| 03.20.2018

Safe Campus Act stirs controversy – Greek houses oppose U.S. Senate bill


“Safe” might be in the title, but to Alex Roberts, University of Idaho Coordinator for Student Conduct, the Safe Campus Act has misleading terminology.

The U.S. Senate bill aims to help sexual assault victims on college campuses nationally. But instead, Roberts said it would do the opposite.

“(The Safe Campus Act) would have a very direct and chilling effect on reporting, and that defeats the purpose of everything we stand for,” Roberts said.

Erin Agidius, interim director of the Office of Human Rights, Access and Inclusion at UI, said many organizations take issue with the fact that  the act requires victims to report the crime to the police before the case works through the university system.

Agidius said the legislation has several positive qualities, such as requiring a survey about sexual assault from universities. But, she said pushing victims to go to police first is likely going to decrease the already low number of sexual assault reports.

Many sororities that previously supported the bill have since withdrawn their support, Agidius said, including Alpha Phi, Gamma Phi Beta, Alpha Gamma Delta and Delta Gamma.

Agidius said this ripple effect caused the National Panhellenic Conference to also withdraw its support as a whole.

The UI chapters of Alpha Phi, Gamma Phi Beta and Alpha Gamma Delta declined to comment on the topic. Assistant Greek Life Adviser Leyalle Harris also declined comment.

This reaction from sororities on a national level is not surprising, Agidius said, considering the stipulation that would require sexual assault victims to report with the police before the university could get involved.

“The most recent data has confirmed that one in four women in college are going to experience some form of sexual assault,” Agidius said. “In a chapter with 100 members, 25 of their women have theoretically experienced some form of sexual assault and that”s a pretty large number.”

If the legislation does pass, Roberts said campus authorities would have to back off pursuit of sexual assault cases until law enforcement was done.

“If we force sexual assault victims to go to the police first, I can guarantee the number of people who report will go down,” Roberts said.

Roberts said not only would sexual assault reports decrease, but the required level of evidence to discipline sexual assault perpetrators would become more strict.

“The Title IX guidelines specify that we use the preponderance of evidence standard, which means it must be 51 percent likely that the crime occurred,” Roberts said.

The university, Roberts said, has fewer restrictions on the types of evidence they can use compared to a court of law, which often allows university officials to attain justice more quickly for victims.

“People are worried about false convictions, but I don”t see that many,” Roberts said. “Perhaps one in 100 cases, if that.”

If the Safe Campus Act doesn”t die in committee, Agidius said she predicts the bill will be significantly revised if the sponsors of the bill want to receive more support. She said there are two main arguments for the debate on evidence standards in sexual assault cases.

“One is a university”s lower standard of proof allows them to take action more swiftly and there are less ramifications for the accused person since we aren”t putting people in jail,” Agidius said.

“Others argue that using such a low standard of evidence does not provide an adequate due process to those who are accused.”

Since the standard of proof is so high in a court of law, Roberts said tying the victim”s hands in terms of what they must do to report a sexual assault is troublesome. Greek organizations that have denounced the legislation nationally, he said, have shown great courage.

Jessica Gee can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter  @jaycgeek

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