Photo by Maria Furukawa

On Friday, March 4, the Georgia Tech Progressive Student Alliance joined with Students Against House Bill 51 for the March for Survivors.

The march began at the Kessler Campanile and stopped in Centennial Olympic Park before ending at the Capitol. There, students lobbied for their senators to vote against House Bill 51, which was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives on March 2.

Anya Kohnke, second-year BME, was among those who lobbied at the Capitol.

“A lot of the senators that we’re talking to haven’t read the bill yet. Some of them know the name of it, but some don’t even know what the bill is about. Since we’re talking to them before they have any impression of it, I think they will be able to understand our point of view better,” Kohnke said.

Many Tech students were present at the Capitol on the day HB51 passed through the House to voice their opposition against the bill, which they believe will make it more difficult for students on college campuses to report rape and sexual assault.

Caitlin Bowles, fourth-year BME, was one of the protesters.

“We came and lobbied against House Bill 51, but it was passed 115 to 55 in the House. Now it will go into Senate committees and subcommittees for revisions and reviews,” Bowles said.

Many students are against the bill because they are familiar with the trauma that survivors endure when reporting their cases. Currently, students at Georgia Tech can choose to report assault through a Title IX coordinator or through GTPD, or through both. The bill proposes to remove the choice to report through Title IX, and many fear this will discourage victims from reporting at all.

“As proposed in the bill, the entire case would have to be taken through law enforcement and outside judicial institutions. It’s going to make it so that persons who are sexually assaulted will have no choice but to have their rapist or assaulter be in classes with them or the same residence hall as them,” Bowles said.

Opponents fear that because of HB51, fewer people will choose to report incidents of sexual assault because the ordeal of going through law enforcement can add to their trauma.

“It seems that people who are pushing the bill through are giving it a spin that is not true. Maybe they’re doing that maliciously, but they also might be doing that because they don’t understand what is happening on college campuses. They show anecdotal evidence that makes people emotionally responsive to vote for this bill, but statistically, this bill is going to reduce the number of rapes that are reported,”Kohnke said.

The anecdotal evidence consists of reports of students falsely accused of rape; however, Kohnke notes that this only constitutes two percent of all reported rape cases. Additionally, many of the senators the students spoke with emphasized that the bill is about ensuring due process to the accused. The opponents believe that due process can coexist with the current reporting pathways for victims to pursue.

The main goal of the march was to draw awareness to the potentially harmful effects of HB51.

“If this legislation goes through, it is going to take the choice away from rape victims,” said Bailey Becker, a first-year LMC.

Representative Earl Ehrhart, the bill’s primary sponsor, is reportedly feuding with groups, such as Students Against HB51.

“Ehrhart called us special snowflakes, so one of the representatives, David Dreyer, who really came out strongly against the bill, brought us all snowflake pins. It was a really great moment,” Becker said.

The students dressed in black with their snowflake pins to honor survivors, all shared an ardor for their cause, as noted by Nikita Raina, first-year IE.

“This is the third protest that I have been to, and even though it’s the smallest I’ve been to, in terms of number of people, the people here are insanely motivated and super passionate about this issue; so, no one had a problem about being loud … about their opposition towards HB51,” Raina said.

More than anything, the protesters hope to be seen by those who represent them.

“On Wednesday, there was a woman who came dressed in white with red handprints painted onto herself. It shows there’s no way to ignore this; it isn’t something we can sweep under the rug, especially because the bill does a lot of that. We’re trying to counter that by making it really hard to ignore any of us,” Becker explained.

The passion was not lost on the senators the group spoke to; even those who disagree with the cause commended the students for their involvement in the political
process.