On Thursday, a California legislator filed a bill that would require college administrators across the country to note on a student's transcript if he or she had been found guilty of violating the school's sexual violence policies. The Safe Transfer Act, proposed by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, also states that if a student transfers while the disciplinary process is still being conducted, the case would remain on his/her file for a year.
"Universities and colleges are perfectly willing to include academic infractions like plagiarism on students' records, yet students who have committed sexual assault can walk away from campus with a clean academic bill of health. This is appalling and, whether intentional or not, shows that acts of sexual violence on campus are less serious than cheating," Rep. Speier said in a press release. "My bill will ensure that students who try to transfer schools to avoid the consequences of their violent acts will, at a minimum, face the same consequences as students who transfer because they've cheated on an exam."
The bill clarifies language in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 to allow for such disclosures, and also takes into consideration the rights of the accused. In addition to notifying the student of the disclosure, a school must also give him/her the opportunity to inspect a copy of the record and add a written statement, if he/she chooses.
In her statement, Speier points to the case of Valdemar Castellano as an example of the need for schools to share information about the sexual misconduct of its students. In 2013, Castellano allegedly held hostage and raped a fellow student at Vincennes University in Indiana. Ultimately, Castellano was expelled, and he's since been sued by his alleged victim. The next year, he enrolled at University of Northwestern Ohio, and according to local media, he was arrested and charged with sexual imposition months after arriving—after he allegedly grabbed a woman's breast and tried to remove her top and pants. Those criminal charges were later dropped, and he left University of Northwestern in March 2015, only to enroll in yet another school.
This is strictly trying to ensure the knowledge of what an individual did follows him to the next place, so that the next place can keep itself safe.
New York and Virginia are the only states that have laws requiring sexual assault offenses be listed on college transcripts.
Terry O'Neill is the president of the National Organization for Women, which endorsed the legislation. She says that not only will this law inhibit rapists from moving anonymously to another school and committing the offense again, it also sends a message to men and women on college campuses that this behavior is not acceptable. "I think one of the reasons for the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses is the failure of accountability," she tells Broadly. "I've heard it said, it's not the severity of the accountability, it's the certainty of the accountability that really matters. [This bill] lets the entire campus know, we as a society are taking this seriously, so hopefully there will be some deterrent impact."
O'Neill recognizes that the bill might have its detractors, although she thinks passing it is "a no brainer." One potential criticism, she explains, is that the idea that over-punishing sexual assault could diminish the willingness of victims to come forward. "It is true that one does need to be careful about over-punishing sexual assault, but I don't believe this is over-punishment by a long stretch," O'Neill says. "This is strictly trying to ensure the knowledge of what an individual did follows him to the next place, so that the next place can keep itself safe."