New Campus Rape Bill Written With Help From Sexual Assault Survivors

Legislation introduced in California today will revise the state's Education Code, mandating that reports of Part 1 violent crime — a category that includes crimes like rape, hate crimes and aggravated assault — received by college campus police must be immediately passed on to the police department, unless the victim expressly requests that the report not be passed on. Notably, this exception was added to the bill after the lawmaker responsible for introducing it heard feedback from a campus rape survivor and activist.

Southern California Assemblyman Mike Gatto told Katie J.M. Baker at Newsweek that he was inspired to draft the bill following the two federal complaints filed against Occidental last year, alleging that the school had vastly underreported sexual assaults and that the administration permits a "hostile environment for sexual assault victims and their advocates" to exist on campus. (Occidental has since admitted that it failed to report two dozen sexual assaults from 2010-2011.) It seemed to Gatto that the college administration withheld information about rape on campus because they didn't want bad press. "That's a really poor excuse to fail to investigate a crime like rape," he told Newsweek. "We want to make sure administrations can't keep stuff hush hush in hopes of making it seem like a school is safer than it really is." Originally, the bill mandated that all campus police must automatically report all Part 1 violent crimes to the appropriate local police or sheriff's department.

Earlier this week of Gatto's aides contacted Sofie Karasek, one of the students who filed a federal complaint against Berkeley in 2013, and asked her to testify on behalf of the bill. After learning what the law would entail, Karasek told the staffer that she would never have gone to campus authorities if she'd known that she'd have to speak to the police after doing so. She spoke to other sexual assault survivors, all of whom agreed that forcing students to work with the police would do more harm than good. "I wasn't interested in going through a long, arduous process with police, who I thought probably wouldn't believe what I was saying and wouldn't put their full effort into my case," Karasek told Newsweek. Other survivors raised more points: police departments aren't really all that capable at dealing with rape charges, many sexual assault survivors fear hostility and undue suspicion from law enforcement officials and undocumented students would be especially unlikely to want to come forward if they knew they'd be forced to talk to police. While the bill's intent was inarguably laudable, its execution failed to take into account the harsh realities that rape victims face.

Surprisingly, Assemblyman Gatto listened. The new legislation, introduced today, allows students to opt out of reporting to the police if they wish to do so. "I'm basically ecstatic that we got to collaborate," said Karasek. Encouragingly, inspiringly, it seems that campus rape activists' influence is increasing every day.

Image via Wikipedia.