Vote Notes: S. 534, Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017
Sometimes, it’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Such was the case last night as the House voted on S. 534. This bill would expand current law requirements for adults who work with young people to report cases of suspected sexual abuse to law enforcement officials, often called duty to report laws. The bill passed 406 to 3. I was one of the three to vote against the bill; let me explain why.
I voted for a previous version of this bill, H.R. 1973, in May of last year. I did so at the time with reservation based on concerns of federalizing yet another crime and questions of due process. But I ultimately supported the bill given the nexus between what had tragically occurred with the former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. As you might know, he was convicted of more than seven counts of criminal sexual misconduct and just last week was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.
This bill represented an attempt to make certain that that never happen again. Accordingly, I applaud its intent, and it was for this reason that I supported the base bill last May. On this, let me be clear, I condemn any form of sexual abuse and believe that steps should always be taken in the wake of any crisis to prevent bad things from happening again. The bill we voted on in May, and this bill that we voted on Monday night, had a clear national nexus given the U.S. Olympic Committee and “national governing bodies.”
The problem, however, was that this bill went one step further, and that one step was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me in my ability to support it. Specifically, it set up a U.S. Center for Safe Sport. The name sounds innocuous enough, and there was even wisdom in setting up a third party in resolving abuse charges and cases. The problem is that it ceded very wide authority to this body in its ability to adjudicate these cases without due process.
I believe it’s important we always go back to the basics of what the Founding Fathers believed, which was that we were all fallible. This could be in the way that an FBI agent handles information, as is presently in the headlines, or it could even be in the way that a third party looks at a charge. Fundamental to their belief was always the idea of a check and a balance. That no one could simply decide things without the ability to challenge the charge.
And here’s the real catch: it provided this third party with legal immunity. This denies the legal right to wrongfully accused individuals to sue for defamation. As most of you know, I’m not a lawyer and not particularly wild about some of what some lawyers do on a regular basis. But if one is accused of something horrendous, and in fact it’s an erroneous charge, there should be recourse.
Let me give you two recent examples that demonstrate why this ability to have recourse is vital.
As you may remember, the Duke lacrosse case in 2006 ultimately falsely charged three members of the men’s lacrosse team of rape. The case sparked strong responses from the media, faculty groups, students, and the community at large. Ultimately, the three boys were acquitted, and the case led to the resignation and disbarment of the lead prosecutor. There was a consequence to a false charge.
The same applies for the University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. As you may remember, there were charges here of a gang rape claim that was put forth on the now retracted 2014 article “A Rape on Campus.” Ultimately, they brought suit against Rolling Stone magazine, and the case was settled for $1.65 million. There was a consequence to a false charge.
Consequences to false charges have to be real to have meaning. And as well meaning as this bill was in doing something about the horror of Dr. Nasser, it gutted consequences to the third party U.S. Center for Safe Sport in the event that they move forward on something that ultimately was proven inaccurate.
So again, I want to be clear that I condemn what happened with Dr. Nasser, and I applaud Susan Brooks for her work in bringing this bill forward. But I cannot support this latest iteration of the bill based on this latest addition.
Finally, let me add one post-script that is probably worth further conversation at another date, but fits with my concerns over expansion in the bill. And that is that this bill moves into all athletic organizations merely involved in interstate or international competition. This means the bill moves beyond the U.S. Olympic Committee, which was the original nexus in creating federal statute. This raises the larger concern of expanded federal jurisdiction on law that has historically and predominantly been the jurisdiction of the states.