A coalition of national fraternity and sorority groups has hired former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott to lobby for a bill that would limit colleges’ legal authority to punish students accused of sexual assault.
The “Safe Campus Coalition” – an alliance between the National Panhellenic Conference, North American Interfraternity Conference, Kappa Alpha Order, the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, and the Sigma Nu fraternity – is looking to make campuses safer for students who are wrongly accused of sexual assault. To that end, they’ve hired Lott to lobby on behalf of the “Safe Campus Act,” which would prohibit colleges from punishing a student for sexual assault unless police have also been notified of the alleged crime. Notably, colleges would still be allowed to expel students for theft or physical assault without having to meet this new requirement.
The act would also free schools from having to employ the Department of Education’s evidentiary standard in sexual assault hearings. Currently, the department mandates that all colleges use the “preponderance of evidence” standard in sexual assault cases, which demands that a student be found in violation if the adjudicator is at least 51 percent certain that the accused is guilty. Were the bill to become law, every school would be free to choose its own standard, including the more demanding legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Congressional disclosure filings show that Lott is among a group of lobbyists who have collected $140,000 from the coalition this year.
Every major advocacy group for sexual assault victims opposes the legislation. Advocates argue that requiring schools to involve the police in all sexual assault investigations will discourage many victims from reporting their attackers.
“Many survivors don’t feel comfortable with going through a criminal justice process and do not have access to resources to maintain a case/attend court hearings,” Savannah Badalich, founder of the Bruin Consent Coalition at UCLA, told the Huffington Post in a statement.
“It is the university’s responsibility under Title IX to protect students from sex discrimination and to allow for an equal opportunity for access to their education,” she added. “The (un)Safe Campus Act does the exact opposite.”