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Georgia Campus Rape Bill: Leaving Sexual Assault Investigations to Law Enforcement

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Georgia legislators are considering House Bill 71 that would bring major changes to how campus sexual assaults are investigated. Current state and federal laws permit student survivors to decide whether to report the sexual assault to law enforcement or their university. The proposed bill takes away survivors’ rights as university investigation and disciplinary processes cannot proceed without first involving law enforcement.

No existing laws require university employees to report conversations about sexual assault with student survivors to law enforcement. The proposed bill significantly alters survivors’ rights as it includes a mandate that university employees and staff report instances of sexual assault regardless of whether the survivor wishes to report to police. The only privileged conversations protected under the proposed law are those with certain licensed mental health professionals and attorneys.

Under Title IX schools are required to supply provisional measures to ensure the survivor’s safety. House Bill 71 will prevent the school from conducting its own investigation and preclude initial protective measures and accommodations for the survivor. Consequently, university disciplinary hearings, including Title IX hearings, would only take place after a criminal investigation is underway.

Supporters of House Bill 71 say schools are not well equipped to handle sexual assault investigations and that it should be left to up to law enforcement. However, the university is in the best position to provide necessary accommodations for their students like implementing no-contact orders, extensions on assignments, dorm changes, suspension, and expulsion without involving police authorities. Survivors want to feel protected and supported by their school, but under House Bill 71 all felonies would be treated equally without considering the sensitive nature and complexity of sexual assault cases.

Student survivors often first report their sexual assault through a conversation with a close friend, advisor, professor, or school counselor. More comfortable with the university’s inquiry and disciplinary process, survivors frequently choose to report to their school. Many survivors want to forego the intrusive criminal investigation as the process can take years and rarely ends in a conviction. This bill would take away survivors’ right to seek protections from their university without their case entering the criminal justice system.

House Bill 71 would strip survivors of their voice. Survivors may be less likely to report their assault out of fear that they would be sent to the police. After experiencing such a traumatic event, survivors should feel encouraged and empowered to report their sexual assault—no matter who they report to. As state legislators attempt to protect the rights of student survivors and the accused, the laws must consider the critical duties under Title IX to ensure that student survivors continue to receive accommodations and support from their universities.

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