Student survivor of sexual assault: Legislators dismiss and demean us. But we will be heard.

Students nationwide, including Georgia, are challenging how colleges respond to sexual assaults and how victims are treated. Here is a protest at Brigham Young University. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

A survivor of sexual assault explains why she opposes House Bill 51 and why all Georgians should join her. In this video, law student Grace Starling shares her experience and her reasons for fighting HB 51.

Sponsored by state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs,  HB 51 would prohibit campuses from pursuing final disciplinary action against students unless they were convicted or pleads no contest to criminal charges. Schools also could not initiate their own investigation unless police had done so. Now, campuses have separate disciplinary procedures – operating under federal Title IX guidelines – that may expel or suspend a student found responsible for sexual assault even if the police are never involved.

Here is an excellent AJC investigation that found nine of Georgia’s largest universities logged 152 allegations of rapes and sodomies since 2010, according to law enforcement documents examined by the newspaper. Not one resulted in criminal prosecution for a complex series of reasons. In the vast majority, the victim either didn’t come forward to authorities or chose not to pursue charges.

Starling submitted both a video and the text of her statement in opposition of HB 51. There is also a petition and Facebook page to defeat the bill, which is being heard this afternoon in the House Appropriations Committee.

 

I am a survivor of sexual assault, but that is not all I am.

I am a daughter, and I remember what it was like to tell my parents that their child had been raped.

I am a student, and I remember what it was like just trying to pass my classes while participating in a criminal investigation.

I am also a Georgia citizen, and, as a citizen, I have chosen to channel my experience into publicly opposing House Bill 51, a bill aimed at destroying the majority of safeguards and protections for victims of sexual assault on our college campuses.

This bill would make Georgia universities dangerous for students who have been raped. By stripping universities of their ability to respond to sexual misconduct on college campuses – including disciplining offenders – students like myself would lose access to the services and supports that allow us to continue our education.

As of this writing, survivors and advocates have visited the Capitol every day to share our stories, concerns, and fears about this legislation with our representatives and senators. Our efforts have connected students, survivors, and advocates all over the state and amassed nearly 7,000 signatures in opposition. But despite countless attempts to participate in the legislative process in a constructive way, we have been ignored, patronized, dismissed, and insulted.

Public testimony against the bill has been limited, with hundreds of survivors denied the chance to speak. The few allowed to testify have been called back to the microphone to be chided, embarrassed, and ridiculed by members of the committee like Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, and Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth.

Most egregiously, when an audience unanimously voiced their objection to false testimony that 40 percent of women who report a sexual assault are lying, the bill’s sponsor and committee chairman, Rep. Earl Ehrhart chose to tell those citizens that if they were going to be triggered in this “macro-aggressive  environment,” they should “go trigger somewhere else.”

Just this week, Rep. Ehrhart labeled Georgia students “snowflakes” who “require puppies, Play-Doh, and safe spaces to deal with conflict.” He has threatened our universities’ funding if they oppose his bill, though he mercifully offered to supply us with pacifiers if we “are going to curl up into a fetal position when there is a competing idea.”

We do not fear competing ideas. We reject false pretenses and insincere platitudes in the place of compromise. We reject victim and citizen shaming, and we stand up to bullies.

The Capitol belongs to every Georgia citizen, and it is just as much ours as it is Earl Ehrhart’s. It should be a place for constituents to engage with elected officials who take our concerns seriously. Some of House Bill 51’s sponsors have treated us as if we must earn their time, attention, and respect. In reality, they have lost ours.

We are not your children, and we are not your inferiors. We are your constituents. We vote you in, and we can certainly vote you out. Mock us, bully us, and demean us, but we will continue to show up. We will continue to fight for each other and for every past, present, and future victim of sexual assault on our college campuses.

And rest assured we will make ourselves heard, whether you decide to support our voices or not.

For those of you asking what more can be done, call your representatives and your senators. Our voices are raised, and we ask that you raise yours too. Georgia must demand better from lawmakers. And we are all Georgia.

Reader Comments 2

15 comments
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Earhart and his little cheering section that boys can be boys are tools.

day*off
day*off

Get Schooled regularly and falsely claims there's a rape epidemic on college campuses, despite crime numbers which say otherwise:

http://bit.ly/1zlD0L0

class80olddog
class80olddog

Maybe those 152 "rapes" were not prosecuted because there was no proof of a crime. A woman cannot wait a month and bring charges with no physical evidence and no witnesses and expect that a serious charge be prosecuted just on her word.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Campus rape bill passes key House committee" - good!

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Certain phrases within the Sixth Amendment  to the United States Constitution suggests guidelines that colleges ought to follow when bringing quasi-criminal charges of sexual assault. 


Here's the 6th Amendment, broken down by clauses:


In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right:

-- to a speedy and public trial; 

--by an impartial jury ...;

-- 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.


The level of proof for criminal offenses is "beyond a reasonable doubt."   The highest level for a civil case is "by clear and convincing evidence, while the level mandated in the Obama Administration Title IX "loose your federal money if you don't follow these" guidelines is "more likely than not" or preponderance of the evidence, the normal level of proof in a civil case.


Personally, I'd like to see a point-to-point comparison of the Obama Administration's remaining Title IX guidelines as they compare to the relevant clauses of the 6th Amendment, since the "more likely than not" level of proof strikes me as too low, given the seriousness of a sexual assault accusation in whatever adjudicatory forum that it's brought. 



class80olddog
class80olddog

I am still waiting to hear about the case where both girl and boy are inebriated and have consensual sex and both get charged with raping each other. I will even settle for a case involving a boy claiming he was raped because he was inebriated and the girl took advantage of him. Or can rape only happen to females?

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Rape and sexual assault is a criminal offense and should be investigated by law enforcement and prosecuted by the court system.  Like it or not, that person who you claimed raped you has rights under the law and under the American system of jurisprudence, a person is innocent until convicted in a court of law.

A college conducting a hearing or tribunal because your dorm mate is a slob and won't pick up their clothes is one thing.  Sexual assault is something entirely different.


Interesting quote about the 152 allegations of rape or sodomy since 2010.  I wonder how many of those could have been prevented if the victim (usually female) had access to the means to protect themselves?  Current law prohibits the carrying of tasers or pepper spray on campus.  Maybe this young lady should be advocating for the Campus Carry bill instead??

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Lee_CPA2 Not sure adding a gun to the mix would have helped as the AJC story -- link in my piece above -- says alchohol was a key factor in majority of these cases. Police say the victim's inability to recall what happened and a lack of witnesses impedes their ability to make a case. Some of the young women believe they were slipped drugs in their drinks while at a party so a firearm would not have helped them. Agreements with friends to watch out for one another at parties 

and not drinking would go a lot further to prevent sexual assaults. 



class80olddog
class80olddog

You are 100% correct , Maureen. However, being drunk does not excuse behavior (drunk driving), people need to think about their actions BEFORE they drink.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Don'tcha know, it's just boys being boys.  And you are a snowflake if you have a problem with it!

class80olddog
class80olddog

No, if you are a female and don't want to say "yes" when you get drunk, then don't get drunk!

Tom Green
Tom Green

Sexual assault is a crime. From what I understand, universities have been sweeping student sexual assaults under the rug and this bill would prevent that from happening in the future. So, what am I missing?

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell

The schools need the ability to act independently to protect their students from sexual assault by removing the people who committed them through an administrative procedure. The criminal justice system punishes people for their actions, and therefore has numerous procedurally hurdles and the highest legal standard in the law. Schools should have the ability to act at a power preponderance of the evidence standard. On the other hand, people who are alleged to have sexually assaulted students deserve due process. As the AJC reporting shows, that fairness is sometimes lacking. While the schools need to shape up, this bill isn't going to do get us where we need to be.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Jason Mitchell Thanks for some clarification, but I'll still lean to either it was a crime or not a crime. If it was crime, a conviction should clear up the"enrolled student" issue.

Astropig
Astropig

She's basically arguing against due process in a court of law by appealing to emotions and playing sexual politics.Universities already have to power to suspend or expel students that commit offenses against other students.Their police departments have the power to arrest and remand to county custody anyone charged with any sexual assault.It is any defendants right in a real court to face their accuser,cross examine witnesses and present exculpatory evidence on their behalf,as well as the prosecutions obligation to make such evidence known to the defense and the court.In a real court,the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence.The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove guilt.It's the best system going.Her idea would very,very quickly turn that on its head,with accusations tantamount to conviction.


But university discipline without transparency and accountability would corrupt this procedure in the name of "social justice" in short order.University officials are not trained to examine evidence,evaluate the veracity of witnesses and assess the underlying motives of the accuser.Those officials would come to hate having to deal with such cases,to the detriment of defendants.The system could be easily manipulated by the accused and the accusers to achieve a desired outcome that makes a mockery of real justice.Innocent defendants could have their lives ruined on hearsay,inconclusive or contradictory evidence.


I would urge the house to pass HB 51 as a necessary check on the unaccountable power of university officials that could use kangaroo justice as a substitute for the real kind.

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  1. […] assault survivor and law student Grace Starling helped lead the fight against state Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s campus rape bill, which passed the […]

  2. […] the House, which belittled the concern of sexual assault survivors that the bill would cause even fewer victims to come forward, the Senate Judiciary Committee […]