Georgia HB-51 endangers victims

By Ariel Bravy

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart, HB-51 aims to fundamentally alter the process for dealing with how sexual assault cases are handled at Georgia universities including Tech. The bill, which passed committee and is currently on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives, would require that a criminal investigation be launched in order for any disciplinary hearing by the school to take place. In addition, no intermediary disciplinary actions would be allowed by the school until the aforementioned criminal investigation had been initiated. Finally, no final punitive action would be available to the school until an accused individual (if ever) pleaded nolo contendere or was found guilty. Indeed, there may be some advantages to placing the authority to handle these types of cases in the hands of traditional law enforcement. It would ensure that there is consistency between legal processes at for crimes at schools and for those elsewhere. The bill also would lessen the potential for schools to cover up instances of rape, as has occurred in the past. Yet those arguments miss a central point essential to any discussion involving sexual assault’s legal handling: the well-being of the victims. What HB-51 proposes would place a great deal of stress on victims, who would be required to immediately come forward to the police without hesitation. The bill would also put certain employees in difficult situations, since they would be made mandatory reporters and would have to report assault to authorities despite the wishes of the victims. Aside from those issues, a dependence on the courts to resolve such conflicts could result in very long waits for any action, and therefore an increased chance for a victim to be forced to encounter their attacker. This in and of itself is not acceptable. Fight HB-51.