Punishing Perpetrators of Sexual Assault

The states of Virginia, California and Maryland have proposed laws that would require both public and private colleges to disclose on transcripts if a student was suspended or expelled because they committed sexual assault.

Virginia, pending approval of amendments by Governor Terry MacAuliffe, will be the first state to enact this kind of legislation.

The California bill that has been introduced states that “The governing body of each independent institution of higher education, and the governing body of each private post-secondary educational institution shall indicate when a student is ineligible to re-enroll due to suspension or expulsion on the student’s transcript for the period of time the student is ineligible to re-enroll.”

This would prevent perpetrators of sexual assault from simply transferring to another college without their new school’s knowledge. Academic dishonesty is always reported on transcripts and sticks with students for the rest of their academic careers. It is unacceptable that, in 47 states, it is easier to get away with sexual assault in college than it is to get away with cheating on an exam. Students have a right to feel safe in the communities they live in, and revealing perpetrators of sexual assault can help ensure that.

“The bill would find and declare that the disclosure of student suspensions and expulsions on student transcripts ensures the integrity and transparency of student transcripts and the safety and security of California campuses,” the proposed California amendment’s digest states.

There are concerns that students falsely accused of sexual assault will be unable to re-enroll in school. That doesn’t mean that the idea of disclosure should be scrapped. Considerations such as clarifying if the individual was under investigation or if the student was found responsible for committing sexual assault will help ensure against false accusations.

The number of false rape reports is fairly low. According to the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only seven percent of rape cases are classified as false.

Estimates are that about one in six to one in five women are survivors of sexual assault. This doesn’t even include men, whose rates of victimization are much more difficult to pin down.

The number of survivors of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, speak to a clear need for legislation like that being discussed in Virginia, California and Maryland. The fact that only three states have even considered such common sense legislation is part of the problem.

Universities and colleges should lobby for similar policies in their states to show that institutions of higher learning are taking the safety of students seriously, not just on their own campuses, but nationwide.

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