Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Tuesday, 15 September 2015

‘Forcing Uni Rape Victims To Report Won’t Help Anyone’ Say Charities

‘Forcing Uni Rape Victims To Report Won’t Help Anyone’ Say Charities

The Debrief: The Safe Campus Act is designed to keep American students safe, but who will its rules protect?

Dozens of charities that work with rape and sexual assault survivors have spoken out against two Republican politicians’ plan to make campus rape victims report their assaults to police.

Rape and sexual assault on US campuses is a huge problem, with 20-25% of all female students experiencing it at some point. Recently, there have been lawsuits against multiple universities for failing to deal properly with allegations of rape and allowing these alleged rapists to remain at large.

There have also been prominent protests such as lists of alleged rapists scrawled in campus toilet cubicles faster than cleaners could be ordered by university officials to scrub them off, and Emma Sulkowicz’s Columbia mattress protest, where she carried the mattress she was allegedly raped on around campus with her until the college removed her attacker from its grounds (it didn’t, she carried the mattress to graduation).

The result? A governmental response. Not only is a task force setting about investigating campus rape and sexual assault, but President Barack Obama declared: ‘We need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back’ – and a campaign, #notalone, was launched.

But the newest proposal – the Safe Campus Act – has come under fire. The idea behind the act, proposed by Matt Salmon of Arizona and Pete Sessions and Kay Granger from Texas, and currently being read by the House of Representatives (ie it’s not law yet, but they’re thinking about it, a lot) is to ‘protect victims of sexual violence [and] improve the adjudication of allegations related to sexual violence’.

Sounds good, right? But a huge sticking point is that victims of these attacks would only see any form of justice meted out on their attacker if they went to the police. This would set it apart from any other crimes committed on campus, which are currently dealt with by colleges, with or without police help.

‘We don’t force victims of other crimes to interact with police and file reports and initiate a criminal justice investigation’ said Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape told The Huffington Post, which reports that 26 advocacy groups so far will not be supporting this act.

One survey found that 88% of campus rape survivors would not feel comfortable going to the police. And besides, campus rapes are something that universities can actually assist with.

At the moment, Title IX is a law in place to stop students from experiencing any sort of discrimination in education. Part of this includes making schools legally required to prevent rapes and sexual assault and respond to any allegations of either. Done right, a survivor can be given ‘services and protections they need to stay in school,’ such as: ‘free counseling, housing changes, and academic support,’ Know Your IX co-founder Dana Bolger told Broadly.

Being forced to go to the police – who are notoriously inept at handling cases of sexual assault and have created a terrible reputation among people of colour and LGBT people – instead of the college, could void all of the college’s valid help. And besides, with rape conviction rates being so low, it currently seems way more productive for people to seek on-campus help to come to terms with what happened than go to the authorities for actual sentences to be handed down to their attackers.

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has given a speech on campus rape, saying: ‘As president, I’ll fight to make sure every campus offers every survivor the support she needs and will make sure those services are comprehensive, confidential and coordinated.’

But if the Safe Campus Act is passed, regardless of who’s in charge of America come 2016, already vulnerable people could be further forced into situations they just don’t feel comfortable with, and, most terrifyingly, miss out on their education. Which is why they’re at college in the first place, right?

Surely a better solution is better ensuring all universities erase rape and sexual assault and give survivors the help they need?

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Girl Protesting Against Campus Rape Graduates From College. Takes Mattress Too.

These American Students Are Taking Rape Reporting Into Their Own Hands

Banter Is Just A Way Of Promoting Rape Culture On Campuses

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Tags: Around The World, Only In America, University, Pure Politics, Sexual Assault, Education, Rape