Assemblyman Mike Gatto Introduces New Legislation to Curb Rape Cover-Ups

Julia Orr, Staff Writer

After scandals of alleged criminal cover-ups of rape crimes rocked the academic world last year, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) was moved to introduce new legislation in an effort to combat this serious problem.

Assembly Bill 1433, which ensures crimes that occur on campus are properly investigated and reported to local police departments, passed its first legislative hurdle on March 18.  According to Gatto, the legislation is no “silver bullet.” He said it will take efforts from a lot of different groups, including parents, who will need to come together to help solve the problems of this kind of criminal activity occurring on campuses.

Last year, three Southern California colleges, UC Berkeley, Occidental College and USC, came under fire for the mishandling of sexual assault cases. In total, five campuses across the nation have had federal lawsuits filed against them in the past year, alleging violations of Title IX and the Clery Act.

The Clery Act is a federal law that requires all colleges and universities who receive federal financial aid to disclose crimes that occur on or around their campus. It was named in memory of Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered in her residence hall in 1986. Title IX is part of the Education Amendments law, which states that no person can be denied an education on the basis of sex.

Gatto said that the victim’s horror stories were a motivation in introducing AB 1433 and adding an urgency clause to the bill. The urgency clause means that once the Governor has signed it, the bill can go into effect the following semester. Gatto is hoping that will be this Fall.

“Nobody should have to be concerned about sexual assault – male or female – when they are trying to get an education,” Gatto said in a telephone interview. “Involving professionals would solve the systemic problems universities have.”

Many campuses do not have police departments but use private security, which are untrained in criminal investigations. AB 1433 not only seeks to ensure that serious crimes are reported to the local professional law enforcement who have access to departments such as forensics, but that any potential crimes are highlighted. The bill also covers possible issues such as sex offenders moving to the area or safety issues such as street lighting being enhanced

Gatto is fired up over what he calls an “agonizing year” of listening to media reports and various other sources about sexual assaults and hate-crimes on campus not being taken seriously enough.

“We’ve learned that systems have failed,” he said. “Often the security officers who investigate these crimes are not trained. It is a failure of the administration. Law enforcement has a much broader capability.”

At GCC, the police department is manned by trained police officers rather than private security.

“We are already doing what the act is asking us to do so the new bill won’t have a major impact,” said Gary Montecuollo, the campus’s chief of police.

The college has a zero tolerance policy for any kind of sexual crime and has not had any rapes reported in recent years. According to Montecuollo, the campus had one report of three incidents of inappropriate touching involving the same male and female last year.

“We always work closely with the Glendale Police Department,” said Montecuollo. “We have been fortunate and will continue to do what we do.”

Sexual assaults on campuses are a serious enough issue to have recently been taken up by the White House. On January 22, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum to establish a new White House Task Force to protect students from sexual assault.

According to a 2007 National Institute of Justice report, which stated that 1 in 5 women will be raped or experience attempted rape during their time at college, only 12% of survivors will report the crime to law enforcement.

“We encourage everyone to come and report any crime of sexual violence,” said Montecuollo, “We can send a police officer to them or they can come in and speak privately to an officer here.”