Scott Walker Would Nix Reporting Sexual Assaults

With the 2016 campaign season looming, it seems like we're getting a better and better sense of what kind of presidential candidate Scott Walker will be if he decides to run (which, of course, he will). And it's looking like the ascendant Republican governor wants to stake out a spot on the right side of the primary field — Jeb Bush ain't comparing pro-union protesters to ISIS, after all. Nor have any of his likely opponents done this: Scott Walker's budget removes mandatory college sexual assault reporting.

This is, to put it mildly, a head-scratcher. While some conservatives love to rail against the idea that campus sexual assault is a major and urgent issue, these changes will undoubtedly make things worse. Walker's new budget proposal, as expertly detailed by Jezebel's Natasha Vargas-Cooper, makes the following changes to reporting mandates in Wisconsin's universities.

  • It deletes the requirement that any college employee who witnesses or is informed of a campus sexual assault must report it to the dean.
  • It deletes the requirement that the college's report their sexual assault figures to the Department of Justice.
  • It deletes the requirement that colleges provide information on campus sexual assaults to their student body, both for those entering orientation, and for the student body writ large.
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If you're wondering why I kept writing "it deletes" in the list above, that's because that's the specific language of the budget. Not only does it strip these provisions, but it doesn't replace them with anything.

So, the big question: Why is Walker doing this, and is it as bad at is seems? According to The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, a spokesperson for Team Walker has offered an explanation for the dustup, putting a somewhat more benign spin on the inflammatory news.

State statute changes were required to give UW System full authority status and the UW System requested the deletion of provisions of duplicative reporting requirements as part of the move to the authority. In this case, UW System requested this report requirement be removed because there is already a federal reporting requirement related to sexual assault and harassment on campuses.
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In a nutshell, they're saying the changes were part of a plan to turn over more autonomy to the state's University of Wisconsin system, and that the system asked them to nix any reporting standards that were already on the books federally. This is a more passable explanation than it may have seemed at first blush, but it does little to quell the concerns that arise whenever authority starts shifting back to colleges on these issue. Simply put, when institutions have more sway, more leeway, and more latitude to self-police and self-report, it can become easier for some victims to slip through the cracks.

Of course, it's way too early to say whether these changes will have any impact — in the first place, Walker's budget is merely a proposal right now. But if it passes, and things go at all south with how Wisconsin's colleges are handling sexual assault reports in the next couple of years, you can rest assured you'll hear about this again.

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