In a misguided attempt to provide a clear path of adjudication to sexual assault survivors, the National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference are currently drafting a proposal that would prevent schools from investigating and punishing students accused of sexual assault until a police investigation is completed, unless the survivor specifically requests not to involve law enforcement. According to the Huffington Post, the groups are planning to lobby the United States Congress to enact legislation codifying their proposal. This proposal, however, is not only ineffective at combating sexual assault, it actively shields offenders and creates a more dangerous campus environment.
A memo from the National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference said, “Local law enforcement agencies are equipped and most appropriate institutions to investigate and help advance cases through the legal system in order to prosecute serious crimes of violence against students.”
Sexual assault police investigations are notoriously ineffective. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, only 32 out of 100 rapes are reported to police. Out of those 32 reports, just seven result in an arrest. Out of those seven, two will result in a felony conviction. The assertion that police are better equipped to adjudicate sexual assault is simply not true.
This is one reason why survivors may not choose to pursue legal action against their attacker. Going through their school may offer survivors a better likelihood of seeing some form of justice served and increased campus safety. As Lisa Maatz, a lobbyist for the American Association of University Women, correctly pointed out, “The campus proceedings are supposed to identify whether a student has violated the school’s policies, not the law.”
It is far more likely for a college to find that a student has violated its code of conduct than it is for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a sexual assault occurred. That does not mean that survivors should be doubted or that an attacker’s actions should be rationalized, but instead reflects the reality that the mechanisms of the state prevent sexual assaults from being prosecuted at the rate at which they are committed.
It is likely that these Greek organizations are simply trying to protect their own images. Greek life has been publicly dragged through the mud lately over a number of incidents. By restricting college investigations into sexual assault, they are, in effect, reducing the number of potential instances where their school adjudicates a student in a Greek organization for sexual assault, reflecting poorly on his or her organization as a whole.
There is not a single situation in which this proposal makes colleges safer. Restricting college investigations prevents schools from expelling students during an ongoing police investigation. During that time, that student could potentially commit more assaults. If these national Greek organizations truly seek to make colleges safer, they would not try to stifle any form of sexual assault investigations.