Currently, survivors of sexual assault at UMKC can choose whether or not to file a report with the police. However, this could change if a bill endorsed by Republican Senator Matt Salmon last July becomes law.
The bill, dubbed the Safe Campus Act, would bar universities from launching their own investigations into cases of sexual assault until after a thirty day period during which police would have exclusive jurisdiction. Furthermore, universities would be unable to investigate or apply punishment on behalf of students who, for any reason, did not want police to begin a criminal investigation.
The “Safe Campus Act” is almost universally decried by advocacy groups for survivors of sexual assault, as well as some fraternity and sorority members. These critics worry that that Safe Campus Act does more to promote the interests of fraternities and members who are accused of sexual assault than victims by discouraging survivors from coming forward.
“I think the victim should have the power to choose the best route for the investigation,” said UMKC student Kati Stunkard.” Going to the police can be terrifying, and going to an official at school might be much easier.”
The new rules outlined under the “Safe Campus Act” would be a departure from UMKC’s current policy. Mikah Thompson, UMKC’s title IX coordinator, agreed that the bill could keep some victims from reporting at all.
“I think students want to have the power of going or not going to the police, so forcing students to do so would keep some of them from coming forward,” Thompson said.
The bill would also remove the mandate for universities to use the preponderance of evidence standard, which is different from the standard of beyond reasonable doubt used in criminal cases. The standard of beyond reasonable doubt is much more difficult to satisfy. Under the “Safe Campus Act,” universities would be free to use any standard of evidence, including ones which would make finding the accused guilty much more difficult.
“We don’t see ourselves as a court of law. We’re looking at whether university policies have been violated, not whether a crime has been committed,” Thompson said, referring to why UMKC uses the preponderance of evidence standard.
The bill is supported by the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), an organization of fraternities which counts multiple UMKC fraternity chapters among its membership. The NIC says that this bill would “more effectively engage local law enforcement to investigate crimes of sexual violence” as well as “enhance the due process rights of everyone involved in allegations of campus sexual violence – the accuser and the accused.”
Notably, the bill would only apply to instances of sexual assault. The ability of universities to investigate other types of crimes would remain the same. The NIC and other fraternity and sorority organizations have also hired former Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott to lobby in favor of the bill. Lott is himself a member of fraternity Sigma Nu. He and other lobbyists have already raised $140,000 to support the bill, as reported by the Huffington Post