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Support GA House Bill 51 to secure due process in universities

If your child went to college and was expelled for something he or she didn’t do, would you want the same to happen to other people’s children? The question may be rhetorical, but it’s a real one that citizens of Georgia will have to answer to determine the future of due process in higher education.

Georgia legislators are considering a bill (HB 51) that would add a layer of due process on university campuses that was once missing. HB 51’s sponsors include Earl Erhart, Rich Golick, Regina Quick and Trey Kelley. The bill has passed a subcommittee hearing, and at the time of this writing is approaching the full Appropriations Committee. If this passes, the bill hits the floor and starts over with the senate.

You can read the current version of the bill here. In my probably oversimplified summary, the bill suggests that it is not up to post-secondary (i.e. university) staff to do a cop’s job when faced with a criminal allegation. As it stands in many states today, if someone were to accuse you of a major crime, you may face disciplinary action leading all the way up to expulsion even if you were innocent. Some examples of concerning conduct happened at Brandeis, Duke and UND. Organizations such as FIRE or Title IX for All have sections of their websites dedicated to horror stories of innocent or innocuous students facing needlessly punitive action across the country. Brandeis in particular is an example of one action (a man kissing his partner awake) blowing up into a massive, questionable retaliation:

Big update to our story nearly a year ago about a gay student expelled by Brandeis University based on sexual-assault allegations that included kissing his sleeping boyfriend, the accuser:

A federal judge in Boston has put Brandeis on notice that its investigative procedure lacked “basic fairness” to such an extent that it might have affected the outcome.

[…]

Brandeis must justify several of its practices, including the denial of cross-examination, the use of a single-investigator model, the refusal to provide the accused the specific allegations against him, and the suspicious use of the “more likely than not” evidence standard only in sexual-misconduct proceedings, whose results can have lifelong, severely negative consequences for the accused student.

Greg Piper, Associate Editor of the College Fix “Federal judge validates due-process lawsuit against Brandeis by student accused of rape”

While the scope of this bill applies only to Georgia, its important to set an example for due process and the presumption of innocence. If this does not happen, it is possible that you, as a student, may be expelled for an innocuous action, if there is any action at all.

The point of this bill is to help protect the presumption of innocence on post-secondary institutions, so that innocent students don’t have a kangaroo court experience after a rival accused them of academic, sexual or other misconduct—either real or perceived. It starts tying a university’s handling of criminal allegations to the police departments that have jurisdiction. That way professors, administrators and on-campus committees do not act as the judge, jury and executioner.

Just so you know my position, I’m a recent graduate of Kennesaw State University that desperately wished this bill was law when I was a student. Since my struggles on campus (that I don’t wish to recount here), a gained a passion for helping plug leaks in the judicial system as it overlaps with higher education. I’ve previously spoken out against the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (S.590) for the consequences it would bring to campus cultures that are strongly divided on perceptions of gender—namely than a male student accused of sexual assault is doomed, even if he is innocent.

Today I went to visit the Georgia State Capitol with local attorney Charles Jones to speak to various representatives in support of the bill. We passed out key details on the benefits of due process and were delighted to see so many in favor of the bill within the house appropriations committee, although one informed us that the opponents of the bill send negative and sometimes downright threatening emails to their representatives. This isn’t to speak poorly of the bill’s opponents, but to share with you all the passion and anger that the representatives saw in the opposition.

The detractors of the bill appear to believe that adding additional due process makes it harder for victims to find justice. Their perception, as I understand it, is that by presuming innocence, you are presuming a victim making a report to the police is lying.

This could not be further from the truth.

The supporters of the bill I’ve encountered are perfectly aware of the pressing need to maintain an efficient line of communication between a victim and the authorities. Even if they wanted to curtail victims, they cannot contradict the Clery Act, which basically makes reporting a threat on campus much easier than before it was passed.

The point of this bill is to make sure that in the event a criminal allegations comes forward on campus, the victim will get justice by helping make sure the authorities capture the right person. If you have ever seen documentaries like Making a Murderer or West of Memphis, you know how bias and an impatient rush to convict can destroy entire families.

Support for HB 51 is not about making it harder for victims to find justice, it makes sure one person’s justice is not another person’s oppression. That being said, finding the truth and delivering justice takes often a frustrating amount of time for the victim, if it comes at all. I really do understand that frustration, but rushing to judgement only serves to gratify bias and impatience.

We’ve already allowed the impatient and the biased to adjudicate criminal allegations on campus, and it hasn’t been working. Title IX for All now lists 170 lawsuits (login required) filed by students against those unqualified to handle criminal allegations.

We need to install due process to make sure that no more innocent people are hurt, and that a torch and pitchfork mob does not decide who deserves punishment. Otherwise, we risk innocent people facing wrongful conviction, wrongful discipline, and even turning around and responding with a lawsuit that rips taxpayer dollars out of the school to make things right while real culprits possibly still run free. In this situation, everyone loses.

Since I am not an attorney I cannot claim to interpret the bill or its implementation as well as its sponsors. My understanding is that post-secondary institutions can still evaluate the accused as a potential threat to campus and possibly color the reports sent to police departments as the bill mandates. But even then, that’s probably not something you can legislate directly and this bill is better than what we have. The bill is still under consideration.

If you live in Georgia, look up your representatives and send them an email voicing your support of the bill. You may find more success in sending emails that have a strong positive, grateful or congratulatory tone, such as “Thank you so much for any support for HB 51.”

An example email is below that you can use to contact your representative. Feel free to alter it as you see fit.

Dear [Representative],

I want to thank you so much for your consideration of HB 51 regarding the treatment of criminal allegations on post-secondary institutions. I understand you have faced a lot of opposition to the bill from those who feel they are doing the right thing by expediting justice, but I applaud your courage for any efforts you make to ensure due process where it is missing.

If you have not already done so, please support HB 51 to establish a more consistent and functional judicial system as it reaches into universities and our students’ futures.

Best regards,
[Your name]

Even if you are not a resident of Georgia, please at least prepare a nice note and contact a Georgia state representative to voice your support and congratulate them on making a courageous stand for principles consistent with the Constitution. It’s not often we see much respect for that document, so reward every small revival of its spirit. To better manage the traffic coming into representatives’ inboxes, I will not publish email addresses here (although they are public should you wish to look them up). However, I am maintaining a list of representatives to connect with constituents so please feel free to ping me on Facebook and I will connect you with public contact info.

Sage Gerard

Thanks to his contributions to gender equity in higher education, Sage has become one of the most practical and experienced supports in boots-on-the-ground activism.
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  • Andy Bofides

    “Since I am not an attorney I cannot claim to interpret the bill or its implementation as well as its sponsors.”

    This is true. And it also explains the fundamental misconceptions represented in this article as well as ignoring any and all valid arguments to the contrary. But as another dude let me just say I’m really sorry that you’re so put upon by the burden of other people, especially women having been raped. That’s got to be a lot to bear.

    • Jeremy Zaretski

      Andy Bofides:

      I disagree. It certainly is “a lot to bear”, regardless of your sex, if your reputation and life are effectively ruined due to being accused of, and punished, for a heinous action that you did not perform.

      Your assertions require evidence.

      Please provide the following:
      – demonstrations of the ‘representations of fundamental misconceptions’ contained within this article
      – an explanation for how the quote that you selected or the article itself “ignores any and all valid arguments to the contrary”

      • Andy Bofides

        “The detractors of the bill appear to believe that adding additional due process makes it harder for victims to find justice. Their perception, as I understand it, is that by presuming innocence, you are presuming a victim making a report to the police is lying.”

        That quote sums up both of your requests. The detractors of the bill don’t believe that they should be prohibited from speaking to a professor, coach, roommate who works in the library, etc. about an assault without it going straight to law enforcement. Their perception is that they want to be able to discuss what’s happened in a safe and confidential space and make their own decision about whether or not to proceed with ANY action (including Title IX). Theirs is a very valid argument that mandatory reporting has nothing to do with improving due process for the accused, an argument that they have made at every turn.

        • http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/ Hannah Wallen

          Bullshit – the detractors of the bill are afraid of losing a system that has created the ability to achieve punishment of a guy just by making an accusation and watching the bureaucratic version of a Rube-Goldberg device do the rest.

          And your assertions still lack evidence. You’re still simply making unfounded claims.

        • zyrolasting

          I think you are seeing something in the quote that isn’t there. Anonymous reporting remains accessible even if this bill passes, so why would detractors bring that up? The issue is that some detractors feel that you must believe the victim immediately, whether they make their claim in a safe, private space or not.

    • http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/ Hannah Wallen

      Stop exploiting women who have been raped.

      We don’t want your sympathy if it means you get to use it to attack the falsely accused.

      • Andy Bofides

        The only exploitation is of women required to report to law enforcement which has no real connection to improving due process on campuses. It is exploitation used to strike at the heart of Title IX, not actually improve the due process for the accused (which I’ll note was recently totally overhauled by the BOR per the bill’s sponsor’s request). And as for the falsely accused I would point out two things. First, that the incidence of false reports falls incredibly short of the number of sexual assaults on campus and second, nothing I am saying or the opponents of the bill have been saying is against improving due process. It absolutely needs to be stronger. But this argument creates or at least assumes a false equivalency between the problem of sexual assault on campus and the problem of false reporting on campus. All data demonstrates the contrary. One is an epidemic, the other is a tremendously unfortunate but thankfully very rare occurrence. We should be able to work to reduce both to zero, but this bill (as written) risks increasing the number of women who don’t seek help due to the mandatory reporting element. That doesn’t help us get rid of either.

        • http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/ Hannah Wallen

          “The only exploitation is of women required to report to law enforcement which has no real connection to improving due process on campuses.”

          Actually, it has significant connection. First of all, it would ensure that cases which would pass the standards of the legal system don’t get pushed through the less strict campus system in order to avoid allowing the accused fair representation and the right to present exculpatory evidence in his defense. Those aspects of due process are currently being violated.

          Second, it’s not the women themselves who are required to report, but campus employees. Either you did not read the actual bill, or you’re dishonestly representing it in that statement.

          In reporting suspected crimes to the authorities, campus employees would be ensuring that in instances where the accused IS guilty, the justice system has the opportunity to work as it is supposed to. Under the current system, not only are men who have done nothing wrong facing wreckage of their academic careers and potential professional careers, but actual sexual predators are getting away with their actions without facing imprisonment.

          Now, you COULD argue that the punishment innocent men are being subjected to is not significant, but that argument would undermine any claim you have that it might act as a deterrent to those who actually are guilty.

          Or you COULD argue that the loss is significant enough to be all the punishment a felonious sex offender should have to face, but that argument could be expanded to advocate the elimination of any criminal punishment for sex offenders.

          “It is exploitation used to strike at the heart of Title IX”

          Title IX, which has no actual heart, outlived its usefulness years ago. It is entirely unnecessary, and arguments alleging it is under attack are not persuasive. Reforming its use is not an attack, nor is discussing the issues it has created a form of exploitation.

          However, using the concept of rape victims as a thought terminating cliche against criticism of the law’s current incarnation & application IS exploitation.
          You’re not entitled to speak for rape victims. We do not all agree with you, and we are not yours to manipulate.

          “(which I’ll note was recently totally overhauled by the BOR per the bill’s sponsor’s request)”

          …except that the law requiring kangaroo courts on campus is still in place with its wording unchanged, and there are still students being subjected to them.
          Which makes that not a persuasive argument, either.

          “And as for the falsely accused I would point out two things. First, that the incidence of false reports falls incredibly short of the number of sexual assaults on campus”

          This is a heavily disputed assertion. Claims of a high rate of sexual assault on campuses rely on survey methods that 1) define it in a way that is not in accordance with the law and is even contradicted by survey respondents’ assessment of their reported experiences and 2) do not treat the same behavior as the same crime when women engage in it as when men engage in it. Your claim is therefore unproved, and again, unpersuasive.

          Even if it were not, whether false accusations are common or rare has no bearing on the importance of taking them into consideration.
          Due process rights outweigh the perceived right to see one’s attacker penalized.

          “nothing I am saying or the opponents of the bill have been saying is against improving due process… ”

          except that you are arguing in support of preserving a system that strives to eliminate it.

          “But this argument creates or at least assumes a false equivalency between the problem of sexual assault on campus and the problem of false reporting on campus.”

          Actually, thanks to feminist activism, the two are intrinsically connected.
          http://www.falserape.net/rape_culture.html#blade

          “All data demonstrates the contrary. One is an epidemic, the other is a tremendously unfortunate but thankfully very rare occurrence.”

          Once again (as my link shows) that’s a false claim.
          Feminist interpretation of falsely manipulated data has convinced many people it’s true, but the reality is the opposite.

          Every accusation based on withdrawing consent after sex has occurred is a false accusation. Every accusation of rape that treats a woman’s active participation in an un-forced sex act as she is not responsible for her choice to engage in it is a false accusation. Every accusation made because someone who had sex to get something she wanted got angry afterward over the arrangement is a false accusation. Every accusation made by a woman who decided that because she had a beer, consent she remembers giving was invalid and sex she remembers actively participating in was rape is a false allegation. None of those situations as described meet the standard for conviction, but they’d result in investigation and penalty under the current on-campus system.

          “We should be able to work to reduce both to zero,”

          That is both unrealistic in regard to any crime and true in regard to any crime. It has no place in a rational discussion.

          “this bill (as written) risks increasing the number of women who don’t seek help due to the mandatory reporting element.”

          Actually, no, it doesn’t. It risks increasing the number of women who choose not to make a false accusation due to the reporting element, and that bothers opponents of the bill.

          Women don’t choose not to report actually being victimized because of the potential for investigation, prosecution of the perp, conviction and punishment. If anything, some may make that choice because feminists lie to them about their chances of success within the judicial system… but feminist lies have never been a benevolent guide for the legal system.

          That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in today.

        • zyrolasting

          > But this argument creates or at least assumes a false equivalency between the problem of sexual assault on campus and the problem of false reporting on campus

          …No. It doesn’t. I never even made a direct comparison between false allegations and sexual assault, but imagine how glad I am that you are here to do it for me.

          Mitigating the risk of false allegations is a reason to support the bill. There are other risks I could bring up, but false allegations are important to the communities I address with this article. The point is to make sure that sexual assault reports that bear weight actually do make it through without collateral damage. We win with this bill, detractors win with this bill, and innocent bystanders win with this bill. The only losers are abusers of the process, which created the need for the bill in the first place.

          > the incidence of false reports falls incredibly short of the number of sexual assaults on campus

          So what?

          Even if there was one false report in all time against thousands of sexual assaults, that does not make false allegations any less serious. Does this mean that false allegations are just as serious as sexual assault? Well, I don’t make that claim! Seems like you’re the one making the comparisons!

          My claim is that people dealing with false allegations have next to no protection, and it makes no damn sense to act like even one instance of judicial neglect is more excusable than ignoring a sexual assault report. There’s MY comparison.

          So if you are worried about false equivalency, then would you really say that the frequency of a harmful act is a measure of how harmful the act itself is? Or would you say that maybe it’s better to view this issue as patching up a hole in our social contract so that everyone is covered?

  • Eric Hamell

    I’ve emailed all five sponsors with a brief note of thanks.

  • bobmailno2

    Good luck Sage!