University cannot predict effects of Safe Campus Act on sexual assault investigations

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

University administrators cannot predict how the Safe Campus Act will affect the way the UT Title IX Training and Investigations in the Office of the Dean of Students office will carry out sexual assault investigations if the act is implemented, according to Office of the Dean of Students spokeswoman Sara Lestrange.

“We do not know what the final legislation will look like or how it will be implemented, so we cannot even speculate, especially on pending legislation,” Lestrange said. 

If passed, H.R. 3403, or the Safe Campus Act, would limit the authority of university Title IX coordinators to pursue disciplinary actions against students accused of sexual assault if the victim opts out of reporting his or her experience to law enforcement. The University would have 48 hours to report the incident to law enforcement after it receives written consent from the victim to do so. Title IX provisions have protected students from sex-based discrimination and sexual assault on college campuses since 1972. 

“If an individual provides a notification to the institution [opting out of reporting to law enforcement] … with respect to an allegation, the institution may not initiate or otherwise carry out any institutional disciplinary proceeding with respect to the allegation, including imposing interim measures,” the bill reads.  

Student Government passed a resolution opposing the bill on Nov. 4, citing the restrictions it would put on the University’s ability to protect victims on campus if they do not agree to a criminal investigation. 

Victims of sexual assault should be able to choose between reporting to the university or to law enforcement because victims vary in their perceptions of justice, Erin Burrows, health education coordinator for Voices Against Violence, said. 

“For some people the criminal legal system is not a solution as it is not what their definition of justice would be, even if the case went through the highest end of possible consequences for the offender,” Burrows said. “For some people, they want to feel safer on campus, and they want to continue their own education [by utilizing the university disciplinary process]. Some people know they want a criminal investigation from the beginning.”

UTPD Chief David Carter said a university investigation greatly differs from a criminal investigation conducted by law enforcement because the outcomes and the burden of proof are different.

“In a criminal case, the case has to be brought before a court following constitutional principles, and the person is found guilty only by a jury with the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt,” Carter said. “The administrative investigation does not have that burden of proof; it is basically through the preponderance of evidence, which is much less. This is because, in the criminal side, the potential outcome is the loss of someone’s liberty, but on the administrative side, the potential outcome is the loss of somebody’s property interest — for example, the ability to go to school or get a job.”

The university has the power to change on campus housing and provide academic accommodations to victims if deemed necessary, in contrast to law enforcement, UT’s Title IX coordinator LaToya Hill said.

“A temporary no contact directive could be put in place, minimally during the investigation and even following the investigation [so] the University can say that the individuals are to have no direct contact,” Hill said. “The University can also work with housing for relocation and can provide academic remedies if deemed necessary, regardless of the outcome of the investigation.” 

Correction: Sara Lestrange is a spokeswoman for the Office of the Dean of Students, not the university, as was previously stated.