Opinion: Senate listened to student survivors of sexual assault; House mocked them.

Law student Grace Starling takes the stand to testify against House Bill 51 as sponsor and longtime Cobb Rep. Earl Ehrhart watches. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Carter.)

UPDATE Tuesday: Former House Rules Chairman Earl Ehrhart is not one to back down from a fight. The Senate rebuff of his campus rape legislation did not stop the longtime Cobb lawmaker. Today, the House Rules Committee gutted SB 71, originally a bankruptcy bill, and added Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s HB 51, the campus assault bill tabled by the Senate Judiciary Thursday.

Original blog:

Sexual assault survivor and law student Grace Starling helped lead the fight against state Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s campus rape bill, which passed the House but failed to advance in a wary Senate.

Starling says she learned a lot about politics and power in the process and shares those lessons in a guest column today.

Ehrhart said the bill was necessary because efforts by Georgia colleges and universities to adhere to federal law have upended the college careers and prospects of young men falsely accused of sexual assault. “Our system is littered with destroyed lives of Georgia citizens,” Ehrhart told the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. “I can point to about 30 cases of young men falsely accused and their lives turned upside down.”

Here is an excellent AJC investigation that found nine of Georgia’s largest universities logged 152 allegations of rapes and sodomies since 2010, based on law enforcement documents. 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 and other survivors argued that Ehrhart’s bill would lead to fewer victims coming forward.

By Grace Starling

“Spoiled child who doesn’t know how to behave”

“Snowflake who needs a safe space”

“Could you grow up?”

“Trigger somewhere else”

“Utilizing a victim’s status”

Based on these comments said about me or to me, you might assume I was on a playground and not in the Georgia Capitol. You’d be wrong. According to state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, and supporters of his ill-conceived campus rape bill, I am a spoiled child who doesn’t know how to behave.

Actually, I’m a 23-year-old law student and sexual assault survivor who doesn’t scare easy and stands up to bullies, including Ehrhart.

Since Jan. 26, I’ve been at the Capitol almost every day fighting against his legislation, which would make it more difficult for rape victims to come forward. I’ve spent a significant amount of time working with the House and Senate, and, let me tell you, the way students and survivors were treated by the two chambers could not have been more stark.

HB 51 is a symptom of Ehrhart’s unchecked power as a longstanding House leader and former chair of the Rules Committee. Ehrhart expected the majority of House members to fall in line with what he wanted, hardly even vetting his legislation, and that’s what they did. Even after thousands upon thousands of Georgians called, wrote letters, and signed a petition in opposition, the bill passed on March 1 in a 115-55 vote.

While I condemn the House’s treatment of rape survivors, I want to thank those members who fought for and with students against this bill. To the 55 House members who voted “no” and the six who spoke against this bill on March 1, Georgia students are forever grateful for your service and your leadership.

I implore the House members who endorsed this dangerous legislation to consider the road you are walking now. You have already prioritized status of a sponsor over substance of a policy and party lines over your constituents’ concerns. As Ehrhart attempts in the final days of the session to resurrect HB 51 by attaching it to another bill, think deeply about what your actions say to your voters and their families. (See news story where Ehrhart discusses reviving his bill this week.)

Because to this voter, it sounds like you don’t want to stand up to bullying in your own House.

Thankfully, the Georgia Senate vigorously vetted HB 51, something the House decided was not worth its sincere consideration. All the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee invited me into their offices and listened to my concerns. They asked meaningful questions about the background and history of Title IX, the consequences of the legislation, and what they could do to help right the wrongs of the House.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Jesse Stone renewed my faith in the political process. I found a dedicated elected leader who wanted to make this right for all parties involved. He wanted to create rights and protections for both victim and accused. He was gracious and kind and gave this issue the time it deserved, as did his entire office and committee. To those individuals, Georgia students are grateful for your dedication and hard work.

On Thursday, Stone’s Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to table the bill as it was too important to rush. The senators treated students and assault survivors with respect, not with the derision we faced in the House.

After a recent hearing, Ehrhart told an advocate I was “a spoiled child who doesn’t know how to behave.” To that I say, “consider the source” as Ehrhart advised students at a recorded event at Emory University on March 22, the night before the Senate Judiciary Committee vote, when he was asked about the issue of his name-calling.

The next day, after the Senate tabled HB 51, I approached Ehrhart and put out my hand. He looked at me and then at my hand, but he did not move. I asked to shake hands. He took my hand, squeezed it, and said, “Could you grow up?” Then, he walked away in anger, and I laughed to myself because I realized age does not equate to maturity, even with elected officials.

That same day, a supporter of Ehrhart and his bill wrote some crude and callous comments about me as a rape victim on social media. He said, “Grace is a prima donna. Could be a pretty little liar too. She might be a false accuser.” This is the kind of person Ehrhart and House Republicans have fighting for their bill.

Rape is not a partisan issue, and, if Georgia House members choose to treat it as such, they will be sadly dismayed in November 2018.

Because many of us who spoke out against HB 51 are young doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the respect and time lawmakers give to other constituents. Don’t attempt to discredit us or demean our experiences by calling us snowflakes, spoiled children, infantile pampered children, or any other degrading derivative. Do not tell us to “grow up” after your bill gets tabled. And when someone sticks their hand out, don’t make them ask to shake your hand. That’s rude.

And, finally, never underestimate a coalition of rape survivors and allies. We’ve endured more than you can imagine, and we won’t ever stop fighting for one another.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this snowflake needs to “grow up,” graduate law school, find a seat, and use it to stand up for Georgia citizens.

Reader Comments 0

51 comments
MsTAdams
MsTAdams

I  hope everyone who voted for this considered the affect it could have on their daughters, granddaughters and nieces. This is not a partisan issue; it is about protecting young women on college campuses. 

But didn't the campus carry bill pass? If their elected officials refuse to prefect them maybe its time for young women to make their purses MUCH heavier.

Robert Karma
Robert Karma

This is one of those difficult social/legal issues that our legislators are ill-equipped to handle because they feel like it is a partisan issue. Clearly, there are far too many sexual assaults against female students on college campuses. I think we all agree we don't support such behavior on or off campus. We don't solve this serious issue by holding secret administrative hearings that vary from college to college either. It is up to our Solons to find a rational, effective way to address incidents of sexual assault on campus without violating the rights of the accused and apply it to every college and university in the state. This isn't a partisan political issue as every American should want our children to be safe from harm as they pursue a college degree. Whether it is sexual assault or being falsely accused of rape and being thrown out of school, there is harm occurring under our current haphazard system. Political grandstanding doesn't benefit Georgia students. Being dismissive and verbally abusive to female students who have been sexually assaulted doesn't benefit Georgia students. Those who ran for seats in the Legislature need to prove they are worthy of holding them by showing us they can discuss and debate such serious issues and find a workable resolution that is beneficial to our students. If they are not capable of such action, they should resign and allow a more qualified person to hold that position. 

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

I think the police should be called in any accusation of sexual assault and all due process should be observed.  But in thinking about this "school" problem, I wondered why the college could not do a better job keeping underage drinking off campus.  Usually bad behavior is made worse by mixing it with alcohol.  Most colleges turn a blind eye to fraternities, sororities, and other social clubs on campus that serve alcohol.  Clean that up and a lot of the associated bad behavior would be eliminated, too.

Jackalope
Jackalope

@4PublicEducation  I would go along with the idea of police being called and due process being observed IF the same applied when it becomes evident that someone has been falsely accused.  The problem with rape is that it's just impossible to set up a law that doesn't tilt one way or the other.

Starik
Starik

@Jackalope @4PublicEducation The DNA revolution has improved the situation in rape cases; it shows who had sex, unfortunately not whether it was with consent. If victims get to the police right away their blood alcohol level might be helpful with that.  

Starik
Starik

Rape is a serious crime with serious consequences. Rape accusations should, in every case, be referred to a real police department. The criminal justice system has many faults, but it's far better than any school disciplinary procedures. Due process should be observed.

Starik
Starik

Girls will be girls...

dickshatband
dickshatband

 Thank you, Grace Starling and Jesse Stone, and shame on you Earl Ehrhart; boys will not be boys, and good ole' boys should not protect them.

Astropig
Astropig

@DrProudBlackMan


I don't think you'd be so smug if you did a little research.Stuart Taylor jr. is a very highly respected legal scholar,reporter and author.He has covered the supreme court,worked for the New York Times and Legal Times, just to name a few respected publications.He has co authored a book that posits that the most often falsely accused group of men on campus are black men,by white women.(Think-Duke Lacrosse,Rolling Stone rape hoax etc),Taylor has credibility on this subject and it seems that you'd benefit by putting your politics aside and reading what he has to say. 


I can sort of,kind of, understand some of the other mindless comments on this subject by the usual PC warriors.They say what they're told.But, after the history of injustice that young black men have endured in this country when the law was not followed or respected and your apparent willingness to see that done in our own day for some abstract political reason is kind of frightening.These men deserve to have their legal rights respected and that means real due process,not a lynch-mob kangaroo court.



Jackalope
Jackalope

@DrProudBlackMan  How fitting.  The thrust of the article was about the juvenile behavior shown by people who insult others.  Thank you for that demonstration.

iwd
iwd

As a father of two daughters, one of whom is about to go off to college, I sincerely thank you for your courage and fortitude!

Jackson
Jackson

@MadWizard @Jackson @iwd You think men should be trusted less than women to tell the truth? Ironic you complain about insensitive comments by the house, yet you spew HATEFUL COMMENTS?  


L_D
L_D

Sexual assault victims need the fullest support possible.  However, that should not come at the expense of due process and the rights of the accused.  I would like to know what Ms. Starling's recommendations are to correct some of the current issues surrounding the processes and policies which do not afford the accused an open investigation, an opportunity to confront the accuser, and an appeals process (to name a few).


While I do not think HB51 was the solution, current policies are not without their problems.  Offering constructive solutions would benefit all involved.

Astropig
Astropig

@L_D


"Sexual assault victims need the fullest support possible.  However, that should not come at the expense of due process and the rights of the accused."


Best comment of the day. Politicizing this makes a mockery of real justice and the rule of law. The accused enjoys the presumption of innocence in a real courtroom,and the burden of proof is on the accuser/prosecutor.That's what sets us apart from most of the rest of the world.To alter that dynamic is not what our country is all about.I'm not sure that I like HB 51,but I sure don't like seeing these "activists" try to railroad people that have not been convicted of any crime.These are lives and fundamental rights  that we are discussing,not wins and losses in the battle of the sexes.

Jackson
Jackson

I am not trying to be rude, but it seems you have no issue with the bill, it is just about treatment of Grace? I am no expert on the bill, it seems to just create equal legal footing between men and women on allegations? What am I missing?

Here's_to_Blue
Here's_to_Blue

@Jackson   You're missing the attitude apparently widely held in the House that "boys will be boys" and are not to be held accountable for any unwelcome sexual behavior, let alone rape, and that "women always lie about rape because they are sl*ts."

Jackson
Jackson

@Here's_to_Blue @Jackson Do you trust your daughters more than your sons? HUH? Why not make it a police matter? We saw how the Baylor, Duke, Penn State....blew up, would not the police do a better job?


BioProf
BioProf

Brilliant, thank you for standing up to the petulant little boys in the House who don't want to have to treat women and girls like actual people with rights.

Lucy Dolan
Lucy Dolan

Thank you, Grace Starling! You are a courageous survivor!

Jill Keirsey Waldon
Jill Keirsey Waldon

Brave young lady teaches a Bully a lesson ...well done! Now go take his seat for yourself!

Anonymous User
Anonymous User

Alt AJC 

The statistics you're referring to are understood to be inaccurate, even the DOJ acknowledges it. It's apparent you've latched on to this because it says what you want to read. Can you point to another reason that you chose to refer to this specific study, given that the DOJ asked a third party to review how they calculate these statistics and found that it grossly undercounts sexual violence against women?

Not to mention that a simple reading of the report highlights methodological errors that mean that accurate data is almost certainly impossible. 

And when someone is raped, it doesn't matter how it's framed by a political party. It's rape.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@Anonymous User 

Your source for these claims?
And let's admit, shall we, that the definition of "rape" is continually altered by your side.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@Anonymous User 

I don't see conclusive proof in that extract that rape statistics are wrongly reported.

Unless you move the goalposts by redefining "rape."

Did Bill Clinton, for instance, rape 21-year-old Monica Lewinsky?

Anonymous User
Anonymous User

@Alt AJC Wow that was a quick read of a lengthy report. Must be the same amount of focus you gave to your study. Ok go ahead, let's hear the conclusive proof that your statistics are correctly reported, I'm listening. Some intern at the DOJ said it so it must be true? Someone put together a flawed methodology but it says what you want to hear so it must be true?

Go ahead and define rape, help me understand how you are looking at this.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@Anonymous User 

Take nothing of the sort. And your efforts to intimidate our legislators will fall short in the Supreme Court.

Anonymous User
Anonymous User

@Alt AJC Yeah, the swift change of subject indicates you've realized you can't defend your study without arguing against your own source. No need to argue anymore, I'm picking up what you're putting down. 

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@Anonymous User 

Yeah, whatever. 

Your side lost in November, and you'll lose again trying to turn reality upside down.

Anonymous User
Anonymous User

@Alt AJC Hahahaha so I take it you concede your study isn't as accurate as you thought? That's big of you brother, I can appreciate that.

Evidence, please
Evidence, please

Um. Outing yourself as a Trump voter isn't going to help your credibility when arguing about sexual assault issues.

This is a complex and thorny issue that deserves debate, but when one side relentlessly degrades women, it's hard to conclude that it's *just* fair-minded principles of justice you are defending.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@Evidence, please 

No Occupy Wall Street rally to take yourself to today?

Just a reminder that the President Trump you despise won Georgia by five percentage points, while your party's candidates lost every statewide office. 

Yet again.


 

Starik
Starik

@Alt AJC @Anonymous User Whether Mr. Clinton raped Ms. Lewinsky would depend on the age of consent, since every state has its own statute. Georgia went from 14 to 16 in the recent past, you know. In Utah it might be 25.

Anonymous User
Anonymous User

@Alt AJC DOJ read it and came to a different conclusion from The Federalist

"There is no consensus in the field for the optimum set of procedures for self-reports of rape and sexual assault and to date no survey has employed all of the apparently beneficial design features. No set of official statistics will be taken as definitive unless there is agreement on the methods behind them."

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

The political left has some success promoting their agenda by posing one demographic after another as "victims" of the rest of us. 

But as is too often the case, actual statistics in this instance don't support the myth: 

http://bit.ly/1zlD0L0

Kurt Ronn
Kurt Ronn

Rape on campus is common: Republicans and Democrats are raped. Thank you Grace and all the survivors who fought a bad bill. Thank you to the senate for the support.