SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation trying to balance confidentiality for college students who report sexual assaults to school administrators and informing police to protect against potential campus predators drew criticism from victim advocates in a Utah House committee hearing Thursday.
Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, wants to create guidelines for when universities may report incidents to local police when they see a clear and significant threat to the campus community.
HB254 also bars universities from sanctioning a student for code of conduct violations if they are victims or witnesses of sexual violence.
"No woman should ever go to the police after a brutal rape and find out that the institution knew about five other victims before her and did nothing to prevent her rape. Ever. That should not happen," she told the House Judiciary Committee.
Coleman called the current system a "kangaroo court" where professors are handling evidence and administrators are taking testimony in sexual assault investigations.
"We need to pull in law enforcement where there is expertise in handling evidence, where there is a hope and a prayer that there may be justice for a victim," she said.
Victim advocates, however, say the law would have a chilling effect on the reporting of campus sexual assaults.
BYU professor Julie Valentine, an expert on sexual assault issues, said the law would remove from victims the decision over what happens after they have told a college official.
"The power has to be given back to the victim to choose which avenue they go," she said.
Gary Scheller, director of the Utah Office for Victims of Crime, told the committee taking control away from the victim takes the state in the wrong direction. Knowing a university "may" share the information with police is as "comforting as being in the ocean and hearing there’s a hole in the bottom of the boat."
Jeffrey Eisenberg, an attorney representing a rape victim who is suing Utah State University, testified that the bill would provide better guidance for colleges. He said the prospect of a serial rapist on campus trumps a victim's privacy. He said he doesn't think the proposed law would stop someone from reporting a sexual assault.1 comment on this story
Despite disagreement over the bill, all parties agreed that the reporting of rapes is extremely low, somewhere between 3 percent and 8 percent, and they want to encourage victims to come forward.
Rep. Tim Quinn, R-Heber City, wondered how there could be a chilling effect on something that's only reported one in 30 times.
The committee voted 8-2 to advance the bill to the House floor.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, was among the two Democrats opposed to the measure.
"I just don’t think that we've got it quite right yet," he said.
King sided with victim advocates whom he said are in the best position to know how the law would impact victims.