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Change in the Wrong Direction: Reviewing the Safe Campus Act

Earlier this week, former Senator Trent Lott (R – Miss.) was hired by a group of national fraternity organizations working together to pass the Safe Campus Act, a bill proposed over the summer that would essentially limit sexual abuse investigations on college campuses. Spearheaded by three federal representatives, Matt Salmon (R – Ariz.), Kay Granger (R – Texas), and Pete Sessions (R – Texas), the bill outlines procedures universities must follow when punishing students accused of sexual assault. According to the bill, universities would only be permitted to investigate an allegation of sexual assault if the victim has reported the incident to the police. If he or she foregoes this option, “the institution may not initiate or otherwise carry out any institutional disciplinary proceeding with respect to the allegation.” To read the full bill, click here.

The “Safe Campus Coalition,” which hired Lott, is composed of notable Greek organizations including the National Panhellenic Conference, the North American Interfraternity Conference, the Kappa Alpha Order, the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and the Sigma Nu fraternity. Lott will be lobbying in favor of the Safe Campus Act alongside his colleague at the Squire Patton Boggs law firm, Kevin O’Neill. Lott is a Sigma Nu alum, and O’Neill is executive director of the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, which has donated to Rep. Sessions in the past. Recently, the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity found itself in hot water when a disturbing cell phone video, captured at its Indiana University chapter’s house, was released on social media and went viral.

To classify this bill and its lobbyist group as “safe” is anything but accurate. The introduction of this bill comes at an almost anachronistic time. The Obama administration already deemed on-campus sexual assault a national crisis a year ago with launching of the It’s On Us Campaign. The Department of Education is currently is the midst of a full-fledged investigation of dozens of college campuses where sexual abuse is seemingly the norm. Exposés, like the critically acclaimed documentary The Hunting Ground, have revealed the corruption surrounding sexual assault investigations conducted by college administrators. Campus groups across the country have seen enormous success in shattering the stigma of sexual assault, generating progressive conversation, and most importantly, offering support where needed. This bill is one giant step backwards and welcomes the return corruption and the protection of offenders, who will likely commit the same crimes again. This bill is anything but safe.

Far too many sexual assaults go unreported each year in comparison to how many women and men experience unwanted sexual contact. In fact, the Justice Department estimates that nearly 70% of sexual assaults go unreported. The main reason for this is fear. Victims fear their perpetrators, the stigma surrounding rape and other forms of abuse, and even punishment. A vast number of these horrific encounters on college campuses are fueled by alcohol, regardless of age. Because of this, underage victims avoid reporting incidents to authorities out of fear that they may be blamed or worse, punished. For this reason, victims will often confide in campus volunteers, counselors, and administrators who specialize in offering the victims their options in the wake of such an event. The Safe Campus Act, however, would require victims to seek out law enforcement officials, regardless of each individual’s state of mind following an incident, in order to see their abusers punished. Even then, alleged assaulters are allowed to roam free on college campuses until the police determine that university officials can take action against an accused student, as outlined by the bill.

The Safe Campus Act is the propagation of rape culture in a society where progress is finally being made in combatting sexual assault and rape after far too many decades on college campuses and beyond. The bill silences the victims. The bill eliminates the role a university must play in protecting its students. Worst of all, the bill lets the perpetrators walk, putting others in harm’s way. As a college student, I fear for the implementation of this bill, which is why I’m asking you to call your representative in Washington and demand that he or she oppose this bill. It may seem trivial, but better safe than sorry, right?

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