Arizona Republican Congressman Matt Salmon introduced a bill Wednesday designed to protect students accused of rape on campus, to change the way on-campus safety hearings are conducted, and to prevent Greek organizations from being forced to go co-ed. That same day, three former members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at University of Virginia sued Rolling Stone and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely for “mental anguish” over her now-discredited story of a frat gang rape.
As Inside Higher Education points out, the bill, which has been dubbed the “Safe Campus Act,” conflicts with the current requirements of Title IX, the federal law requiring colleges to work to prevent rape on campus and respond to sexual assault allegations.
The bill, which you can read in full here, would require universities to report rape and sexual assault allegations immediately to local law enforcement, unless the alleged victim provided a written statement saying they didn’t want to report to police:
[T]he institution shall report and refer the allegation to the law enforcement agency of the unit of local government with jurisdiction to respond to such allegations in the location of the institution immediately, but not later than 48 hours after receiving written consent from the alleged victim.
(The bill says “law enforcement” can mean campus police, if the campus police officers are sworn and the agency is accredited.)
Safe Campus would also prevent schools from investigating sexual assault allegations or holding disciplinary hearings until local law enforcement has concluded their investigation. Title IX says colleges have to investigate an assault reported to them even if it’s not reported to police.
The bill also proposes that if a school wishes to impose sanctions against a campus organization—like, say, a fraternity—those sanctions can’t last more than 10 days. It does, however, allow schools to impose sanctions against individuals accused of rape to protect “campus safety and student well-being:”
The institution may impose interim sanctions against the subject of the allegation with respect to the allegation (including temporary suspensions, no contact orders, adjustments of class schedules, or changes in housing assignments) and carry out investigations and adjudications with respect to the imposition of such sanctions, but only if the institution determines that the imposition of such a sanction is a reasonable measure to promote campus safety and student well-being.
When it comes to campus judiciary proceedings, most of the language in the act is designed to protect the accused, giving them, as it says, “ a meaningful opportunity to admit or contest the allegation.” Among other things, it stipulates that all parties have access to every piece of evidence, and that they be permitted to hire an attorney.
The Safe Campus Act has major support from the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, which donated $500,000 to federal candidates last year, most of it to Republicans. It’s also supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has argued that on-campus judiciaries aren’t working for either victims or alleged perpetrators, and that accused students have been “railroaded” by false allegations.
Separately, the bill states that Congress believes Title IX should protect organizations who wish to be single-sex. That’s become controversial this year, with a Wesleyan fraternity filing suit against the school after Wesleyan decided all campus Greek organizations should be co-ed.
As all this plays out in the halls of Congress, the Rolling Stone debacle continues apace in the real world. As the Washington Post reports, three former Phi Kappa Psi members at UVA—George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler—filed suit against Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, arguing that her story has caused them embarrassment, emotional distress, and defamed them personally. Elias says his room at the Phi Psi house was identified by everyone who knew it as the likely scene of the gang rape UVA student Jackie described to Rolling Stone, causing his “family, friends, acquaintances, and reporters” to believe he was involved.” The complaint says those people “interrogated him, humiliated him, and scolded him.” The suit adds:
Not surprisingly, these claims had a devastating effect on each of the Plaintiffs’ reputations. As young men who have dedicated their lives to obtaining the merits to attend UVA, maintaining good grades and obtaining undergraduate degrees, while also becoming involved in UVA activities, pledging a fraternity and finding lifelong brothers and friends, Plaintiffs have been embarrassed to admit that they are members of Phi Kappa Psi as a result of the article and its accusations.
Moreover, Plaintiffs have received a wave of unwanted attention, such as numerous postings on message boards and forums, constant texts, emails and questioning from peers and coworkers, and soliciting from reporters. Plaintiffs have each suffered emotional turmoil, were entirely unable to focus at work and in school following the release of the article, and are still being questioned often about the article’s accusations.
Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana, who was part of the editorial team that oversaw the UVA article’s publication, has also announced he is leaving the magazine. It’s unclear if the UVA story plays a role in his departure; RS publisher Jann Wenner told the New York Times “many factors go into a decision like this.”
The Phi Kappa Psi house at UVA. Image via AP.