NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A piece of legislation at the federal level is getting push back from sexual assault groups across the country including right here in Texas.
The Safe Campus Act would not allow for campuses to be able to punish students for sexual assault crimes unless the victim goes forward to police as well as campus administrators. Campus administrators and advocates believe if passed this could keep victims from speaking out. This bill came up after fraternity's complained after members were kicked out of several universities after false reports were made to campus officials.
Handling of campus sex assaults is a tricky situation. For campus administrators, the burden of proof is less than what police need to bring criminal charges. The campus is only allowed to suspend, expel or put protective orders on those accused. Universities are backed up by several laws that protects victims on the state and federal level. Under the new act, colleges could punish students with suspensions or even expulsions if a student does anything illegal, like drugs or theft, but when it comes to sexual assaults and battery police involvement would be required before the schools could act.
"I think the intention is to make sure the universities and institutions of higher ed respond in a fair way," SFA Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Support Services, Michael Walker said. "I think the good intention is to protect both sides."
Walker works closely with the Family Crisis Center of East Texas to provide assistance and a safe place to report assaults.
Walker admits the campuses already have a hard time tracking sexual assaults.
"What we know is victims of sexual assault and abuse is that they are reluctant to report," Walker said. "The concern about involving law enforcement certainly plays into that and we would be concerned that could reduce that."
One of the most vocal opponents to the bill is in Austin with the Texas Association against Sexual Assault.
"I don't know of any of the national sexual assault advocates organizations that endorse the bill at all," TAASA Executive Director Annette Burrhus-Clay said. "The biggest problem is that it restricts schools from punishing students accused of sexual assault. They make it seem like we just do something to the accused. that is not true. There is a process the schools follow."
Buurruhs-Clay even speculates the bill could violate Title IX legislation schools must adhere to. For Walker, his mission will remain the same.
"My concern is that if a student has been a victim, making sure that they would come forward and report to us and not necessarily go through law enforcement although we encourage that and have it as an option," Walker said.