House Bill 51: Protecting Sexual Assault

House Bill 51 (HB 51), introduced in the Georgia State legislature by State Representative Earl Ehrhart (R-Ga.), is meant to dismantle how schools handle sexual assault by weakening Title IX. This legislation does nothing to protect survivors of sexual assault; it only protects perpetrators from prosecution.

I first heard about this bill during a volunteer trip to Men Stopping Violence (MSV), a wonderful organization dedicated to preventing sexual assault against women. Greg Loughlin, my friend and Assistant Director of MSV, read HB 51 to the volunteers and implored us to stay vigilant as the legislature moved on this. This is my miniscule contribution in resistance.

HB 51 not only discourages reporting by survivors, but actively prevents schools from carrying out disciplinary action against perpetrators. The bill states, “No investigation of such matter shall be undertaken by the postsecondary institution,” and, “Institution[s] shall not pursue any final disciplinary action against any student alleged to have committed a crime until such student is found guilty [by law enforcement].”

At face value, this sounds objectively good. But the preponderance of evidence in a sexual misconduct case by a university is much different in a criminal investigation. In a court, evidence beyond a reasonable doubt is needed for criminal charges, but on university disciplinary boards, the bar for evidence is much lower — partially because universities do not have the resources to run full-fledged investigations, and partially because campus sexual assault is an emergency situation that requires an expedited process.

Law enforcement has to go through a rigorous, and therefore slower, process. Now consider this — a survivor of sexual assault would have to walk through campus seeing their perpetrator in the open with no power to do anything about it. They could be in their classes, their dorm, their social circle and even graduate alongside them before their case is ever brought to a jury or judge. Though this is often already the case, this bill would make it exponentially harder to remove a perpetrator from campus. Outside of a conviction or legal process, there should be mechanisms for universities to remove students they believe pose harm to others. Title IX seeks to empower that process and HB 51 would directly undermine it.

This legislation that should anger every Georgia citizen, especially university students, faculty and administration for whom campus assault is a rampant problem that needs helpful, immediate fixes – not backwards policy like HB 51.

This bill would also strike an emotional blow to organizations like MSV, groups that are doing diligent work to prevent sexual assault all across the country. There is clear intent to weaken Title IX and in turn, make university campuses unsafe. This is not a partisan battle; it is a moral battle in which I implore every Georgia resident and Emory student to oppose the passing of HB 51, to oppose it with fervor.

Boris Niyonzima is a College freshman from Kigali, Rwanda.

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