believes it is important to continue debate about the proposed act, Cohn said, adding that it would change a portion of the Safe Campus Act, which could be interpreted as requiring victims of sexual assault to report themselves to authorities.
The act garnered criticism from many victim advocacy groups across the country, said Katie Eichele, director of the Aurora Center.
Requiring reporting to police, as the Safe Campus Act could be interpreted to do, could drive sexual assault victims away from reporting, Eichele said.
“We don’t support anything that takes away the rights of victim-survivors,” she said.
Another legislative proposal, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, would be less harmful to victims, Eichele said.
The proposed act would require universities to designate an adviser for victims of sexual assault and require consistent disciplinary hearing practices, among other provisions.
The accountability act would not cause as sweeping a change as the Safe Campus Act would at the University, Eichele said. Some policies it mandates have already been implemented here, she said, like campus climate surveys.
Both bills would require institutions of higher education and law enforcement agencies to more clearly define their roles in investigations.
Last week, leaders of the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference met with legislators to discuss how best to handle sexual
assault on campus.
Will Foran, vice president of university relations for the NIC said in an email statement they are still looking to speak with more groups across campuses to find the best way to reform campus safety rules and ensure proper protections for victims of sexual assault.
J.D. Braun, president of the University’s Interfraternity Council, said he opposes the Safe Campus Act.
“If the police are always involved in all situations, then the victim-survivor may not get the support they need,” he said, adding that a victim could be unsafe until an investigation is complete if the school is prevented from taking action.
The two proposals follow a history of federal rules on how a university handles assault on campuses, like Title IX and the Campus Save Act, put into effect last year to mandate prevention and awareness programs for sexual misconduct.
Both the Safe Campus Act and the Campus Accountability and Safety Act are awaiting further action in Senate and House committees.