PA bill proposes requiring colleges to create an amnesty policy for reporting sexual assault

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) - As sexual assault continues to spark national headlines, a Pennsylvania legislator wants to reduce the barriers of reporting the crime on colleges campuses.

State Rep. Madeleine Dean created a bill that would require colleges to have an amnesty policy. This would allow victims or witnesses to report sexual assault without getting in trouble for breaking other rules.

"The fear of, 'oh well I might be guilty of another infraction on this college campus,' the classic one would be underage drinking," said Dean. "So what my bill would do is it would require college campuses to provide amnesty to those who are coming forward."Harrisburg University student Antonio Prater says he's in favor of a good Samaritan policy for reporting sexual misconduct. 

"People stay silent instead of speaking up," said Prater. "I think a lot of people would come forward if they know they're not going to get in trouble."

"A lot of people are afraid that if they are breaking the rules like that...of getting in tons of trouble," said Gabriel Whitaker, another Pennsylvania college student. "Having a sort of like leeway that if you're drunk at a party and you see this and you report it and you don't get in trouble, you're more likely to report these."

"I feel like it would make a huge difference because it's so many colleges and sexual assault is a big thing at every college," said Lakera Johnson, who goes to Harrisburg University.

The bill was sent to the Education Committee in December. Dean says she's optimistic it will be considered in this legislative session.

On the federal level, civil rights groups have sued Education Secretary Betsy Devos.

Last fall, Devos scrapped the rules put forth by the Obama administration, and created interim guidelines for how colleges should handle sexual misconduct.

Victim advocates say efforts to raise the standard of proof make it more difficult for people to come forward, but the secretary argues the old rules were not fair to students being accused.

"This is one of those areas where states are going to play such an important role," said Dean.

Dean says her proposal is one of multiple bills about sexual assault that the state legislature is considering.

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