Policy: Law

Chuck Grassley's spokeswoman responds to questions on campus sexual assault bill

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Ashe Schow,Chuck Grassley,Law,Campus Sexual Assault

A spokeswoman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has responded to the Washington Examiner’s request for more information about the campus sexual assault bill he is co-sponsoring with seven other senators.

Just as with Sen. Marco Rubio’s response, the questions and answers are posted verbatim from an e-mail conversation with Grassley spokeswoman Jill Gerber.

Examiner: What protections will be in place to make sure the annually reported statistics won’t lead to more convictions based on political correctness?

Gerber: The reporting on how allegations are handled will provide transparency and therefore accountability to the public and the press about whether sexual assault allegations are being properly handled, regardless of where you stand on how colleges should handle these cases.

There is nothing in the legislation that requires a predetermined outcome for any proceeding. Also, colleges can only find students responsible for violations of school policy. They cannot issue convictions for crimes. That is a matter for law enforcement.

Examiner: How will the student surveys solve the problem, instead of being used for political purposes?

Gerber: The student surveys will be anonymous and the results will not be included in the officially reported statistics.

They will serve as an objective tool for schools to understand how well they are doing in preventing and responding to sexual assault. They will also be public so the press and the public can hold schools and others accountable for how they use the information.

Examiner: Who will have more authority, the colleges or local law enforcement? So will local authorities be treating accusations of sexual assault as crimes and take over investigations for colleges, or will colleges only have to coordinate with police for certain situations? And what would those situations be?

Gerber: This bill does not change the very different roles and jurisdiction of colleges and local law enforcement, but does require colleges to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement to allow for better coordination.

It is up the victim to decide whether to report a crime to local law enforcement, but it has been the intention of the bill’s sponsors from the beginning that crimes be treated as such and handled as a law enforcement matter whenever possible. Colleges have a separate process for finding students responsible for violations of college policies, but are not in a position to investigate and prosecute crimes.

Examiner: Will there be “support services” for the accused?

Will there be someone on campus providing them with information on what they can do to provide for their own defense? Will they be informed of their rights, and will those rights be under the law (due process) or under campus rules?

Gerber: There have been recommendations made to change or codify college disciplinary proceedings in ways that would have implications for due process rights, but this bill does not contain mandates about how colleges should conduct their internal disciplinary proceedings.

In developing the bill, Sen. Grassley and others prevailed in the view that the focus should be on sexual assault as a crime rather than a college disciplinary matter.

Examiner: Who will pay for campus personnel training?

The university? Won’t that increase tuition costs? And what about small colleges that can’t afford the training? Will they be able to pool resources with nearby colleges? With all these protections and services for accusers, why is there nothing pertaining to the accused?

Gerber: The university will be responsible for any new requirements in the bill and be responsible to find the funds within its budget, whether that be from an endowment, trimming administration costs, tuition, or any other area.

Institutions serving fewer than 1,000 students may partner with another institution and any institution may partner with a victim advocacy organization to provide the services.

The bill authorizes the use of existing Justice Department grants to help with this training. Colleges would be able to apply for consideration.

Examiner: Will the government detail a “uniform campus-wide process” for dealing with claims of sexual assault? Will this bill do anything for the accused by way of allowing them to defend themselves? Will the accused be able to obtain counsel or cross-examine the accuser? Why doesn’t this bill ensure all campuses allow the same defense procedures for the accused?

Gerber: See answer to number 4.

My concerns have not been alleviated. Gerber’s response about colleges only being able to find students guilty of violating campus policy doesn’t diminish the fact that accused students are often not allowed to contribute to their defense.

It might be a school matter and not a police matter, but the effects have a lasting — and possibly devastating — impact on the futures of the accuser and the accused. How can something so important not be handled in a way similar to a criminal trial?

Further, Gerber says the bill is designed to “focus on sexual assault as a crime rather than a college disciplinary matter,” but the bill barely addresses that. It requires universities to enter into an agreement with local law enforcement but doesn’t designate what that agreement should look like.

Also, isn’t everyone up in arms about the rising cost of college tuition? Why are we putting an additional burden on colleges for training? As one of my astute readers questioned, will men receive a discounted tuition since they won’t be receiving any of the support services this bill requires?

Again, I say that if this bill doesn’t include anything for the accused, there will likely be no appetite to introduce a follow-up piece of legislation should this one pass.

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