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Safe Campus Act’s ‘all or nothing’ approach will harm victims, help accused

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

This July, Republican Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Pete Sessions and Kay Granger of Texas proposed the disconcertingly named Safe Campus Act.

Advocacy groups working with sexual assault victims unanimously oppose the Safe Campus Act.

At the very least, the bill would restrict universities from moving forward on campus disciplinary actions to expel a student without due process.

At its worst, it would prevent victims from reporting sexual violence, for fear of taxing entanglements with disconnected law enforcement.

The majority of the bill's scrutiny is focused on Sec. 163, which highlights the role law enforcement would play in sexual assault investigations.

This section of the bill states if a university receives an allegation of sexual violence, along with written consent to proceed, the institution is required to refer the allegation to the "law enforcement agency of the unit of local government with jurisdiction to respond to such allegations."

In Miami's case, the Miami University Police Department (MUPD) would investigate assaults that occur on campus and the Oxford Police Department (OPD) would investigate cases that occur off campus.

During the period in which a law enforcement agency is investigating an allegation of sexual assault, Miami University would not be able to carry out any disciplinary actions with respect to the allegation.

In short, the bill prohibits universities from investigating sexual offenses, let alone punishing offenders, unless a student agrees to report the case to the local police.

Sexual assault is already the most underreported violent crime, and for a lot of victims, the first step in reporting a sexual assault is going to someone they trust. Often, that is not a police officer. On a college campus, victims have professors, resident advisers and friends they feel comfortable with. When you enter the stark, formal walls of a police station, that comfort evaporates.

A recent study by the Association of American Universities of over 150,000 students found only 25 percent of students who were sexually assaulted reported the crime to campus authorities or police.

The Safe Campus Act promotes an all or nothing mentality. If someone has to press charges with the police to get help from the university, it's safe to say an already silenced group will get even larger.

But, even if the sexual assault is reported to the police, the actions a university can take are limited.

If the subject of an investigation is a student, a university can impose a temporary suspension for a period of no more than 15 days. If the subject of an investigation is an organization, a university can impose a temporary suspension for a period of no more than 10 days.

In both cases, a university must determine the accused has engaged in activity that presents "a significant risk to the health and physical safety of campus community members." That is to say, only once the local police have had their say.

Proponents of the Safe Campus Act argue it would provide meaningful due process protections for the accused and would make campus adjudications fairer and more reliable. And that the involvement of the police would add sorely needed credibility to accusations and university settlements.

Currently, when police aren't called, allegations of sexual assault are adjudicated by a piecemeal campus system that has proven unable to competently resolve these accusations.

In 2013 a female Miami University student who reported being raped in 2011 and her father sued Miami on charges that the university neglected to discipline her attacker, Antonio Charles, who had a notorious history of sexual misconduct. In 2009, Oxford Police investigated allegations by a different female student that Charles was filming girls without permission while engaging in sexual acts.

Charles was permanently dismissed from Miami in 2013 after the university found he violated Miami's Code of Student Conduct, Section 103, which states if a student participates in "acts of voyeurism, including the use of video recording devices" her or she may be subject to sanctions.

In email correspondence with Miami President David Hodge, the victim's father repeatedly said if Charles had been dealt with after his first offense in 2009, she would not have been raped two years later.

However, there is little evidence to prove that police investigations would be better.

Not ironically, the largest lobbying organizations behind the Safe Campus Act are the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), which represents 73 fraternities in the United States and Canada and the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), which represents sororities in the United States.

It's safe to say the NIC and NPC are not lobbying this bill because they think it is going to help sexual assault victims find justice. They are supporting it because the consequences of this bill will make it a lot easier to protect members of Greek life from potential campus investigations.

In a letter to NPC Chairman Donna King, Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York voiced their worry about the Conference's lobbying for the bill.

"Throughout our many visits to campuses throughout the country we have met with Fraternity and Sorority members to discuss the issues surrounding campus sexual assault," the senators wrote.

"In those discussions we were left with the impression that campus organizations were interested in solving this problem in a way that encourages reporting, supports victims and holds schools accountable for failure to act to protect students."

Fraternities and sororities on Miami's campus, many of which already have agendas combating sexual assault, should help facilitate discussion about the Campus Safety Act. These organizations should be disgusted their national conferences are supporting such a heinous bill.