Universities in Georgia may be prevented from investigating sexual assault

Update: 2/25: We’ve heard that HB 51’s language is currently undergoing significant changes and we review those at the bottom of the page. This is an on-going story and we will keep you informed.

Representative Earl Ehrhart has proposed an amendment that would curtail the rights and safety of sexual assault survivors. This bill, HB 51, would require any and all felony investigations involving students at Georgia colleges and universities to wait for a police investigation to conclude prior to any university actions being taken.

Rep. Regina Quick. Unopposed in her last race, it’s time to find a representative that will work as an advocate for sexual assault survivors and not protect the status quo.

Per the Georgia General Assembly, as of January 23rd HB 51 has moved to a second round of readers in the House. Its current language is unacceptable.

Representative Regina Quick, who has co-sponsored the bill, met with Athens for Everyone leadership and allies of our organization on a January 22, the Sunday evening before the start of the legislative session. This included Athens Sexual Assault Prevention campaign coordinators Kate Dahlstrand and Laura Briggs, along with representatives from other local organizations.

We asked her to consider the victims of sexual assault and how limiting the actions of university officials that did not work in a law enforcement capacity might affect their college experience. We were assured that this bill sought to protect smaller colleges in more rural parts of the state where what Rep. Quick called the “Good Old Boy” system of government does not promise justice for victims of felonies.

What we see, instead, is a proposed amendment that alleviates pressure to suspend alleged sexual predators. The language of the bill makes no provisions for victims of sexual assault. Should the bill pass in its current form, a sexual assault survivor would have to make the difficult choice to report her assault to the police for any action to take place. Should the perpetrator of the assault be charged with their first crime in sexual battery, it only counts as a misdemeanor. The second charge would count as a felony, but this bill does not plan for any sort of sexual assault tracking on how many times a student has been charged. Once the police have been contacted, any university efforts to protect the victim or remove the alleged predator would pause until the conclusion of a formal police investigation. Investigations can take years to conclude.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of HB 51 is that it might be crafted to try to override the actions of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. In a country where citizens could reasonably assume that the federal government would provide protection, we might rest reassured that this was impossible. We have, however, reached a critical moment in American history.

A brief history lesson about the role and state and federal government: when the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the language specifically provided for federal protection from state law. For the first time in American history, the federal government protected the citizens from the state.

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This has been an important feature in how social equality and racial justice gets achieved at an institutional level. Appeals to the Supreme Court that challenge the validity of state laws depend upon federal power to look after the interests of all its citizens.

Currently we have a Congressman who actively seeks to dismantle the Department of Education representing the 10th District of Georgia. We also have a president that has appointed Jerry Falwell, Jr., to chair a higher education task force with the objective of dismantling Title IX. The future of Equal Opportunity, of Title IX protections, and of the Higher Education model in general are currently up for debate. Depending on these institutions being around to supersede a law that protects sexual predators is not an option.

Representative Quick ran her last election unopposed. If she continues to dismiss the concerns of those who work directly with issues pertaining to sexual assault prevention and advocacy, if she does not see the value in advising her peers on the opinions of those who work closest to Georgia’s flagship university to protect the survivors of sexual assault, it may be time to begin grooming a political opponent that values the input of experts when crafting legislation that directly affects the safety and welfare of UGA students.

It’s time to let her know where constituents stand on both the future of education at Georgia’s flagship university and the protection of the students that go there.

Kate Dahlstrand
February 23, 2017

Kate Dahlstrand is a PhD Candidate at the Department of History at UGA, a combat veteran, and a coordinator for the Athens Sexual Assault Prevention Campaign.

UPDATE Feb. 25: A new version of HB 51 came to me yesterday afternoon and it is, unfortunately, not much improved over the version discussed above.

It seems that our representatives have decided to include language pertaining to sexual assault specifically. In fact, it is now mentioned throughout the bill and yet still does not serve the victims of sexual assault.

Lines 27-29 “If the felony involves an alleged sexual assault, no information which identifies the victim shall be provided in the report without the consent of the victim.” This seems like an improvement as it protects the identity and allows for anonymity. It also does not require privileged employees, including advocates, to report to the police. Schools still have some power to make disciplinary action against alleged predators if it coincides a due process hearing. Still, the language is convoluted and with all of the new qualifications it’s not clear what the legislation now seeks to achieve. What is clear: the bill still seeks protect the aggressor.

Lines 35-37 “Nothing contained in this subsection shall require a victim of an alleged sexual assault to cooperate with law enforcement in any investigation or to participate in any subsequent prosecution.” A better version of a shoddy law does not suddenly transform it into a good law. If anything, this language still encourages sexual assault victims to either remain silent or to take on their aggressor at full speed. More options ought to be made available. The simplest way to fix this, of course, is to reject the bill.

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