Legislators table bill on campus rape investigations

A bill that would have placed the authority for investigating reports of sexual assault on Georgia’s colleges campuses with non-campus local law enforcement was tabled indefinitely Wednesday after university officials balked at the proposal.

Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Ron Ramsey, would have required campus police to report all allegations of rape to the city or county law enforcement agency, which would conduct the investigation.

The bill was intended to ensure that these cases receive “another set of eyes” reviewing them. “This is simply an accountability measure, to ensure that when these allegations arise that they aren’t buried,” he said.

But officials from the state’s public and independent college systems warned that the bill would have the unintended effect of alienating victims.

“Our officers are specifically trained to deal with our student citizenry and the issues that are associated with them,” University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby said in a letter opposing the bill. “If our students have to deal with a large, unfamiliar police department, many more of them may choose to not report than is presently the case.”

A 2014 study by the National Research Council found that 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement.

Mandatory reporting legislation like Ramsey’s has been denounced nationally by higher education and victims advocacy groups that drafted an open letter last week to all 50 states asking lawmakers to reject these types of bills.

“I think there is a little of a sentiment out there that colleges cover these cases up and don’t handle them competently when they come up, but that would be the exception, not the rule,” said Brett Sokolow, president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, which trains campus officials on handling sexual assault cases.

Ramsey’s bill will be tabled while the University System completes an ongoing campus safety review, scheduled for completion in May. The bill was recommended to be revisited next year.

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