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By Vivian Nunez
August 10, 2015
Caption : The National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference are supporting a bill that has many advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault worried.     

Last April, leaders in the Greek life community made it known that they would be actively lobbying for legislation that would create stricter rules regarding how sexual assaults on campuses are investigated. On April 20, the Huffington Post reported that those pushing for the legislation would be stepping back on their lobbying efforts.

“We will not be lobbying for or against any specific Congressional proposals on campus sexual assault in April,” representatives for the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) told the Huffington Post.

“However,” they added, “we expect our conversations to lead us to actively endorse such proposals later in the year when Congress considers reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.”

As of the end of July, both organizations have reestablished their support for legislation that would heavily regulate how colleges handle campus sexual assaults. As they explained in their statement in April, now that Congress is hosting talks around the Higher Education Act, NPC and NIC are putting their weight behind the Safe Campus Act and the Fair Campus Act.

The Huffington Post explains the proposed legislation:

“The Safe Campus Act, the more comprehensive of the two bills, stipulates that colleges may only investigate an allegation of a criminal sexual assault if the alleged victim agrees to report it to local law enforcement. If the alleged victim chooses not to do so, then the school would be forbidden to investigate or carry out any sort of punishment against the student accused of sexual assault, no matter what evidence is available. The school would only be able to offer counseling and academic or interim accommodations to the alleged victim.”

If the Safe Campus Act or the Fair Campus Act were to pass they would directly challenge Title IX and other existing laws meant to protect students from sexual violence. Under Title IX, colleges and universities are required to conduct their own investigations into alleged sexual assaults, regardless of whether or not an alleged victim decides to report the case to local police.

In addition to facing legal problems, the proposed pieces of legislation may also create another problem: making it harder for survivors to report their assaults. The numbers are already low: while studies show 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college, only five percent of survivors report their assault. By restricting full collegiate sexual assault investigations to those who have also reported their assault to local police, more survivors may choose not to report.

“This proposal is completely backwards,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) back in April. “We should be making universities more accountable for providing a safe campus, not less. Waiting for long legal process to play itself out for those victims who pursue criminal charges while leaving potential serial rapists on campus in the interim would put public safety at risk.”

The National Panhellenic Conference and North-American Interfraternity Conference claim they have the interests of higher education groups at heart when pushing for these pieces of legislation. In a series of statements to the Huffington Post, however, many of these higher education groups spoke out against the pieces of legislation.

The Association of American Universities, for instance, issued a succinct statement in response to the bill, saying: “We don’t support the bill and do not consider it a response to concerns expressed by higher education.”

Other higher education groups, including the Association for Student Conduct Administration, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, echoed the Association of American Universities in their individual statements.

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