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Safe Campus Act bill would change process of reporting sexual assault

CORRECTION: The original version of this story misrepresented Bethany Wichman-Buescher. Wichman-Buescher is the Client Services Director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.

Republican sponsors of a U.S. House of Representatives bill hope to change the process of reporting sexual assault on college campuses.

Currently, college students who experience a sexual assault only need to go through their university to report the incident. Title IX law requires universities to respond to these reports in order to maintain federal funding.

Under the Safe Campus Act, colleges and universities would be required to forward sexual assault allegations to police if they have written permission from the accuser.

The bill’s largest supporters include the National Panhellenic Conference and other Greek organizations. Laura Doerre, president of the NPC organization Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, said the legislation presents a comprehensive solution to the sexual assault problem.

“This is the only pending legislation that would help remove predators from campus,” she said. “It also provides due process rights for students and campus organizations.”

Some sexual assault advocacy groups do not share this enthusiasm for the bill, however.

Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, said she has no idea what the motivation behind the bill is.

“Requiring someone to report to law enforcement when they’re already barely reporting it isn’t doing anyone any good,” she said. “We need to expand options and opportunities for victims — not restrict them.”

According to an extensive survey released Monday by the Association of American Universities, only 28 percent of “the most serious” sexual assaults are reported by students to any authority, campus or police.

Bethany Wichman-Buescher is the Client Services Director at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, said the bill might discourage reporting sexual assault allegations if the survivor only wants to go through the campus judicial system.

"Participating in the campus adjudication process would no longer be an option to students who don’t want to report to police,” Wichman-Buescher said.

Doerre said requiring students to report incidents to the police was a misconception.

“If you (only) report it to the university, you can still get certain protections and the full range of support the university provides,” she said.

What the bill would try to avoid, she said, is double reporting: Separate investigations and prosecutions that occur when incidents are reported to both universities and law enforcement.

Doerre said Greek organizations are also concerned with reports of sexual assault being suppressed.

“If there’s a fraternity or sorority involved in one of these cases, we’re seeing universities put complete moratoriums on activities of the Greek system,” Doerre said. “When you know that you could be responsible for shutting down a Greek system if you report this crime, that makes you afraid.”

Johnson Hostler said these policies have to be set up so survivors have as many options as possible, which she doesn’t think the bill does.

“It’s restricting,” she said. “We shouldn’t create a policy that gives sexual assault survivors only one route — some survivors need accommodation.”

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