Controversy bubbled in the state of Georgia regarding a new bill — dubbed HB 51 — that would require all universities to report incidents of sexual assault on campus to law enforcement, regardless of the victim’s feelings. Most universities currently have policies that allow victims to decide whether they want to report their assaulters or rapists to authorities. Under this policy, the university usually decides what punishment is appropriate on a case-by-case basis. Supporters of this new bill — which many have compared to the philosophies of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — say it will protect people from being falsely accused. In reality, it sets a dangerous precedent, which would ultimately discourage victims of sexual assault from reporting such incidents.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college. Additionally, it is reported that more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims do not report their incidents. Under Title IX, universities are required to address any sexual misconduct that occurs on campus through disciplinary hearings. If reported to law enforcement and dealt with in the criminal justice system, rape cases would be public and the names of victims could found in public records.
The problem with taking investigative power away from universities in cases of rape is that it forces victims to report the incidents to police officers instead of campus administrators. This can discourage victims from reporting rape at all, for reasons that run the gamut but broadly pertain to the weight associated with talking to the police. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 20 percent of student victims wouldn’t report an incident to the police from a fear of reprisal, and another 26 percent wouldn’t because they believed that the crime is a personal matter. In addition, while the harshest punishment a university can dole out is expulsion, involving the police can obviously heighten the stakes of reporting. This can deter reporting because of the perceived notion that the reporter is ruining their rapist’s life.
This bill has gained support under the guise of protecting those falsely accused of sexual assault, but it will most likely further deter victims of rape from reporting their incidents. It restricts victims’ freedom to deal with the case in the manner they wish. If this bill passes, it could make rape a more repressed issue than it already is and open the doors for states other than Georgia to follow suit.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Aril 3rd print edition.
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