IX graduation hats

Mandatory referral of rape reports from schools to police is a bad idea

Today, the AP published an article about proposed state legislation that would require colleges and universities to refer all gender-based violence reports to the police. Although the idea is intuitively appealing to some, survivors and advocates overwhelmingly oppose these bills, which have been introduced in states including Virginia and New Jersey.Critics point out that the criminal justice system fails to treat victims with respect and dignity and that many survivor don’t want to go through a lengthy trial or see their abuser in prison (which, it should be noted, only occurs in 2% of rape cases).

Consequently, if schools are required to pass along all reports to the cops, survivors may just report to no one at all, losing out on much-needed support services from their colleges. As a recent open letter from survivor advocacy organizations (including the one I co-direct, Know Your IX) noted, “Turning all gender-based violence victims’ reports into reports to law enforcement makes it more difficult for victims to access the many legal rights that Title IX, the Clery Act, and VAWA give them that do not exist under criminal laws.”

These aren’t new arguments: many have been writing for years about all the problems with these bills, which are often called “mandatory referral” or “mandatory reporting” laws. I’ve compiled a list of writings on the topic on this page — and if you have more, please link in the comments.

What’s frustrating is that, in the face of these critiques, state politicians continue to propose these laws in opposition to the very people the bills are supposedly meant to help: student survivors of campus gender-based violence. I’m heard from advocates across the country that their concerns have been ignored by lawmakers who then use the violence these students have faced as a justification for bad law. In this way, some well-meaning legislators mirror the gun lobby, which has been using survivors as props to justify bills requiring schools to allow students to carry guns on campus, all in the name of stopping rape — even though guns actually put victims, who loudly oppose the bills, at greater risk.

We can do better. If we want to end campus gender-based violence, lawmakers need to listen to survivors. To ignore these voices isn’t just disrespectful — it’s a recipe for bad policy.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com. During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com.

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