NOW Opposes FratPAC Position on Campus Sexual Assault

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NOW signed on to the letter below drafted by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence to oppose the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee’s (FSPAC or “FratPAC”) misguided and dangerous position on sexual assault, specifically their recommendation to defer any campus judicial proceeding until completion of criminal adjudication (investigation and trial).

April 23, 2015

Dear Members of Congress:

The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), along with XXX undersigned national, state and local anti-violence organizations, writes to express our grave concern about The Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee’s (FSPAC or “FratPAC”) misguided and dangerous position on sexual assault.   As the voice in Washington for the 56 state and territorial sexual assault coalitions and 1300 rape crisis centers working to end sexual violence and support survivors, we are concerned that FSPAC’s approach is not only tone deaf but threatens to undermine the protections of Title IX and the critical progress policy makers, universities, advocates, students and survivors are making to end the scourge of sexual assault on campus.

NAESV finds it especially problematic that FSPAC is pursuing this wrongheaded course during  Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and we ask you to take a stand for and with survivors by 1)  strengthening rape crisis centers who provide services for survivors and prevention for our communities; 2) supporting the budget request of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and strengthening their ability to support campus survivors’ needs and improve campus responses to sexual assault; and 3) rejecting FSPAC’s recommendations to defer any campus judicial proceeding until completion of criminal adjudication (investigation and trial).

Sexual assault advocates, who support and assist survivors every day, know that survivors are more willing to come forward when they know they aren’t required to speak with police. NAESV and Know Your IX conducted an internet survey in March 2015. Almost 90% of survivors responded “yes,” they should retain the choice whether and to whom to report. When asked their concerns if reporting to police were mandatory, 79% said, “this could have a chilling effect on reporting,” while 72% were concerned that “survivors would be forced to participate in the criminal justice system/go to trial.”

One survivor summed up many recurring themes in the open responses, saying:

“When I reported to campus officials, I was not ready to press charges and if I had been forced to report to the police I wouldn’t have been able to do it.  I wouldn’t have told anyone because I would have felt like I had even less control of myself. Having the decision be my own and on my own time made it a lot safer and healthier.”

We must acknowledge the fact that 5% or less of reported sexual assaults will be brought to trial. Moreover, waiting for a case to go to trial could mean that a perpetrator graduates without consequences, while the survivor drops out of school to avoid contact with the perpetrator.  Additionally, criminal justice and campus proceedings are fundamentally different processes. Campuses are obligated to determine whether or not a student violated school policy and to protect the civil rights of the victim.  The recent Campus SaVE amendments to the Clery Act included in VAWA 2013 require schools to inform survivors of their option to report to police, or not to report, and provide assistance in either case. There is no reason to conflate the two responses or suggest that one should wait for the other. Given these realities, it is deeply irresponsible for FSPAC to advocate that a trial occur before campuses contemplate disciplinary proceedings against those accused of sexual assault. Schools can suspend, expel, or impose myriad other sanctions for violations ranging from theft to drug use to physical assaults. But, unlike sexual misconduct, due process concerns are rarely raised in these cases.

Public policy responses to sexual violence must keep sight of survivor empowerment as a first principle. Rape is the literal negation of a survivor’s voice and agency. No matter what else, our response must be to help reverse that violence. An important way to do that is to expand options for survivors, rather than limiting them. Sadly, some responsible for creating safe environments for students and responding to sexual assault claim they struggle to distinguish between assault and drunken, regrettable sex. We ask Congress to see this claim for the distraction that it is. In truth, the vast majority of sexual violence incidents are never reported to anyone in authority, whether through the university or criminal justice systems. Furthermore, false reporting rates for sexual assault are low and consistent with other crimes. Training is clearly needed to improve the campus process and ensure that all students have a right to their education, free from sexual violence; however, weakening schools’ ability to address sexual misconduct and student civil rights does nothing to remedy the incidence of sexual violence on campus; it only acts as a method for allowing these violations to continue without consequence.

We believe the policies FSPAC is advocating would discourage survivors from reporting their assaults, which impedes healing, helps rapists stay hidden, and jeopardizes student safety. We do want you to take action for survivors this April, and we urge you to support:

  • Full funding at $40 million for the Sexual Assault Services Program at the Office on Violence Against Women to address waiting lists for direct sexual assault services;
  • $44.4 million for the Rape Prevention & Education Program at the CDC; and
  • A $31 million funding increase for OCR to continue bringing about lasting change on campuses, including holding schools accountable and making sure that student survivors receive counseling, tutoring, and other vital accommodations.

We all have a leadership role to play in ending sexual violence on our campuses and throughout our country. We call on Congress, as well as fraternities and sororities, to stand up for community safety and survivors by supporting funding to address sexual violence, strong campus disciplinary processes, and a strong criminal justice response.

Sincerely,

Monika Johnson-Hostler, President, along with the undersigned organizations:

National Organization for Women

And others