The Safe Campus Act, introduced by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), has been decried by over 220 activist groups, other legislators, and now, the Pan Hellenic Conference. EROC does not support the Safe Campus Act because we believe it directly violates Title IX and mandates that survivors report to the police in order for their college or university to take action. We support a survivor's choice to report to law enforcement, or not. We are grateful to the many groups who have rescinded their support for this piece of legislation.
Here you will find a case study of why, at this small rural college, the Safe Campus Act would be particularly devastating. EROC knows that there are law enforcement agents across the country who believe survivors but there are also those who do not. These agents can retraumatize survivors, and sometimes perpetuate myths and lies in order to dissuade survivors from seeking legal action, and shame survivors.
A note from the author, Christina:
I understand that there are good, kind, and compassionate law enforcement agents who believe and respect survivors, and work for them to see justice. I also know that the past couple years have seen the introduction of programs that begin to provide the appropriate training for law enforcement agents, but this is not always the case and they are not developed enough to be as responsive to survivors as the Safe Campus Act would necessitate.
By Christina Franzino
This morning I went for a run, and as I passed the furthest point on my campus I descended almost immediately into cornfields. I always check for Amish buggies when I cross the street, and on the occasions when I drive fifteen minutes into town I inevitably get caught behind industrial sized tractors.
There are many things that I love about attending a small liberal arts school on a rural campus, but our relationship with local law enforcement is not one of them.
Rural communities often have law enforcement agencies that lack the resources and the training necessary for a survivor-centered approach to sexual assault. A survivor-centered approach is born from the understanding that trauma is legitimate, irrespective of gender, sexuality, alcohol intake, or relationship to the assailant. Its absence breeds victim blaming, and further traumatizes survivors.
Small local law enforcement agencies in rural communities simply do not have the resources to provide the kind of specialized training necessary to handle sexual assault cases, especially when cases often include a significant gray area.
The Safe Campus Act would mandate that college administrations no longer be permitted to investigate claims of sexual assault within the college community, unless the accuser first filed an official report with the local police force. This legislation would be devastating to survivors everywhere, but particularly on a campus like mine where there are very few resources available to survivors outside of those provided by the college.
If the Safe Campus act is passed, it would severely limit the options of survivors attempting to move forward with formal proceedings. The option to pursue an investigation through the administration, independently of the criminal justice system, is a particularly vital option for individuals on rural college campuses. Students on rural campuses simply have fewer options in the aftermath of a sexual assault than those in more urban locations. The advocates who have received training to be sensitive to survivor’s needs and who understand the particular culture of a college campus are likely to come from within the college community. To legislate that a survivor of sexual violence must file an official police report in order for their schools to investigate their claims would undoubtedly lower the number of survivors willing to come forward, further contributing to an already dismal number of unreported assaults.
I am part of a student organization that provides confidential resources to survivors of sexual assault and misconduct, which includes responding to survivors in the immediate aftermath of an incident, staffing a 24/7 emergency hotline, accompanying them to the hospital should they choose to undergo a forensic exam, and helping them to navigate their choices in pursuing formal proceedings. We often act as first responders in the moments following trauma, answering calls in the middle of the night and arriving at residence halls with winter coats over our pajamas to hold shaking hands. In taking the step to reach out to a member of my organization, survivors are bravely bearing witness to the trauma they have experienced. They deserve to be met with respect.
I want nothing more than to provide safety and support for those who come to me in moments of crisis. I could not, in good conscience, urge them to report their experience to local law enforcement. Forcing survivors to face officers who have received little, if any, training in speaking to survivors of sexual trauma is to impose upon them a barrage of questions that blame survivors for their own assaults.
The first time I took a student to the hospital to have a rape kit performed, we were met by the sheriff in the hospital room. We had waited several hours for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner assigned to our county to arrive. He lectured the survivor about alcohol consumption, questioned them about their past sexual history, sneered when they admitted to having had sex consensually in the past, and provided incorrect information about the statute of limitations on their rape kit. He lied about how long the contents of the kit would be kept, seemingly in order to pressure the survivor into pressing criminal charges. He told us that if the survivor did not decide whether or not they wanted to press criminal charges within the next few days, the rape kit would be thrown out, and that the invasive, prolonged medical examination they had endured, would be for nothing.
As he spoke, I sat next to the hospital bed and searched the state’s statute of limitation laws on my phone. A quick google search revealed that the evidence collected during the exam would be kept for twenty years, regardless of the survivor’s choice to proceed with a formal investigation. I asked the sheriff to leave the room, and I explained to the survivor that even though they did not want to press charges through local law enforcement at that time, the extremely invasive five hour exam they had just endured wasn’t for naught. The kit provided them with options, with evidence, and with the external validation that trauma had occurred. Moments after the sheriff had left, a nurse knocked on the door. He sat down in a chair on the other side of the survivor’s bed, he looked so earnest as he leaned forward with his hands clasped together and said, “you know, you really shouldn’t have been drinking.”
If a survivor at my college reported a sexual assault, they would face an uphill battle against long held stigmas associated with the crime they are reporting in addition to the negative attitudes and misconceptions that the sheriff's office has towards students in our community. That uphill battle suddenly looks like scaling the Himalayas if the survivor reported a non-heteronormative understanding of rape, if they had engaged in previous consensual acts with the perpetrator, or if they were not a female student. The language of laws surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault often adhere to an extremely narrow understanding of sexual trauma, with anything outside of that scope being discredited or left up to the discretion of those enforcing the law.
My school recently underwent several major changes to our system of dealing with sexual assault, the largest of which was our switch to the investigator model rather than a review board based trial. The administration supports a group of about thirty confidential student sexual misconduct advisors, who work under the umbrella of the college counseling center and are privileged to have full legal confidentiality in matters of sexual assault and misconduct. The systems put in place through our administration are not perfect, but I believe that going through the college’s investigation system, and not through local law enforcement, is the best chance survivors have at holding perpetrators accountable and seeing any kind of justice.
Criminal charges and administrative investigations lead to very different outcomes, and are not necessarily working towards the same ends. One is conducted in order to find an individual criminally responsible for their actions while the other typically finds individuals in violation of the student conduct code rather than the law. To force survivors to go through the criminal justice system would leave them suffocating under a burden of proof that many of them will not be able to meet.
The community on a rural college campus like mine is very particular. Without a typical college town, student’s lives revolve around the on-campus community. The internal workings of a community like mine are intimately known by members of the administration, rather than the local law enforcement agents who have little contact with our community. My school only has one dining hall, one library, one coffee shop for a community of just under 2,000 students. When everyone stands in the same line for omelets every morning, you realize that it is impossible to avoid one another. It fosters an extremely close community, it also leaves survivors with few other options than to face their assailants on a daily basis. I have seen students successfully gain no-contact orders through the school, in large part because those handling the investigations understand the nature of our school and how impossible it is to avoid someone. While it is possible for a student to pursue a no-contact order through the local police department, the success is unlikely and selectively enforced depending on circumstance.
The Safe Campus Act will decrease the number of survivors who are able to see justice, and will likely further traumatize many survivors. This legislation would not only slow the already arduous process of seeking justice, but it would likely halt it all together. It will serve only to decrease the number of people who are able to have some respite from the ongoing trauma of seeing the person who assaulted them every night at dinner, passing them every day on their way to class, and living next door to them, all the while feeling like there is no one that is able to help.
Christina Franzino is a senior Political Science major at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH. She is co-leader of Kenyon’s Sexual Misconduct Advisor program, a confidential student organization that offers resources, education, and support surrounding issues of sexual assault and misconduct in their community.
To ask Christina questions or pass along any comments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org