Colleges have no idea how to handle sexual assault cases. Trials are conducted by a group of campus faculty and students who serve as the prosecutors, judges, and juries. With a total lack of experience or resources to properly conduct matters of criminal justice, the results can be alarming.
Universities will often underreport sexual assaults to preserve funding and prestige, and the accused are often denied any semblance of due process. Sometimes, the trials can get downright bizarre, like this instance, where a victim was forced to draw a diagram depicting how anal rape was possible.
By woefully mismanaging campus sexual assault cases, universities have consistently and miserably failed both the victims and the accused.
To correct the problem, congress has introduced two pieces of legislation: the Safe Campus Act and the Fair Campus Act. Both were funded by The National Panhellenic Conference and The North American Interfraternity Conference – the national umbrella organizations for sororities and fraternities, respectively — for over $200,000.
The two bills share these key components: the right for both parties to hire lawyers (at their own expense) and question witnesses, the right for the accused to know the charges they’re facing, and the right for colleges to set the standard of evidence to use.
However, there is one major difference between the bills. The Safe Campus Act requires police involvement before a significant punishment (like suspension or expulsion) can be dealt. The Fair Campus Act does not require police involvement for a university to dish out such punishments.
When several women’s rights organizations and sororities caught wind of the Safe Campus Act, they were vocally and adamantly against it. They argued that police involvement discourages rape victims from speaking up, as only 18 percent of the accused are found guilty. They say that the low rate of found guilt, as well as the emotional pain of the investigation and the possibility of the media publishing sensitive details if the trial reaches a circuit court, make the risk of going to the police not worth reporting the rape at all.
In response to the backlash, the NPC pulled its support of the Safe Campus Act last month. The bill will likely die where it stands.
As historically incompetent as universities have been at handling sexual assault cases, if this many women would rather suffer in silence than report their assault to the police, there’s no way we’ll see mandatory police involvement on campuses.
Here’s where the Fair Campus Act comes in. Unlike the Safe Campus Act, it does not require police involvement for a trial to take place, but still permits the accused the right to due process. This is huge. Right now, a student accused of sexual assault is forced to endure the broken campus review system on their own. There is often no lawyer or fair review. In some cases, they weren’t even presented with the evidence against them.
It is difficult to argue in favor of rights for the accused. Many will see this and assume I am implying that the victim lied about the attack to get back at someone, or, being a writer for a frat site, that I’m trying to protect rapists so they can be free to rape again. But that’s not why I defend the accused. I defend them because sexual assault cases often tread through murky waters where the alleged attackers were unaware they were even committing a crime.
Take this case, for instance. Last week, a Georgia Tech student, expelled in April after a sexual misconduct investigation, filed a lawsuit alleging the review violated his rights.
Here are the details of the night in question, according to the investigative report provided by USA Today College:
According to the lawsuit, Doe invited a female student identified only as “Jane Roe” to an event on Oct. 10, 2013 at his fraternity house. The two drank and socialized on the main floor and later went into a room to join others playing drinking games.
Doe said the woman followed him into his bedroom where she almost immediately felt sick and began vomiting. Doe says he went to get a sober member of the fraternity, who came back upstairs, and both men helped the woman downstairs to meet two friends picking her up.
The woman filed a complaint in February with the Office of Student Integrity, later telling staff that she tried to forget what happened until she participated in a sexual assault awareness campaign during the spring semester in 2014.
According to Paquette’s investigative report included in court documents, the woman said Doe turned off the lights when they were in his bedroom and began kissing her. The woman said she stopped him “and stated that she wanted to get to know him better.” She said Doe then touched her genitals without consent, and shortly after, she vomited and he stopped.
Paquette found Doe responsible for non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual sexual intercourse and coercion and expelled him on April 3. Doe’s attorney said he wasn’t charged criminally.
Call me a victim-blamer, but it sounds to me like there’s at least a slight possibility the guy had no malicious intent.
While this case has yet to be resolved, there are the famed cases of proven false rape that ruined the lives of fraternity brothers at UVA, lacrosse players at Duke, and a male student at Columbia (remember the “mattress girl” fiasco?). The list goes on.
Hazy and multifaceted cases like these are why we need the Fair Campus Act, which would allow the accused the right to defend themselves while still allowing the accuser the right to avoid police involvement if they so choose. It’s a win-win. Further, most campuses will still use the police to collect evidence (the cops just won’t be involved in the interrogation or trial processes).
Unfortunately, the Fair Campus Act is next on the chopping block. Some sororities and women’s rights organizations have already expressed their opposition to the bill, which is terribly misguided. Alpha Phi nationals released a statement saying they support neither bill because “We believe our sisters who are survivors should have choices in how, when and to whom they go to for support or to report the crime.” But that’s exactly what the Fair Campus Act offers — the option of who to report the crime to. They seem to have just lumped the Fair Campus Act in with the Safe Campus Act, which is an irresponsible move that demonstrates a lack of research.
Even if the Fair Campus Act does pass, we are still a long way off from having truly fair campus sexual assault reviews. There still needs to be a precedent established for colleges like the University of California-San Diego, which allowed a lawyer to be present for the case of a student accused of sexual assault, but did not allow the lawyer to speak.
We need to set federal guidelines for how the universities conduct these trials. Establish a standard of evidence, a questioning of witnesses, the presumption of innocence, the right to a speedy and fair trial, the right to counsel, etc. This way, universities can conduct the trials internally and privately while greatly reducing the risk of a student being unfairly railroaded by a system comprised of teachers and students with no criminal justice expertise.
The ball is finally rolling on federal involvement in campus sexual assault, but we all know how slowly The Hill operates. We’re likely years from a solution. In the meantime, let’s just focus on passing the Fair Campus Act. It won’t solve all of the problems, but it will at least lean wayward campuses in the right direction..
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