June 27, 2019 | 89° F

Safe Campus Act would require sexual assault survivors report to law enforcement


Victims of car-jacking or robberies are not mandated to report their case to law enforcement, and survivors of sexual assault should not either, said Laura Luciano, assistant director of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.

This is one reaction, shared by many, to a bipartisan bill called the “Safe Campus Act” that was introduced in Washington D.C. over the summer by Republican Congressman Matt Salmon.

The bill would require sexual assault survivors to report their case to the police before colleges could get involved.

The current process of investigating alleged sexual assault cases lies with school officials. Some schools have received criticism for their handling of sexual assault cases and those colleges need to be held accountable, but Luciano believes Rutgers is not one of them.

Similar to sexual violence advocacy groups across the country, Luciano agrees the bill would ultimately discourage survivors from coming forward with their cases.

“There are a myriad of reasons why survivors don’t want to go to law enforcement,” Luciano said.

These reasons include their general perception of law enforcement, their relationship with the perpetrator and the victim-blaming survivors are often subject to when a case goes public.

Overall, Luciano said the best way to encourage survivors to come forward is by creating a supportive environment on college campuses that does not enforce victim-blaming. Forcing survivors to report to the police is useless without this societal change.

“Why would anyone feel comfortable coming forward if they know they aren’t going to be supported by the community?” Luciano said. “Those are the messages that get sent out by not believing people when they come forward or telling them it was their fault for how they were dressed.”

Survivors of sexual assault on campuses across the country already have the option to report to law enforcement. A benefit for survivors on campus is the additional option to also go through the campus process.

“I think the proponents of the bill who are saying ‘Why are campus cases treated differently?’ are missing a key fact, which is that survivors have the right and option to go to law enforcement,” Luciano. “(Survivors) should be allowed to exercise that option if they want to. They shouldn’t be forced to do it.”

Luciano emphasized that opponents of the bill are not anti-law enforcement.

“This is about allowing survivors to choose what happens next,” she said.

In addition, the bill would give the accused and accuser the right to review evidence, access legal counsel and cross-examine the witnesses who testify against them.

Despite push back for the bill, 91 percent of respondents in a new survey say law enforcement should be responsible for investigating alleged sexual assaults on college campuses.

Even further, 77 percent of respondents supported the Safe Campus Act.

The nationwide survey, which polled 1,021 likely voters, was backed by the Fraternity and Sorority Action Fund.

The survey shows support across all party lines for the solution of using law enforcement as the path in solving campus sexual assault cases, said Kevin O'Neill, Executive Director of the Action Fund, in the news release.

"Policymakers are often unable to solve challenging problems because of the political dimensions of those problems. This issue is different and the poll results bear out that difference," O’Neil said.

Luciano believes the poll results are not surprising. Common sense dictates that law enforcement should be involved in sexual assault cases, but people may not be thinking through the ramifications the bill will have on victims.

Just two weeks ago, sexual violence advocacy groups attended a hearing in the House of Representatives’ Education and Workforce Committee to protest the bill. The bill is being protested by the groups it intended to help, which Luciano believes is revealing.

“People who are responding ‘Yes’ to (the survey) are not really thinking about the ramifications of (the bill)," she said. "They are just thinking broadly that ‘Yeah, of course law enforcement should be involved in sexual assault cases’ and not considering what that would look like for survivors."

Avalon Zoppo

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