The Truth About the Safe Campus Act

The Safe Campus Act, a piece of legislation currently pending the House of Representatives, has been garnering a great deal of attention. The way the bill’s backers would have it, it will make America’s college campuses safer and ensure that those accused of sexual assault will receive due process. However, critics argue that the name ‘Safe Campus Act’ is actually a misnomer, and the only people that will be made safe are predators and perpetrators of violence.

In a Huffington Post article, lawyer Elura Nanos points out that the legislation will prohibit campus authorities from investigating sexual assault cases or punishing sexual predators until the victim has reported the crime to the police. This is problematic for several reasons, including that it increases the reporting obligations of victims, while limiting the options for investigating perpetrators, which will most likely lead to a decrease in the number of cases being reported out of fears of victim harassment and stigmatization.

The bill has caused such an outrage that even some of its biggest supporters, like the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference, have withdrawn their support. A statement from the NIC explained, “After listening to our member fraternities and partners, the NIC is withdrawing its support of the Safe Campus Act. The ultimate goal of campus reform is to provide a safer environment for students to further their education.”

The total number of groups stating their opposition to the bill has now surpassed 200. Nonetheless, the above response from the NIC was a clear attempt to “save face” in the midst of public outcry, because when the bill was first introduced, fraternity and sorority groups alike, praised the bill.

The bill’s supporters claim that the due process protections provided by the bill would make campus proceedings more reliable and make their findings more credible. As reported in the Fire (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), “One key feature of the bill would encourage victims to report allegations to law enforcement professionals by making it a prerequisite for requesting a campus disciplinary hearing. Sexual assault is a serious crime. Allegations of sexual assault should be investigated by impartial, trained law enforcement officers with the necessary skill and expertise to reach just conclusions, and the punitive power to hold those convicted accountable to the victim and society.”

However critics decry the hypocrisy of such an argument by pointing out that sexual assault cases would be the only crime that university authorities are not be allowed to investigate without the incident first being reported to the police. For example, theft, physical assaults, and drug dealing are all crimes that schools would still be allowed to adjudicate without a formal police report. As Nanos points out, this is problematic because it appears as though “The only criminals who will be shielded [by the bill] are sexual offenders.”

So why would anyone support this bill? The rationale being used by its supporters can be summarized by this quote from Trent Lott, who is lending his efforts to lobby for the Safe Campus Act. In his op-ed piece, he wrote, “When a perpetrator has been found guilty by the school, the most serious punishment available is expulsion. But those who commit sexual violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

But there’s no reason why perpetrators should not be subject to punishment from both the criminal justice system and the university disciplinary system. They are two separate systems with two separate missions. Moreover, there’s a lot more that can be done to address sexual assault through prevention, which is sidestepped in the Safe Campus Act.

Nanos goes on to write, “The best way innocent young men can protect themselves from false accusations is to actively create safe environments. College men should be encouraging more victims to report violent crimes. They should be speaking out when fellow students post pictures of naked, unconscious girls. They should take the bold step of having actual rules within fraternity houses. They should be creating less tolerance for predatory behavior, and should be speaking out against violence — not against campus police.”

The good news is that the tide appears to be turning against the faulty legislation also known as the Safe Campus Act. Since even the bill’s original supporters are coming out against it, hopefully good sense will prevail and it will be dropped from consideration without ever coming to a vote.

At TMI Action, we transform, motivate, and inspire individuals to take action at work AND on college campuses. We seek to shift awareness of health-related issues by engaging, educating, and challenging diverse populations, and inspire individuals to become leaders in their own communities. Please see our services, and reach out to learn more about our efforts to prevent sexual misconduct through educational workshops and trainings.

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