Sexual assault bill incites controversy at SF State

After an SF State graduate student was sexually assaulted, she said her own skepticism about the incident influenced her decision to not approach police.

“I doubted that there was enough evidence and that enough had happened to me to be worthy of anyone believing me or this person being punished for it,” said Sage Russo, a graduate student and sexual studies major at SF State.

Her experiences inspired her to spread awareness against a recent bill that she believed would make the process of reporting an assault even more traumatizing.

The Safe Campus Act is a nationwide bill last amended July 29 that would provide more protection to those accused of sexual assault on college campuses. Opponents, including Russo, are currently collecting signatures for a petition against the bill.

More than 50 percent of college campus sexual assault victims, including those whose cases involved penetration, chose not to report the crime because they did not feel it was serious enough, according to an Association of American Universities survey.

Sage Russo, sexual studies graduate student poses for a portrait in the Quad at SF State Monday, Oct. 5. (Imani Miller / Xpress)

Sage Russo, sexual studies graduate student poses for a portrait in the Quad at SF State Monday, Oct. 5. (Imani Miller / Xpress)

SF State Vice President and Title XI Coordinator Luoluo Hong said while she supports the intention of the Safe Campus Act, she cited concerns with the proposed amendment, which makes it more difficult for victims to report the crime, she said.

“Many of us as Title IX Coordinators also want to ensure that it does not become more difficult for victims/survivors to come forward to report incidents of sexual misconduct and are concerned that requiring victims/survivors to first report an incident to law enforcement,” Hong said in an email.

Russo said she opposes Sec. 163 of the bill in particular, which would require a student victim of sexual assault on campus to first report the crime to police before reporting to the University for any course of action to be taken.

“It alleviates the University from any responsibility and just puts it all into law enforcement’s hands,” Russo said. “It’s really just so the universities don’t have to report rapes, they don’t have to say that anything bad is happening on campus and they don’t have foot the bill for any of it, they don’t have to have the reputation loss.”

Eighty percent of female sexual assault victims in college choose not to report the crime, 13 percent more than their non-student, college-age counterparts, according to a 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. The report also found that 80 percent of victims, both on and off campus, knew their attacker.

“The fact of the matter is that most people are being sexually assaulted by people they know,” Russo said. “It’s just so complicated. When you look at the statistics that vastly more people are expelled for plagiarism than they are for sexual assault, it’s laughable. It’s revolting and absolutely disgusting.”

Senior business information systems major, Krista Abueg, who is a proponent of the bill, said she believes having victims report to police first will ensure adequate legal action is taken.

“The police can take legal action on your case,” Abueg said. “I’m not really sure what the University can do for you, but that’s how I see it. My parent’s always tell me that if something happens, report it to the police. So basically, you’re taking legal measures and then the school can further prosecute from there.”

Senior communication studies major Gigi Sarnicola said she believes that the Safe Campus Act will scare student victims from reporting when they are sexually assaulted.

“(For) these 18-20-year-old students, this may be the first time they have come into contact with the law,” Sarnicola said. “Not to mention, they have already experienced a horrific situation, which becomes even more embarrassing as they describe to these strangers what happened to them.”

Sarnicola and Russo both said they believe that students who experience the trauma of sexual assault need to know that they have a secured space to go and someone willing to listen to them.

SF State’s SAFE Place provides confidential counseling to students and victims of sexual assault from certified crisis intervention counselors.

“Having the right resources, the right people to talk to, knowing that there is a place or person they can go to for times like these — that is what students need,” Sarnicola said.

Latest comment
  • I’m a Senior at SFSU in their Communication Studies department. I completely support the bill and the need to report it to the proper authorities. The Universities do not have the ability to do anything to these offenders. At most they can expel them once they are proven guilty. They don’t have the ability to investigate them. They don’t have a legal leg to stand on to prosecute these people. The more time assault victims take NOT alerting the police the more likely their case won’t be able to stand up. If you have untrained individuals getting involved the chances of the guilty parties going free will dramatically increase. Not to mention the fact that this will very likely make it so you are look upon as guilty until proven innocent. Aren’t we supposed to operate under the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty?