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New California bill would require colleges to report campus rapes to police

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Most people would think that sexual assault on a California campus would merit an immediate call to the police. Yet despite a requirement of the Clery Act, a federal stature that requires all colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on or near their campuses, all campus crimes have not been reported. In fact, a disturbing number of campus sexual assaults in particular have been under reported to the police.

A bill introduced Monday to the California Assembly would require all colleges within the state to notify the police or sheriff’s department of any reported violent crime, including forcible rape, willful homicide, robbery or aggravated assault, unless the student filing the report wishes otherwise and makes a such a request.

This week Newsweek online reported this story focused on how Assemblyman Mike Gatto compelled to draft the bill due to Occidental College’s failure to report two dozen sexual assaults claims in 2010 and 2011 to the federal government as required by the Clery Act. Gatto suggested that shockingly, the Occidental cover up was because the college was because the trying to avoid potential bad PR.

Through conversations with several student victims of campus sexual assault, Gatto discovered that while some students report their assaults to both campus and local police, many others forgo local police reporting to avoid not only a grueling investigative process, but also the perceived expectation that police would not believe what they were saying and consequently not put full effort into the student cases.

In addition, a reality expressed by rape victims and advocates is that many police departments simply are not adequately trained or skilled to respond to rape charges. On another issue, many minority and undocumented student crime victims do not feel comfortable reporting the crimes or seeking help from the police.

One student sexual assault survivor in particular, Sofie Karasek, who spoke with Gatto about her preference for not reporting her assault to the police, urged Gatto to alter the bill to the satisfaction of all victims. The revised bill, introduced as AB 1433, amends the state Education Code and states violent crime or hate crime reports received by campus law enforcement must be immediately reported to the local police or sheriff’s department unless specific victims expressly state their reports should not be passed along.

As expected, “for most victims it’s a very harrowing experience that leaves them feeling blamed, depressed, anxious and reluctant to seek further help,” according to Rebecca Campbell, a Michigan State University professor and expert in the neurobiology of trauma.

Gatto expects a tough fight over the new bill because almost every legislature member has a major university in his or her district. But students feel that university accountability is important so that crimes are not hidden or pushed under the rug for student victims who want to go forward with their reports.

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