Mandatory Police Referral in Sexual Assault Cases Hurts Students

(Photo Credit: S. Daniel Carter)

Last month, we celebrated Georgia advocates’ defeat of HB51, a proposed law that, among other destructive provisions, would require schools to turn over victims’ rape reports to the police—even against survivors’ wishes. This one was a close call. As soon as the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to table the bill, thanks to incredible organizing by local students and their allies, HB51’s sponsor found a way to sneak all the counterproductive requirements into another bill, SB71. Thankfully, that last ditch effort failed and legislators said no to mandatory referral in the Peach State – at least for this year.
Unfortunately, Georgia isn’t the only state considering this intuitively appealing but deeply misguided policy. Lawmakers around the country are proposing similar bills which would, counter to their claims, increase violence and reduce accountability.
Here’s what you should know about mandatory referral laws:

  • Fewer students will report. In a March 2015 survey conducted by Know Your IX and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), 88% of survivors said that if schools were forced to forward sexual assault reports to the police against the victim’s wishes, fewer students would report at all. While it’s sometimes hard for people who aren’t survivors to understand, many people don’t want to report to the police in the wake of violence for a whole host of reasons. Many survivors don’t want the police to investigate because they don’t want a long and arduous criminal trial, they fear harassment and skepticism by the police, or the police have been a source of violence in their communities. Some fear calling the police will put them or their loved ones at risk for deportation. Some fear retaliation by their abusers or don’t want to see their assailants in prison. Even those survivors who would like to see their assailants incarcerated may not want to report to police because they know prosecutors rarely bring charges and juries rarely convict in rape cases. For them, the risk of reporting just isn’t worth it.
  • Students won’t get the support they need. If students can’t report to their schools for fear of police involvement, they will be denied the crucial support they need to keep learning. Many survivors report to their schools to access key resources like mental health care, dorm changes, or tutoring. Without these accommodations—which are required by Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education—many survivors drop out of school.
  • Wrongdoers won’t be held accountable. When survivors don’t feel safe reporting to their schools, college administrators lose opportunities to investigate assaults, discipline perpetrators, and keep their students safe. That’s particularly concerning because many sexual assault perpetrators are repeat offenders. Contrary to the claims of mandatory referral supporters, then, these laws would result in more violence and less accountability.
  • Survivors oppose mandatory referral. Legislators who introduce mandatory referral bills claim they are motivated by their concern for survivors. But nine in ten student victims oppose these laws, which would deny them agency in the wake of another terrible violation of their will: sexual assault. The choice about whether to report to college administrators, the police, neither, or both must be the victim’s. As one student told Know Your IX and NAESV, “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.”

Want to get involved? Ask local advocates if legislators in your state have proposed a similar law and how you can help kill it. If you need help defeating a mandatory referral bill, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for assistance.