May 6 2011
Carrie L. Lukas
Civil libertarians are crying foul at new legislation aimed at combating sexual violence on college campuses.
Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray introduced the The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) in mid-April. The bill amends Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to mandate schools implement a number of new programs and standards, such as "bystander education," requiring colleges to report all alleged sexual violence incidents to the government, forcing colleges to highlight victims' rights, obliging students to enforce protection policies, and lowering the burden of proof for victims.
"Sexual violence is a tragic and harsh reality on college campuses throughout the country," said Casey in a statement. "We must ensure that when we send our sons and daughters off to colleges and universities, we are providing every means necessary for them to learn in a safe environment."
While everyone agrees the goal of the legislation - to prevent violence - is undeniably good, the legislation has met vocal opposition from people who see the effort as an example of government overreach and continued demonization of men.
In the Atlantic, libertarian Wendy Kaminer described how the bill would infringe on the rights of the accused.
"The SaVE Act implicitly assumes the guilt of students accused of sexual violence or stalking and ensures that guilt is fairly easy to establish. It requires schools to employ the lowest possible standard of proof - a preponderance of evidence - in disciplinary hearings," she wrote. "This requirement conforms to a recent Department of Education directive, which seem likely to result in a repressive crack-down on alleged sexual misconduct."
Carrie Lukas, vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum, told TheDC that while the goal was of the legislation was laudatory, colleges are already putting resources toward achieving it.
"It is clearly very well intentioned. I think it is a mistake to think that colleges are not already being incredibly vigilant," said Lukas. "There are already laws and regulations in place that encourage colleges to be proactive about this. Most colleges already do have programs and I think anybody who has been to college...[they are] pretty aggressive talking about these issues and that is as it should be but I think we have to be careful to remember the rights of accused and not trying to criminalize all behavior."
According to Kaminer, Casey's legislation does exactly what liberals accuse social conservatives of doing - getting too involved in individuals' private lives.
"The requirement threatens freedom of speech and belief," wrote Kaminer. "Given the general fear and loathing on campus of offensive or demeaning speech, bystander intervention guidelines may well encourage students to equate the risk of violence with the expression of sexist or homophobic speech and ideas. Official definitions of ‘healthy relationships,' which students would decline to adopt at their peril, are especially troublesome. They bring federal and school officials into the bedroom."
American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers said that legislation such as the SaVE Act is just another example of the government perpetuating the stereotype of men as brutes.
"Young men are already persona non grata on the campus," Sommers said. "From the moment they arrive, they are bombarded with male-averse messages. One popular freshman orientation program, mandatory for male students at some colleges, is called ‘She fears you.' Imagine being a young man starting college - not only are you a distinct minority, but you are being marched to workshops where you learn how your very presence frightens the other students. Colleges would not think of treating any other group that way - but boys are fair game."
Lukas told TheDC that those closest to the problems are likely the best to conceive of and implement effective policies.
"I think you want best practices to come from [the colleges]," she said. "It seems unnecessary to have the federal government making a move on this issue."
A petition against the bill has cropped up on Change.org. It calls for Americans to oppose the potential restrictions on liberties.
"We...call upon the members of the United States Congress to reject the proposed SaVE Act (S.834) unless it is changed to provide critical protections for the presumptively innocent by: (1) eliminating any requirement that institutions utilize the "preponderance of the evidence" standard; and (2) requiring that officials who investigate and conduct hearings into sexual assault and related offenses be trained to honor the critical rights of the presumptively innocent in the manner spelled out in this petition," the petition reads.
The bill is currently pending in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.