Bill May Alter University Assault Investigations

A proposed state bill (HB51) could alter Emory’s sexual assault investigation process and require Georgia universities to turn over investigation of crimes committed on campus to police if passed in the Georgia legislature.

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) introduced HB51 Jan. 11. The bill would bar Georgia universities from conducting university-led independent investigations of crimes and would leave investigation and prosecution to law enforcement officials. The bill would also prevent schools from penalizing individuals until they are convicted by law enforcement.

The only exception in the bill is that an institution could suspend a student who poses an immediate threat to the lives, health or safety of the student body and whose criminal charges are pending.

If passed, the bill would affect Emory, as the University receives state grants such as the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grants (GTEG) and the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship.

Currently, Emory can begin an independent sexual assault investigation independent of a completed criminal investigation, according to Emory Title IX Coordinator Lynell Cadray. A Title IX coordinator is appointed to a case; he or she determines whether charges for a sexual-misconduct policy violation should be pursued and if there is sufficient evidence to support those charges. The Title IX office conducts an additional hearing if the student who reported the assault wishes to pursue disciplinary action.

Colleges receiving federal funding are required to address sexual harassment and misconduct under the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which created the Title IX coordinator position. Cadray said that, if passed, the state bill would not supersede the act because Title IX is federal law, adding that Emory will follow any future federal changes.

Cadray said Ehrhart’s proposed bill would decrease the willingness of students to file sexual assault reports.

“When victims and students come forward, they really are very much concerned about Emory being a safe place for them to go to school and to learn and to work,” Cadray said. “They may be a lot more reluctant if they have to go through a criminal process or have to go to police.”

The bill stipulates that universities can only conduct independent investigations if they collaborate with campus law enforcement officers who are certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. Should the bill pass, Emory could independently investigate crimes only by collaborating with Emory Police Department (EPD) officers, because all officers in EPD are certified peace officers, according to Manager of EPD Communications Tamika Kendrick.

Cadray said that Emory’s Title IX office works with EPD on some sexual assault cases.

“Sometimes criminal cases can take a little bit longer and get more detailed,” Cadray said. “The goal for [Emory] is to make sure there is an intervention, that we can stop the behavior as quickly as possible.”

Ehrhart proposed the bill because he was concerned about the cost of lawsuits against schools for mishandling cases and the misuse of federal funds and the current process’ failure to condemn the guilty or exonerate the innocent, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ehrhart also challenged universities’ criminal investigation processes last year when he called a meeting of state legislators and Georgia Institute of Technology leadership to review the school’s due process policies after complaints and lawsuits were filed by students who were expelled for sexual misconduct, the AJC reported.

Ehrhart did not respond to multiple requests for comment as of press time.

In 2016, students reported 65 cases directly to Emory’s Title IX office.

Emory’s Atlanta campus reported six rape cases, 11 fondling cases, two domestic violence cases, three dating violence cases and 17 stalking cases; Emory’s Oxford campus reported four cases of fondling and two cases of dating violence; Emory University Hospital Midtown Campus had one case of fondling, according to EPD’s 2015 Security Report.

Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA), an Emory organization that supports survivors of sexual assault, condemned the bill in an email to its members Jan. 24. The email said the bill “strips survivors’ agency” by restraining the steps they could take following a sexual assault.

SAPA did not respond to request for comment as of press time.

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