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New bill changes college polices, seeks to curb sexual assault through legislation

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a bipartisan bill recently proposed which seeks to curb sexual assault on college campuses, could affect the University’s approach to sexual assault in the near future.

This bill asks universities to publish annual anonymous surveys online regarding sexual assault. It also requires schools to designate “confidential advisors” who will help victims and will not allow universities to punish students who were drinking underage during the time of their assault.

Sexual assault is often not reported, Director of Wellness Faith Yingling said. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, even when it is reported arrests are not often made. According to the survey, about 12 percent of reported rapes ended in an arrest.

Similarly, according to a City of Bowling Green Police crime report, of the 54 reported rapes, six arrests were made between January 2012 and June 2014, putting the city at about an 11 percent arrest rate for rape.

University Police Chief Monica Moll said the reason for the low number of arrests is that it’s difficult to get evidence and make a conviction, often because there are only two people involved: the offender and the victim.

“You have two people in a room and they only know what happened,” she said.

Timely reporting of sexual assault is key to getting sufficient evidence, Moll said.

Julie Broadwell, director of the SAAFE Center, thinks this bill could help students and universities know how many sexual assaults actually happen on campus or in the community.

“I’m always for ways to help survivors’ voices be heard,” she said. “So of course any time somebody has the ability to anonymously report something or have their story told, I’m all for that.”

The SAAFE center has an on-campus location in room 355 of the Psychology Building, Broadwell said. She likes that the University works with the SAAFE Center because she thinks it’s important for universities to “bring in people from the outside to be of assistance.”

Julie Snyder, associate dean of students said there are many different places students can go to seek help with sexual assault, including police and the office of the dean of students. Plans for care and criminal charges are taken from there.

While criminal charges can be pressed, Snyder said students can choose not to do so, in which case there will not be an investigation.

“If the student chooses to do nothing, then that’s the students’ choice,” she said. “The key in this situation is that the student has already been a victim, so you’re really trying to help the student have control in what is happening.”

However, Snyder said the University will still aid students in being safe, such as moving out of residence halls if needed.

Moll said victims who don’t want to press charges is “frustrating” for police who want to go after sexual offenders.

“Sometimes it’s hard for police officers not to convince [sexual assault victims] to prosecute,” she said.

However, sometimes authorities can get victims to give a name, in which the offender will be given a warning, Moll said. If that name continues to come up, police can begin to build a case against the offender.

Although Broadwell approves of the bill’s intentions, some University administrators are tentative about its implementation.

Snyder understands the intention of the bill is to protect people from sexual assault, but she feels the bill could be a challenge for the University.

“I think we need more time to understand what the implications of the bill will be, in light of the other legislations that already exist,” she said. “There may be challenges depending on what the final language is. How cumbersome does it become?”

Yingling described the bill as “bulky” and said “trying to figure out what it all means is a task in and of itself.”

Moll said the provision to provide confidential advisors to victims may be a problem because the bill requires them to be trained in forensic investigation.

Confidential advisors having investigation training doesn’t seem necessary since they are a source for victims who don’t want to report their assault, she said.

Despite this issue, Moll thinks these advisors could be a helpful source for victims.

Yingling said “time will tell” if the bill helps decrease sexual assault. She said it’s important to create an environment where people are comfortable reporting sexual assault, so legislation requiring anonymous surveys isn’t needed.

The University also already does some things required in the bill Snyder said.

For example, the bill requires universities to work with state and local police forces on sexual assault cases, but the University already has a campus police force that can do so.

The University also does not allow areas such as the athletic department conduct investigations, Snyder said, which is banned by the bill.

Yingling said the University also hosts programs to educate students about sexual assault, such as working with the SAAFE center for Sexual Assault Awareness month.

The “Think About It” program helps educate incoming students about dealing with sexual assault and how to have healthy relationships. It is required for all incoming students during the first two weeks of classes, Yingling said.

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