This week, one national fraternity made headlines when it announced that it was cutting ties with its governing body, the North American Interfraternity Conference. Why? “For more than a century, we have supported the NIC’s efforts and advocated for its stated principles and values,” said Fletcher McElreath, board chairman of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. “Unfortunately, the NIC has recently elected to pursue counterproductive tactics that we believe are antithetical to our values, and we cannot support them.”
What are those tactics? Supporting and aggressively lobbying for the deceptively named Safe Campus Act, a bill that would actually make it more difficult for colleges and universities to investigate rape and sexual assaults that occur on their campuses. Introduced this summer by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), the bill would prohibit schools from punishing a student accused of sexual assault and battery unless the reporting victim also goes to police with the complaint. Supporters of the bill claim it’s necessary to ensure that the accused’s rights to due process are not violated, but concerns about lawsuits brought by victims against not only perpetrators but also campus Greek organizations and schools themselves are the more likely reason that high-profile lobbyists have been hired to push this bill through Congress.
It’s not just fraternities— male organizations—that are lobbying for this change. Joining the NIC in pressing for this new restriction is the National Panhellenic Conference which represents sororities nationwide.
How, exactly, would this proposed legislation change things for victims of campus sexual assault?
Currently, institutions of higher education are obligated under the gender equity law Title IX to address reports of sexual violence, regardless of whether the students involved decide to engage law enforcement in the process. Colleges may investigate incidents and choose to discipline those accused under their school’s code of student conduct, similar to the way employers may investigate and sanction their employees for behavior violations without involving the cops. Colleges would still be allowed to punish a student for illegal acts such as theft, selling drugs, or physical assault regardless of police involvement, but sexual assault and battery would be off limits unless the reporting victim goes to the police in addition to school officials.
Thus, the so-called Safe Campus Act would make sexual assault the only form of misbehavior for which a university could not take disciplinary action against its own students without contacting local law enforcement. It would restrict colleges from investigating sexual assaults unless the alleged victim also reports the incident to police, but would not hold other illegal behavior to the same requirement. Questioning why sexual assault was the only form of student misconduct for which due process concerns have been raised, Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, reminded us that “We don’t force victims of other crimes to interact with police and file reports and initiate a criminal justice investigation.”
Sexual assaults are vastly underreported because victims, who’ve already been so intimately violated, fear being roughed-up again by the criminal justice system. Alleged perpetrators of campus rape should absolutely receive due process, but a series of court decisions around Title IX has found that university disciplinary boards are sufficiently equipped to handle these matters in-house if alleged victims are too frightened to go to the police and prefer instead to confide in a campus counselor or administrator. If found guilty of rape by a school’s disciplinary process, a perpetrator may be expelled—just as one would be for stealing a laptop or possessing drugs—without a police investigation or criminal charges being brought by a prosecutor.
Why is Lambda Chi Alpha’s lone opposition to the Safe Campus Act so significant?
Because sexual assault on college campuses is not a “woman” problem—it’s a human problem. Not only are men a vital part of the solution to the public health threat of intimate partner violence, they are also victims of campus rape—victims who are even less likely to report an assault than women due to the stigma surrounding these types of crimes and antiquated notions of masculinity.
Advocacy groups working with sexual assault victims uniformly oppose the Safe Campus Act. “The campus process and criminal process are two separate and distinct processes with different purposes and goals,” said Monika Johnson-Hostler, president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “Campuses should be able to continue their process regardless of the student’s decision to move forward with a police report.” Johnson-Hostler was one of several directors of rape and domestic violence prevention organizations who sent a letter to the bill’s sponsors in August expressing grave concern. “Campuses are obligated to determine whether or not a student violated school policy and to protect the civil rights of the victim,” they insisted.
Kudos to Lambda Chi Alpha for risking alienation in the Greek Life community by standing up for victims of campus sexual assault. Now it’s time for the NIC and NPC to put on their big girl panties, follow Lambda Chi Alpha’s lead, and stop advocating for this legislation. If they don’t, they’re not only admitting that discouraging their members from reporting rape is a part of their “stated principles and values,” they’ll also be continuing to use their resources to pay lobbyists to help make it easier for campus sexual assault to go undetected. Think about that, sisters and brothers, the next time you write your dues check.