Georgia legislature rethinks assault

According to current state and federal laws, university students decide whether to report sexual misdemeanors to their administration or to the police or both. Students don’t have to report if they so choose. 

Republican Sponsor Representative Earl Ehrhart proposed a bill, HB-51, that will alter universities’ approach to cases of sexual misconduct. If the Georgia General Assembly approves the proposed law, it could be implemented nationwide.

Presently, around 7,000 post-secondary institutions have implemented a program known as Title IX, which, among other purposes, assists college sexual assault or harassment victims. If a student is assaulted or harassed, they may report the incident to the school, which may be followed by an administratively run investigation.

Under Title IX law, no school employee can report to the law enforcement on account of sexual misconduct without the permission of the victim.

Under the HB-51 bill, school employees, such as professors, coaches, residence life and deans who are privy to a sexual misdemeanor must immediately report the incident to the local law enforcement.

The school may not investigate, only report the incident to the police.

As such, the school may not undertake any disciplinary hearing until after the investigation commences by local authorities.

Andre Broquard, one of the co-coordinators for Title IX at John Brown University, said that in the past three years, about eight to 12 students have filed a Title IX report. Not all of these reports resulted in an investigation.  To Broquard’s recollection, only a few students filed a report with the local authorities.

“Generally, going to the police seems to be a bit intimidating and [victims] don’t really know how to do that, so we can facilitate having an officer coming to JBU to take a report in a more private, more familiar location,” Broquard said.

A student, having reported a sexual attack, will be given accommodations by the school. For instance, if an assaulted victim eats in the cafeteria at the same time as the perpetrator, the Title IX investigators will accommodate the victim, and make it so the perpetrator can’t come during the same time.

Beth White — whose name was changed for privacy concerns — a victim of sexual assault, filed a Title IX report in the fall of 2016 and is currently in a Title IX investigation. 

White filed a Title IX report even though she felt hesitant and frightened, she said. As White explained, she was afraid her attacker would sexually harm another girl.

White said she would have rather not reported then go to the police as it seemed intimidating and far outside her level of comfort. However, all Title IX cases are private and known only by those involved.

Counseling, one of the accommodations of Title IX, proved beneficial in White’s healing process.

“It wasn’t until I began going to counseling and shared my full story with those closest to me, that I was able to accept what happened, and begin the journey of healing,” White said.

Erin Christner, the Resident Director for Mayfield Residence Hall, is trained as a Title IX investigator. Investigators compile relevant information to the cases through interviews, examining documents as well as the University’s policies.   

“We don’t tell reporting parties whether or not they should file a criminal complaint. It is the reporting party’s right to do so, if they so choose,” Christner said.

Christner questions whether the HB-51 bill would turn students away from reporting a situation of sexual misconduct.

“It may make it difficult for the school to provide necessary accommodations for the both the reporting and responding parties if the school is not conducting an investigation,” Christner said.

Although reporting a sexual misdemeanor is difficult, Broquard recommends it to any student who may have been assaulted. Through Title IX, the administration seeks to end, prevent and remedy any such cases to protect the students on campus.

Broqaurd also refers any student to the student handbook for more information on Title IX and how to file a report.