Congress proposes bill requiring police involvement in campus sexual assaults

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - 5:08pm

Republican United States Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Kay Granger and Pete Sessions, both of Texas, proposed a bill to Congress that requests colleges and universities notify police after receiving a report of sexual assault before the school launches its own investigation.

The bill additionally states that if the police are not informed of the reported assault, the school is prohibited from taking action.

The passing of this bill would impact the way many of Michigan’s public universities handle sexual assault. Currently, only about half of the state’s public universities notify police as soon as a sexual assault is reported; the University is not one of them.

With the passing of the University’s new Sexual Assault and Misconduct policy last August, victims of sexual assault can decide for themselves whether or not they wish to launch a criminal investigation of their case, which would then be handled independently by the University Police Department or the Ann Arbor Police Department.

One of the groups advocating for the bill is the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee, a political group in Washington, which aims to preserve and and defend greek life experience.

“Criminal acts should be addressed by the police,” Kevin O’Neill, the group’s executive director, told the Detroit Free Press.

Certain victims’ rights and sexual assault survivor groups say required police involvement may create further emotional turmoil for the victim of the assault, as many often feel re-victimized by the criminal justice system.

They note the bill would violate the federal Title IX act, which states colleges and universities must investigate sexual assault and misconduct claims.

According to the Detroit Free Press, some survivors of sexual assault feel their cases were not handled seriously when only pursued by university administrations, but that they fear the emotional turmoil often accompanied when there is police and judicial involvement.

The proposed bill would also allow universities to choose which standard of evidence they would like to use when considering a sexual assault case. Currently, the government requires a “preponderance of the evidence” standard to be used by universities in each case. This standard is more easily proven than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used within the criminal justice system.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Detroit Free Press that the University will anticipate the outcome of the bill, but noted the University does take several measures on its own when handling sexual assault cases.

“Under our policy, the University already takes interim measures such as moving one party out of a residence hall that the two parties may share or changing class schedules,” Fitzgerald said. “In addition — and consistent with current federal guidance — the University is permitted to delay temporarily its fact finding during the evidence gathering phase of a criminal investigation, although the University may not delay until the entire criminal investigation is complete.”