Georgia House Bill 51 is a Travesty

(Content warning: this is about a Georgia House Bill that would make college/university campuses unsafe for rape victims. There are numerous links here that discuss rape with varying detail, including one that could be considered graphic. The petition linked to near the end is written by a survivor who very briefly discusses her rape [though not graphically or in much detail].)

I was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on May 22, 1987. At the end of third grade, my family moved to Sandy Springs, Georgia, where I lived until 2009. Georgia is where I was raised.

And that is why I care about this.

There is a bill currently in the Georgia legislature called House Bill 51. The summary of this bill is as follows:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Article 1 of Chapter 3 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to definitions, so as to provide for the manner of reporting and investigation of certain crimes by officials and employees of postsecondary institutions in this state; to provide for a definition; to provide for penalties for violations; to provide for exceptions; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

This looks fine on its face, yes. But it’s when you actually look into it that you start to see the problem…

First, let’s break down the text of the law itself:

Every official or employee of a postsecondary institution in this state who receives information which would lead such individual to believe that a crime which is a felony under the laws of this state has been committed by or against a student of such postsecondary institution or was committed in or on property owned, leased, or operated by such postsecondary institution shall promptly report such crime to the appropriate law enforcement agency of the jurisdiction in which the postsecondary institution is located or to the district attorney of the judicial circuit in which such postsecondary institution is located and provide all evidence within such official’s or employee’s knowledge and possession to such law enforcement agency or district attorney.

So, basically, it forces employees of a Georgia state college or university to report any crimes they know about to local law enforcement. It should be obvious what the problem is immediately…

There are multiple reasons why a victim of rape would choose to not report it to law enforcement agencies. There’s a bigger social stigma against being raped than there is against actually committing rape; it’s a basic fact that victims who report are treated worse than their rapist both by society and by law enforcement agencies (<- massive trigger warning on this link; the writer discusses her rape, and subsequent experience with reporting, in graphic detail). Because of that, reporting and going through the legal system with charges can be physically, psychologically, and emotionally damaging. It’d be hard to tell a victim that they’re wrong if they really believe that they would have a better time recovering and moving past it if they didn’t report it, because, honestly, they really aren’t wrong.

Such law enforcement agency or district attorney shall then determine whether to investigate and prosecute such alleged criminal offense.

Whether on purpose or not, this will inevitably lead to a statistical drop in the number of reports actually investigated, which will have the result of making Georgia college/university campuses safer for rapists (while being less safe for their victims and targets).

No investigation of such matter shall be undertaken by the postsecondary institution unless such investigation is done by a campus law enforcement agency staffed by law enforcement officers who are certified peace officers by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. In addition, the postsecondary institution shall not pursue any final disciplinary action against any student alleged to have committed a crime which would be a felony under the laws of this state until and unless such student is found guilty of, enters a plea of nolo contendere to, or is sentenced under Article 3 of Chapter 8 of Title 42, regarding first offender probation, for such crime; provided, however, that the postsecondary institution may suspend a student from such postsecondary institution while felony criminal charges are pending if the postsecondary institution finds, following a due process hearing, that allowing the student to continue at the postsecondary institution poses an immediate threat to the life, health, or safety of the student body.

So basically, this bill would remove the ability of the college or university to investigate the crime directly, again having the result of making the campus safer for the rapist. It does allow for the college/university to suspend the accused during the criminal investigation, but if you pay attention, that contradicts the previous part, as the college/university would not be able to determine if the accused “poses an immediate threat to the life, health, or safety of the student body” without conducting some sort of investigation.

This Code section shall not supercede federal statutes or properly promulgated federal regulations to the contrary but shall apply in the case of federal guidance letters and other expressions of opinion regarding policies by federal agencies.

I’m just going to quote from CNN’s article on this here:

Under current state and federal law, students can choose whether to report sexual misconduct to law enforcement or their school or both. Or, they don’t have to report at all. Nothing in current law requires university employees to report conversations with students about sexual misconduct to authorities without their say-so.

The bill requires certain school employees to report possible felonies, such as sexual assault allegations, to law enforcement. The proposal effectively sidesteps university hearings, sometimes called Title IX hearings after the federal civil rights law that mandates them. Under the proposed law, a school disciplinary hearing can only take place if a criminal investigation has been launched, a key departure from how things currently work.

Of course, this bill is being sponsored by a Republican, Georgia Representative Earl Ehrhart. He’s one of those who believes that educational institutions should “be in the business of educating, not investigating sexual assaults”. Which… I mean… yeah. But the way to stop such institutions from spending time investigating sexual assaults is to pass laws and create environments on campuses where rape itself is unwelcome, rapists are severely and publicly punished, which should deter potential rapists from actually raping anyone, and rape victims and survivors are safe and secure.

There’s a petition calling for the Georgia legislature to vote against this bill. I don’t care whether or not you live in, or were raised in, or were born in, Georgia. Please sign and share this petition. Let Georgia know that it’s not just their state, but the entire country that stands against this bill.

Thank you.

Leave a Reply