Lawmakers Debate Mandatory Reporting

Feb 3, 2015

Credit Sharat Ganapti/Creative Commons

Should universities be required to report sexual assaults to police?  That a question being hotly debated in Richmond this week. 

After Jesse Matthew Junior was charged with kidnapping Hannah Graham, the public learned he was earlier accused of sexual assault at two other universities in Virginia.  That led Charlottesville Democrat David Toscano to draft  House Bill 2139 – a measure that would require schools to report such claims to police, and a new poll by the Commonwealth Education Policy Institute shows strong public support for the idea.

“Ninety-two percent agreed that all administrators and faculty should be required to report sexual assaults that occur on college campuses to law enforcement," says Robyn McDougle, the institute’s interim director.

But under federal law, she says, universities are supposed to offer students a range of options, and making reporting to police mandatory might discourage many young woman from talking with teachers or counselors at their schools.

“They are not interested in – and understandably so – going through what the criminal justice system has one go through. They just want this individual no longer in their class, no longer in their dorm. There’s a strong belief by the advocate community that the more required reporting to law enforcement you have, you might actually limit the number of young women that will come forward and report the assault in the first place.”

That’s why Toscano changed his bill to promote what he calls enhanced encouragement of reporting.  Meanwhile, a stronger bill is making its way through the senate  -- this one sponsored by a Republican from Loudon County.  It calls for up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 for any university employee who fails to report an alleged rape on campus.