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Brown: The problem with sexual assault legislation

BY MARCUS BROWN | JANUARY 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Sexual assault on college campuses across the country continues to be a pervasive problem, leaving institutions of higher learning, law enforcement, and the general public at a loss for viable solutions.

Several states, including New York and Virginia, are making hard pushes to implement substantial changes to existing legislation in regards to how sexual assault is defined and handled by colleges and universities.

Lawmakers in Virginia are making a rather aggressive approach to addressing sexual assault on campuses by proposing legislation that would require colleges and universities to report incidents of alleged sexual assault to law enforcement as opposed to handling the situation internally.

The legislation being lobbied for by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is primarily focused on making the definition of sexual assault tangible and indisputable, which would help to address the cracks in legislation and procedure that allegations of misconduct can often slip through. While these measures clearly demonstrate good intentions, they fail to take into account the very human side of this issue that cannot be addressed by top-down changes to bureaucracy.

Interwoven in this rampant problem are the self-interest of college and universities that would rather not be placed in the public eye for the failure to address sexual misconduct and the distrust of victims who feel as though the system will ultimately fail them. Forcing victims of sexual assault to involve outside law enforcement puts them in a position that mandates faith in a system that has demonstrated time and time again an inability to handle such matters. That said, the efforts of these lawmakers are unquestionably well-intentioned, but these kind of responsive measures show that too much expectation is placed on bureaucracy and not the people.

I believe that with any ubiquitous issue of national concern, our first instinct is to look up to the next rung on the ladder of power for the grand, sweeping motion that will solve our problems. Whether it is a new law or equally substantial policy change, we look to the bureaucracy to say “we’ve acknowledged the problem, and this is what we’re doing about it.” Once the problem has been brought to our attention, we want to see it solved immediately.

A law can only outline desired behavior and the subsequent punishment for deviating from said behavior, and even this requires the power of the majority. What we expect of each other dictates law and not the other way around.

I have not been a victim of sexual assault, but it has proven to be an inescapable reality for those around me. What I have seen is distrust and general apprehension toward the institutions put in place to help victims and combat rape culture. When faced with the despair such incidents bring into people’s lives, I, too, have felt a desire to see lawmakers throw a giant Band-Aid over college campuses across the country. I just wish I believed that it would change something.

It is not my place to criticize the work of those who truly have a vested interest in making positive change. While I may not see it as an ideal solution, I cannot deny it is a step toward one. The problem that needs to be addressed here does not lie in the text of legislation. It lives in individual action estranged from human decency and fear of reprisal, and I don’t know how one can combat that with words on paper.


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