Committee passes bill that some say would discourage reports of campus sex assaults

Rep. Brian King fears even fewer sexual assault victims will report to university officials if a proposal allowing police involvement despite their request for confidentiality becomes law.

"In the mind of an alleged victim, that could be a critical factor when deciding whether to come forward or not," said King, D-Salt Lake City.

But the bill sponsor, Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, argued the bar for when universities can involve police would be high.

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday passed HB326, which would allow institutions to supersede a victim's request for confidentiality if they determine there is an "articulable and significant threat" to students on campus.

To make such a determination, the bill states that universities must consider the alleged perpetrator's history of sexual violence — based on either university and police records — as well as whether the person has threatened further sexual violence or the alleged attack was committed by more than one individual.

Turner Bitton, executive director for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, spoke against the measure Friday, saying it provides universities "a wide swath of discretion" to decide whether or not to break a victim's confidentiality.

"We're saying you should report and then on the second hand we're saying there are broad categories where we can break your confidentiality and take power away from the victims to control their own circumstances," Bitton said.

Coleman said she values a victim's right to privacy and confidentiality, but "headlines" throughout the state last year have shown there is a need to outline in law when universities need to call for reinforcements.

"We've seen cases across the country where one of the tragic things for victims is to find out there are other known victims [of the same alleged perpetrator] and things are not handled [by the university] in a manner to prevent additional victimization," Coleman said.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported in July that four women — who did not know each other — separately reported to police in 2015 that they allegedly were sexually assaulted by fellow Utah State University student Torrey Green. Three of the women were students and informed the school.

But it does not appear that USU fully investigated or sanctioned Green. USU, citing student privacy, denied an open-records request last year for communication involving the accused man. Logan police, asked for any communication from the department to school officials about the student, said none existed.

Under Title IX, a federal law that requires universities to swiftly respond to complaints of sexual violence, schools must take action if there is a potential continuing threat to students. When universities have a credible report that a student has sexually abused multiple students, the law says, "that pattern of conduct should trigger an inquiry," even without a formal complaint from an alleged victim.

Coleman previously has said her measure does not detract from a university's obligation to investigate sexual violence under Title IX, but allows universities to involve law enforcement simultaneously.

The measure would apply to both public and private institutions and would grant amnesty to alleged victims, or individuals who may have witnessed an attack, for student code violations.

Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said Friday that provision is key: it's more important that an attacker be reported to a school, "rather than worry about [someone] smoking a marijuana cigarette."

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Click here to read the original article.