By Guest Blogger Grace Starling
Rape isn’t a partisan issue.
No one ever considered rape victims when writing House Bill 51, and that is dangerous for every Georgia citizen. HB 51 — the campus rape cover-up bill — which passed the Georgia House of Representatives last week, is a clear example of egregiously biased and shoddy legislation. The bill requires a university to report all felonies that occur on a college campus or by a student enrolled in that institution to law enforcement.
To be clear, requiring a university to report a rape without the consent of the victim is a violation of a survivor’s autonomy and self-control. It further exposes them to a system that they may have never asked to be exposed to. This is unacceptable. Not only could this further traumatize victims, it may actually prevent people who have been raped from coming forward and seeking the necessary support system in place to allow them to complete their college education.
The campus rape cover-up bill would prevent students who have been raped from coming forward while create a haven for students who rape. According to the revised bill, the school may only take disciplinary action once there is a hearing affording due process to the accused student, but this bill was not created to ensure equal access to education for all Georgia students.
If this bill actually defined what “due process” means on college campuses, taking into account all parties who would be affected, I might believe that was well-intentioned, written with the intent to prevent rape on campus and prevent false accusations. But this bill does not do that, and it was never meant to help all parties.
When the sponsors argue that this is well-intentioned legislation, look at the first version of the bill. Notice that in the first version, every single employee on a college campus in Georgia was required to report a felony — even doctors, nurses or counselors – employees on campus who survivors should be able to confide in for their physical and mental safety.
When I met Rep. Earl Ehrhart, the sponsor of the bill and subcommittee chairman of Appropriations for Higher Education, before the first hearing, he told me that too many students’ professional lives are ruined because of false rape allegations. He told me, after I told him that I was raped in college, that he hadn’t considered that a survivor would not be able to talk to a counselor on campus or a doctor who may perform their exam without initiating a police investigation. He told me that he had never considered including code sections that would ensure compliance with federal laws like HIPAA. And let me tell you how a first-year law student had to continually fight the problematic language that the sponsors chose to use, including attorney Rep. Regina Quick.
More puzzling, Ehrhart said in Rules Committee that this bill was about “due process on our campuses and reallocating funds to sexual assault prevention.” The words or derivatives of the words “reallocating,” “funds,” or “sexual assault prevention” are found nowhere in the bill or in the budget for fiscal year 2018.
It makes little sense that a bill with no language about funding would be placed in the sub-committee that the lead sponsor of the bill chairs, instead of Judiciary committee, where it has been rightly placed in the Georgia Senate. In Ehrhart’s committee, supporters of the bill invited by him, told committee members that being raped and being accused of rape are equally as traumatic.
The same bill supporter also gave the blatantly false statistics that 40 percent of rape accusations are false when studies show that, at most, 8 percent of rape allegations are false. In that same meeting, Chairman Ehrhart reminded us that the Capitol is a “macro-aggressive environment” and that if survivors feel triggered, “go trigger somewhere else.” At that moment, I realized this bill was never written with rape survivors in mind, and no amount of slightly altered substitute bills could ever fix the damage that the campus rape cover-up bill was intended to cause, has already caused and will continue to cause.
Legislative intent matters here. We cannot forget that HB 51 was written to silence survivors. The sponsors’ actions must be considered as our legislators move forward on this. By creating legislation that causes very real damage to rape victims and then asking those very people to make the bill something they could “live with,” sponsors have shown a clear indication for which party they believe is the priority in crafting this bill. And let me say this – if you expect me to live with legislation that was always intended to silence me as a survivor after you’ve told me that I am not welcome in this Capitol if I am going to be triggered, then, honestly, you have sorely underestimated the strength behind this opposition – Georgia students and survivors. We all deserve better, and frankly, we demand it.
Ga. lawmakers: Do not make rape victims “live with” legislation that was written to protect those accused of rape.
Take action at bettergeorgia.org/campusrape.