Student: Georgia lawmakers endanger victims of sexual assault with campus rape bill

At Georgia’s colleges, punishing alleged sex offenders often falls to the school itself. A bill in the House would limit the ability of Georgia’s public colleges to investigate and discipline alleged campus rapists. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Atlantan Zoë Taylor, a senior at Williams College, opposes a bill in the Georgia Legislature that limits the ability of Georgia’s public colleges to investigate and punish those accused of rape on campus. In the column below, she explains why.

Taylor is president of the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Network, a group that goes to middle and high schools and teaches students about consent. She was one of 28 students chosen to serve on the White House It’s On Us student advisory committee. It’s On Us seeks to raise awareness and prevent sexual assaults. After graduation, Taylor plans to return to Atlanta to attend medical school and become an OB/GYN.

Despite testimony by sexual assault victims that House Bill 51 would endanger them and others, a House panel passed it unanimously last week.

In its reporting on HB 51, the AJC said:

Ehrhart said the legislation was prompted, in part, by an AJC report that identified problems in how Georgia schools have handled claims of sex assault. The AJC also reported, however, that prosecutors rarely pursue campus rape charges, The cases are often complicated by drinking and conflicting evidence of consent. Last year, for instance, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told the newspaper he was dropping charges in two high-profile campus rape cases at Georgia Tech and Morehouse College. His office investigated the cases for years.

With campus sexual assault reports on the increase, the Obama administration urged colleges to get tougher on sexual assault and threatened those schools that did not comply with the loss of billions of dollars in federal aid.

Here is Taylor’s piece:

By Zoë Taylor

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, introduced legislation that would ban colleges from being able to punish students accused of sexual violence unless they were found guilty by a court of law.

The proposed law states, “no investigation … shall be undertaken by the postsecondary institution unless such investigation is done by a campus law enforcement agency staffed by law enforcement officers who are certified peace officers by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.”

At first, this may sound reasonable. What this legislation really does, however, is remove the ability of colleges and universities to exercise their own systems of due process. It would limit schools’ abilities to secure their own campuses, placing investigations in the hands of the legal system which notoriously mishandles cases of rape and sexual assault and fails in its due process.

Under the guise of liberty, this law would obstruct justice and safety for survivors of rape and sexual assault. Moreover, in the time it takes for criminal justice cases to see a ruling, the accused could attack other students, as most perpetrators of sexual violence commit multiple offences. The processes already in place at many colleges — the very ones that this law proposes to eliminate — more effectively remove these multiple offenders.

This proposed legislation also violates the federal Title IX gender equity law. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has mandated that schools pursue disciplinary action because failing to do so prevents certain students from receiving equal access to education.

When I worked for the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, we found rape and sexual assault disproportionately affect young women, trans students, people of color, and LGBTQ students. Ehrhart’s proposed law would curtail the abilities of schools to investigate rape cases and protect those specific group’s access to equal education.

Ehrhart says schools “cannot … create this special investigatory and adjudicatory system … I want to put it the hands of special victims units in the DA’s office.”

Ehrhart fails to understand that college and university disciplinary processes are not intended to replace judicial processes. Participating in a school investigation does not prevent a student from additionally turning to law enforcement. Rather, school investigations serve the purpose of making schools safer for students.

Moreover, this law would increase the costs, emotional and fiscal, of rape and sexual assault’s aftermath. Survivors often experience anxiety, depression, and even post traumatic stress disorder. They will often miss classes, take time off for mental health support, and sometimes fail to graduate on time. This creates enormous costs for students, schools, and our state.

The investigative processes that Ehrhart seeks to dismantle protect Georgia students’ civil rights, mitigate the costs of rape and sexual assault, and protect students.

This legislation should trouble people on both sides of the aisle. First, it would infringe on private institutions’ abilities to discipline their students. More importantly, however, it violates the civil rights of those most affected by sexual violence. Georgians know limiting some students’ access to equal education is wrong.

Every student has the right to equal education, and this can only be attained if students are free of the pressing fear of their body and civil rights being violated.

If you would like to learn more about this issue, become involved, or if this issue has affected you or a loved one, please reach out to Rape and Incest National Network (800-656-HOPE),  It’s On Us, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE), and/or the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault (404-815-5261).

 

Reader Comments 0

25 comments
Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Regardless of whether a proceeding takes place on a campus or in a courtroom, accused students ought to be entitled to their 6th Amendment rights:

--“to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; 


--to be confronted with the witnesses against him; 


--to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, 


--and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."


Many campus process don’t provide one or more of these.


Further, Ms. Taylor bases her claim that “This proposed legislation also violates the federal Title IX gender equity law” on a rule not written by lawyers at the Department of Justice but on an interpretation of the law by the Education Department legal counsel.  It was issued by fiat and will likely be withdrawn within months.


The rule also ordered that the level of proof for a guilty verdict be changed from the criminal one of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to the regular civil case level of “more likely than not” or “preponderance of the evidence standard.”  That’s two bumps down.  Apparently, the mandarins at DoE felt that the “Clear and Convincing” level of proof – a heavier burden than “more likely than not” -- wouldn’t fetch the desired percentage of guilty verdicts.


Ms. Taylor also claims that “Ehrhart fails to understand that college and university disciplinary processes are not intended to replace judicial processes.”


Really?    An accusation of rape is an accusation of rape, in whatever the forum chosen for coming to a finding of fact about what happened.  The scarlet letter of R attaches to the person found guilty of rape or sexual assault for the remainder of their lives.  Conviction delivers a career and academic death penalty, so criminal standards ought to be required, regardless of where the matter is decided.


Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Sorry Ms Taylor, but rape is a criminal act and should be investigated by law enforcement officers.  Furthermore, i'm not convinced that campus law enforcement has enough independence to conduct an investigation of this type.  All one has to do is to review some of the cases where a high profile athlete is accused of rape to see the fallacy of an in-house campus investigation.


"Under the guise of liberty..."   Really Ms Taylor?  In our system of law, the accused is considered innocent until PROVEN guilty in a court of law.   What you are advocating is bypassing an American citizen's right to Due Process.

bu22
bu22

This is a really clueless article, with the author contradicting herself.  The universities CAN investigate.  They can use their police department which nearly every university has.  And the head of the campus police department reports (ultimately) to the president of the university.  Its up to the president to make certain that their police department takes rape seriously.  Many do not, especially when it involves football players.  Florida State, Notre Dame, Montana and Baylor are a few recent examples.  This bill simply forces universities to provide reasonable due process to the accused.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

"Every student has the right to equal education"


I assume that includes students who are railroaded through kangaroo courts on thin evidence.


Note that, under the doctrine of 'affirmative consent', two people can get drunk, go off to a room alone together, take off their clothes, have sexual relations, pass out, and then wake up the next morning and BOTH be guilty of "sexual assault" since neither of them was able to "consent" due to their consumption of alcohol.

THERE's a fair doctrine to ruin someone's educaction/reputation with.


USMC2841
USMC2841

Which other rights do students have to cede before attending these schools?  The right to a fair trial and due process belong to everyone, everywhere while in the U.S.  Not being allowed to testify in their own defense.  Not being allowed to provide their own witnesses.  Not being allowed legal counsel.  These Universities should be held legally accountable for violating Civil Rights.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@USMC2841  Civil Rights cannot be violated unless they are held by females or minorities.  White males have no Civil Rights.

Astropig
Astropig

@USMC2841


"Which other rights do students have to cede before attending these schools?"


That's easy-Free Speech.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Maybe the NEW Federal Department of Education will issue new guidelines on Title IX.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would like to know how many women have been investigated and censured on campuses for having sex with a man who was inebriated (and therefore could not supposedly give true consent)? 

class80olddog
class80olddog

I agree with the posters that a charge of "rape" is a very serious charge, and should be investigated only by the police using evidence-based prosecution. The trouble is that we have a very real double standard here.  Take the example of two young adults of legal age who each drink too much and agree to have consensual sex.  Technically, at the end of the night, both should be arrested for raping the other, since true consent supposedly cannot be given while intoxicated.  But the woman is NEVER arrested - only the man ever gets prosecuted.  Take another analogy, if you say that a person who is inebriated is not responsible for their actions (giving consent), how do you justify DUI laws?  The reason is that a person makes a decision to drink BEFORE they become inebriated.  If they do something dumb afterwards, it is on them.  I counseled my daughters about the old saying "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker" in reference to maintaining your sobriety at parties or accepting the consequences of your actions.

Astropig
Astropig

A person's right to constitutional due process supersedes any claimed "crisis" by unelected,unaccountable activists of any stripe-be it the right or left.These cases need to be examined in a real court of law,where ,yes,the defendant does enjoy the presumption of innocence,and the burden of proof is where it belongs-on the state to establish guilt.Evidence should be presented by sworn officers of the state and the court,presided over by an impartial judge.Any other proceeding is a mockery of real justice.Campus hearings and punishments should be based on this sworn testimony to avoid any agenda other than real justice from entering the equation.Those punishments should be consistent and proportional to the offense.


Colleges have proven themselves very poor dispensers of justice,with arbitrary,inconsistent and at times unfair methods of dealing with sexual assault on campus.Some treat it as a mere "violation of school policy" and others stack the deck against defendants to a disturbing degree that can ruin innocent people's lives.Both approaches are an affront to real justice and should be reformed.



Lexi3
Lexi3

The Obama administration turned due process on its head with its dictum concerning "investigation" of these alleged rapes. The accused typically has no right to a presumption of innocence, a fair burden of proof required of the "prosecutors," the ability to cross exam witnesses, to be represented by counsel, to a record of the proceedings or any of our traditional guarantees of a fair process. Even a group of Harvard law professors has strongly opposed the star chamber nature of these proceedings, which can scar one academically for all time. No one believes rapists should go unpunished, but investigation, trial and punishment are functions of the criminal justice system.

Erbonn
Erbonn

Such a serious and life change accusation should only be investigated by the police.  The school can always defer to the outcome of the police investigation as to what, if any, discipline is warranted by the college.  Academic administration is too political and unqualified  to conduct such serious inquiry.  

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog @Starik @Erbonn


"Then treat it like a serious crime.  Do you want murder investigated and punished only by the University without police involvement?  Investigated months after the alleged murder?  With no proof that it even occurred?"


Agree wholeheartedly.Sworn officers are trained to preserve evidence,take statements and preserve crime scenes.Faculty members are not. Real justice is impartial,not politically motivated.


Do sworn officers make mistakes? You betcha. And sometimes their mistakes let the guilty go free.But that is the risk that you take when you have human beings involved in the process.


Your question points up the political nature of this issue-We'd never allow a campus official to preside over a murder hearing or aggravated assault or armed robbery.Only in the area that involves gender politics does this become murky.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Starik @Erbonn  Then treat it like a serious crime.  Do you want murder investigated and punished only by the University without police involvement?  Investigated months after the alleged murder?  With no proof that it even occurred?

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell

I opened this up thinking that it would make me mad. Colleges seem to be doing a poor job of handling due process, and changes should be made. Then I read the article. Waiting for the results of a criminal trial to remove a student from school is crazy. The criminal justice system is slow. What happens during the intervening time? How many students are at risk? Then I read the bill. It's not great. There is a provision that allows a student who is accused of sexual assault to be suspended while the criminal case is pending. There some due process there because it requires a hearing. I am concerned that the due process hearing could conflict with the provision that bars the school from conducting an investigation. I think there is some middle ground here. Schools should be allowed to do an administrative investigation of sexual assault allegations once they are reported to law enforcement. The schools have an interest in protecting students from sexual assault. The results of that investigation should be presented at a hearing where the alleged perpetrator has an opportunity to hear the allegation, respond, and present additional evidence. I don't think false sexual assault claims are common, but they happen. There needs to be due process. On the other hand, the burden of proof for a criminal case is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The purpose of a criminal trial is to punish. The purpose of a hearing to remove a student is to protect the school community. Schools shouldn't have to rely on an outside entity that has a very high standard in order to remove a student. Preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) should be sufficient to expel a student. Here's the bill if anyone wants to read what it actually says. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20172018/HB/51

Tom Green
Tom Green

How many athletesand/or children of alumni were guilty of sexual assault and the schools protected the perpetrators and not the victims? The rest of society depends on its local law enforcement agencies, I see no reason why sexual assault on campus should be able to bypass the local legal system.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@day off

So you are arguing to leave the college investigatory powers in place as they have reduced the sexual assault rate by 25% compared to off campus rates?

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog @AvgGeorgian @day off


Maybe both. Avg' schtick is to put words in other people's mouths that he would have them say,then ascribe those thoughts to them so that he can confirm his biases.It's what you do when you have no real arguments of your own.