Rep. Davis cosponsors campus sexual assault bill

By Alex Swanson

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-13, announced on Aug. 4 that he is co-sponsoring a bill aiming to help prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses, as well as provide needed resources to survivors.

Bill H.R. 5354, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, calls for the appointment of confidential advisors for survivors of sexual assault. These advisors would counsel survivors and advise them, or possibly assist them, in reporting the crime. Additionally, no school will be able to sanction students for underage drinking if they admit to it in the process of reporting sexual assault.

Andrew Flach, Davis’s communications director, spoke about the potential positive effects of the bill on campuses across the country.

“By requiring schools to have confidential advisors, minimum training standards for campus personnel and coordination with law enforcement, the hope is that more victims will report cases of sexual assault so schools and law enforcement can get those victims the help they need and take necessary action to prevent future crimes from occurring on campus,” Flach said in an email.

The bill calls for more training for on-campus personnel, so that responders and guidance counselors will be better equipped to deal with the effects of sexual assault on the survivor.

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Additionally, all schools must develop a protocol for dealing with sexual assault and there cannot be different protocols for different subsections of the school.

The legislation also aims to increase transparency. Students from every college or university in the nation will be surveyed about their experience with sexual assault on campus. The results will be public, so prospective students can be better educated about their choice.

Assistant Director of the Women’s Resources Center Molly McLay said she feels the University is “ahead of the curve” because many of the measures called for in the bill are already part of the University’s response to sexual assault.

She named three areas in particular that are already well covered by University procedure: collaboration between law enforcement units, more training for those who respond to survivors and amnesty for students who have been drinking underage.

McLay also expressed concern that the duties of the confidential advisor may make it difficult for him or her to remain completely confidential. She suggested that lawmakers “make sure that this confidential advisor is really someone students can speak to in complete confidence without this advisor having to perform other duties which might compromise their confidentiality.”

But she also said it could potentially be helpful on college campuses to survivors.

“If the lawmakers talk to the universities about maybe some of the issues that I mentioned, we could come to some solution that could really help survivors at universities,” she said.

The University has a multitude of services available for survivors of sexual assault and those interested in sexual assault prevention.

Students at the University are familiar with First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education, or FYCARE. The program has been mandatory for 20 years in an effort to prevent sexual assault, promote awareness and educate participants on how best to help survivors.

The Women’s Resource Center currently trains certified housing staff, McKinley staff and the Office of Student Conflict Resolution to understand how to handle sexual assault cases.

McLay also said the University has a good relationship with the local rape crisis center, so there is an off-campus, 24-hour option for guidance.

Additionally, the Women’s Resource Center works closely with the Counseling Center and the University Police Department.

University Police Department Deputy Chief Skip Frost said there are vast amounts of unreported cases of sexual assault on university and college campuses.

“This is probably the most unreported crime on this campus, or any other campus,” Frost said. “We have very, very few sexual assaults actually reported to us … and we just know quite simply that’s just not the case.”

He commented that survivors frequently do not want the police involved for a variety of reasons.

University Police Department Sergeant Joan Fiesta said sexual assaults are often reported when the perpetrator is a stranger but they are far less likely to be reported if a victim is sexually assaulted by an acquaintance.

According to Fiesta, the University is working to develop a program to educate the public about red flags for sexual violence, so that bystanders can learn to recognize a possible oncoming sexual assault and intervene.

Both Frost and Fiesta spoke about the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) program, which is a program created for the prevention of sexual assault and so women can learn physical self-defense.

The campus police department has run the program since 1996, and there is very early planning aimed at eventually offering RAD for University credit.

The program is also available for men and equips them with tools to use against any kind of aggressor, not sexual assault. It also includes discussion about what men can do to reduce sexual violence.

Fiesta said that the police department encourages sexual assault survivors to file a police report.

“In my experience, once somebody reports, they then avail themselves to a system of care that we have at the University,” Fiesta said. 

Fiesta clarified that a survivor does not need to make a police report to have access to that care system; however, it is helpful for the police department to have the report should the survivor want to press charges later on.

H.R. 5354 has been moved to the Education and Workhouse Committee and the Judiciary Committee. If successful the bill will go through the legislative process and then to the House for a full vote according to Flach.

He added that the bill is subject to change in the coming weeks or months as it is debated amongst lawmakers.

Alex can be reached at [email protected].