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The Three Ways that the Fair Campus Act Hurts Sexual Assault Victims

Check out part 1 of this article on The Radical Notion.

For most of this year, Congress has focused on introducing bills that address sexual violence. However, not all of these bills are designed to support victims. One of these dangerous bills, the Campus Safe Act, is effectively dead in Congress after months of protest from activists groups and the withdrawn support from a few key fraternity groups. Despite this major win, several goals of the Campus Safe Act are still alive and well in another piece of legislation—the Fair Campus Act.

The Fair Campus Act, also known as H.R. 3408, was introduced onto the floor of Congress without fanfare. And despite the major policy similarities that the Fair Campus Act shares with the now dead Campus Safe Act, the bill is still supported by major Greek groups. Journalists and activists have focused on the Campus Safe Act, allowing the insidious Fair Campus Act to continue to languish away in Congress.

If we allow the Fair Campus Act to become law, there will be three major policy changes that will adversely affect victims of collegiate sexual assault.

Shorter Suspensions for Fraternities

Currently, there is no federal law that sets that standard amount of time that a student organization can be suspended during a university’s investigation. Each university sets an interim suspension period to halt the activities of accused perpetrators before a formal healing begins or while one is in progress. Usually these periods mean that an accused is asked to leave campus or an organization can’t engage in regular events, such as parties, for a certain period of time.

If passed, the Fair Campus Act will bar universities from imposing a suspension of longer than 10 days for student organizations. In practice, the law will allow student organizations such as fraternities the ability to renew their activities, parties, after only 10 days. The Fair Campus Act ignores the numerous studies and high profile articles that have clearly drawn the connection between collegiate rape and fraternities. Instead, the law allows student organizations the opportunity to begin their activities again, despite a claim of sexual violence. Essentially, the Fair Campus Act prioritizes a fraternity’s “right to party” over a victim’s right to a hostile free education environment.

Universities Will Not Offer Anti- Sexual Violence Education

The second troubling aspect of H.R. 3408 is the bill’s language regarding a university’s responsibility to provide education programs “designed to address sexual violence.” Currently, schools are responsible for ensuring that their university does not promote a hostile environment that results in sexual violence. In 2013, the Campus SaVE Act was passed and mandated that all universities and colleges must offer sexual violence prevention programs. If the Fair Campus Act is passed, it will change current law and allow universities to choose to offer prevention programs or not.

The Fair Campus Act is clearly not in the interest of victims. Without a federal mandate ensuring that each college student is aware of sexual violence, this bill ensures that rape will continue to terrorize college students.

Higher Burden of Proof

The Fair Campus Act proposes to change to current burden of proof universities use to adjudicate sexual assault cases. Today, all universities must use what is called the “preponderance of evidence standard,” meaning that it is “more likely than not that sexual assault or violence took place.” When sexual assault cases are usually decided on ‘he said versus she said’ arguments, it is nearly impossible to prove violence occurred “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It is simply fairer to victims and survivors to use the “more likely than not standard.”

If the Fair Campus Act is adopted, the “preponderance of evidence standard” will be abandoned for whatever standard of proof a university decides to use. In practice, this will allow universities to adopt standards that will favor the rights of the accused rather than the accuser. It is in a college’s best interests to have lower reported rates of sexual violence. By ensuring that fewer cases meet the higher burden of proof, universities can produce artificial numbers of sexual violence, silencing victims and duping students into believing that their campuses are safe.

It is imperative that the Fair Campus Act does not successfully pass through both houses of Congress. Currently the law continues to receive support from fraternities and sororities. In fact, Greek organizations have spent $210,000 in lobbying costs to ensure that the Fair Campus Act passes. We cannot afford to stay silent. It’s time to act.


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Written by Michelle Carroll

Michelle is a white-presenting Latina living in Brooklyn. She is passionate about intersectional feminism, reproductive justice, and ending collegiate sexual violence. When she doesn't have her head buried in a book, she is meticulously searching through racks of vintage clothes. Michelle is also a contributor for The Radical Notion and Guerrilla Feminism, and happily volunteers to moderate the thriving Guerrilla Feminism NYC community. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr where she rants under the moniker @growsinBK.


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