Republicans in NCGA show contempt for rape survivors, again.
Last week, Republican Representative Mitchell Setzer (R-Catawba) along with co-sponsors Representatives Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) introduced H305, a bill designed to bolster protections for UNC students accused of sexual misconduct. Specifically, the bill would “standardize protections” for students enrolled across all 16 campuses of the UNC system and add due process guarantees.
In a moment of public reckoning and conversation about survivors of sexual violence catalyzed by #metoo and the Kavanaugh hearings, conservative leaders have centered the rights of the accused. North Carolina Republicans’ legislative impulses align nationally with controversial U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’. Devos changed Title IX application into an almost unrecognizable form and rescinded the 2011 “Dear Colleague” guidance from the Obama Administration regarding sexual misconduct. The Devos guidelines narrow the definition of sexual harassment, allow colleges to use stricter standards of proof, limit the cases a college is required to investigate, and allow accusers to be cross-examined. In sum, the new rules favor the accused, as well as colleges and universities, a major departure from Obama-era guidelines that took strides to center survivors in a process mired in bureaucratic ambiguity.
However, despite conservative outcry, the concern over false allegations of sexual misconduct, like fears of in-person voter fraud, are more specter than substance. As study after study affirms that false rape allegations (like voter fraud) are incredibly rare, legislators still spend their time and valuable taxpayer dollars fighting both.
To add insult to injury, all three representatives co-sponsoring H305 voted against additional protections for survivors in North Carolina.
For example, Republicans in the NC legislature abandoned tens of thousands of sexual assault victims and survivors in the form of the 2018 Republican budget. The Appropriations Act of 2018 included ample tax breaks for corporations, but conspicuously excluded funding to begin testing tens of thousands of rape kits that currently sit in storage. Attorney General Josh Stein requested the funds to clear the backlog, but Republicans in the NCGA denied them, further delaying justice for victims. While measuring the number of untested kits nationwide is difficult, North Carolina is one of the worst states in the nation for rape kit backlogs; the Joyful Heart Foundation has listed North Carolina with the highest number of untested kits “of any state where data is available.”
Legislators were presented with an additional opportunity to support survivors last year, yet many of them refused. In 2018, Rep. Chaz Beasley (D-Mecklenburg) proposed an amendment to an existing bill that would clear up legal ambiguity for “date-rape” victims. The amendment clarified that drugging someone falls under the statute of rendering someone “mentally uncapable.”Beasley, inspired by a rape survivor who found the ambiguity in the law an impediment to justice, presented the legislature up-to-date bill language that reflected the realities of how sexual assault occurs. The previous statue noted that “someone can only be mentally incapacitated by a physical act.” The majority of Republicans voted against Rep. Beasley’s proposed amendment, including Reps. Setzer, Saine, and McElraft.Republican legislators tried to block these new protections on a technicality, but the amendment still passed.
Republicans’ move to focus on those accused of sexual misconduct rather than invest in supporting survivors can only be interpreted as a bad-faith act in a state that has structurallynever sided with rape survivors. Before North Carolina legislators rush to protect the accused (who already enjoy a good deal of institutional protection), they should direct resources to people who the system has failed. H305 only further entrenches power in the hands of people prone to abuse it.