Panhellenic Association president opposes controversial sexual assault bill

Media Credit: Spencer Strauss | Hatchet Photographer

Alpha Phi's national organization was the first sorority to break rank with the National Panhellenic Conference over a sexual assault bill.

A debate on national sexual assault legislation is breaking out among national Greek organizations.

After the national organizations of at least eight sororities, including Sigma Delta Tau and Alpha Phi, retracted their support of a controversial sexual assault bill last week, the two umbrella organizations representing fraternities and sororities followed suit.

The bill, known as the Safe Campus Act, would prevent institutions from investigating sexual assault unless survivors report the crime to law enforcement first, and is just the latest example of officials trying to improve the process for reporting sexual assault on college campuses. Supporters of the bill say it would strengthen the due process rights for students accused of sexual assault, Inside Higher Ed reported. The Fair Campus Act, another bill being discussed, does not include the provision that survivors must report a sexual assault to law enforcement before institutions can investigate the crime.

This week, the president of the Panhellenic Association at GW said she does not support either piece of legislation.

“I have personally struggled as a Greek woman and as a Panhellenic leader to reconcile my proud membership in these groups with my determination to serve as an advocate for survivors, and have been disappointed that our national council has had priorities separate than those of supporting and protecting its members,” Panhellenic Association President Mollie Bowman said.

She said she never supported the Safe Campus Act because she believes it violates the federal anti-discrimination law Title IX, since universities would not be allowed to investigate sexual assault reports unless the survivor reported it to the police first.

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes nationwide, and one of the only crimes where a survivor can decide how to report it or whether to proceed with a police investigation.

Bowman said she has been working with members of Students Against Sexual Assault to find ways to combat both bills in Congress. She said a member of SASA spoke at a Panhellenic Association meeting Tuesday to explain the difference between the bills.

“In no way do I support the coalition fighting to pass Fair Campus. And I will continue to partner with SASA and Panhellenic women to do whatever necessary to ensure this bill does not pass,” Bowman said.

GW has not taken a public stance on the bill. University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said GW monitors “all relevant campus safety legislation.”

“We want to continue to create a campus where all members of the University community feel safe, and the University complies with applicable local and federal laws,” he said.

Through a super PAC, The National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference spent more than $200,000 lobbying Congress in 2015 to pass the Safety Campus Act before now reversing their stance, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Interfraternity Council President Keaton White said the GW IFC “did not support or even comment on any political coalitions or national legislation of any kind, nor have we ever in recent history.” He said the IFC supports and respects the national organization’s decision to retract support for the Safe Campus Act.

“I think the entire campus is starting to talk about sexual assault prevention more and more, which I’m really happy to see,” White said. “I think the conversation is shifting in many places, whether it be from the training programs, increased attention from GW, our own programming, increased media attention or even a nationwide culture shift,” he said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.