New bill to make reporting sexual assaults mandatory in California

GavelCampus safety is an enormous concern for students. However, several lawsuits filed by college students against UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California and Occidental College have called campus officials’ diligence regarding crime reporting into question. A new bill may soon force California colleges and universities to report all incidents of sexual violence and hate crimes to law enforcement.

Bill AB 1433, sponsored by California Assemblyman Mike Gatto and introduced January 6th, would make officials at California State colleges and universities responsible for informing the local police or sheriff’s department of allegations of violent crimes unless the victim specifically disallows it. The penalty for failing to report these crimes would render the college liable for negligence.

Colleges Sued For Negligence

The bill was drafted in response to the federal complaints filed by students at Occidental College, which alleged that school officials actively deterred women from reporting violent assaults and failed to pass allegations of assault along to authorities. The school subsequently admitted that it had been negligent in reporting more than 20 sexual assaults between 2010 and 2011.

According to the federal Clery Act, colleges and universities are legally required to report crimes that occur either on or adjacent to their campuses, but several California schools are nonetheless the targets of several lawsuits claiming that their lack of response to campus crimes put them in violation of the federal law. According to a survey reported in the Chicago Tribune in 2011, only seven percent of all sex crimes that had been reported as occurring on college campuses resulted in arrests. Less than three percent of those arrests led to convictions.

Schools Made Safe For Students

In addition to making schools responsible for notifying authorities about violent crimes, Assemblyman Gatto sought to force schools to strengthen their security and safety resources, which would include hiring more security officials and supplying health resources for longer durations throughout the day. Ultimately, these additions didn’t make it onto the bill, as they weren’t deemed critical.

Giving Victims Support And Privacy

Assemblyman Gatto stated that the provisions of the bill were inspired by victims’ reluctance to notify authorities on their own. The feelings of harassment, fear and dread that the police officials either may not believe their claims or that the victims themselves might be blamed for the assault, are significant factors in the failure to report these crimes. Because a significant number of sexual assault survivors feel uncomfortable with the prospect of reporting the details of the crimes directly to the police department, the assaults go unreported, and authorities are unable to gauge how widespread the problem really is. By shifting the responsibility onto campus officials and counselors, students may be more likely to come forward about their attacks.

It has been alleged that Occidental College may have withheld reporting campus crimes due to fears of receiving bad press, which would compromise the number of potential applicants and donors. According to Assemblyman Gatto in an interview with Newsweek, “That’s a really poor excuse to fail to investigate a crime like rape. We want to make sure administrations can’t keep stuff hush hush in hopes of making it seem like a school is safer than it really is.”