College students deserve due process in sex-assault cases

Until recently, the fate of college students who were accused of sexual misconduct was determined by campus disciplinary bodies.  But the federal Sixth Circuit appeals court correctly ruled that they have a right to due process (“Thank the courts for rescuing college kids from unfair sex-assault charges,” New York Post, Sep. 28).

The truth is that campus courts were kangaroo courts, which favored accusers.  They did not allow cross-examination.  Without it, those accused were unable to mount a defense.  As a result, being accused of sex assault was tantamount to being found guilty.  It was a travesty of justice.

Victims of sexual assault should be required to file a complaint with off-campus police.  Disciplinary systems on campus have long been tilted in favor of accusers.  Yes, they have rights, but so too do the accused.  Too much is at stake to return to the old system.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “College students deserve due process in sex-assault cases”

  1. Colleges should defer to the criminal justice system for the handling of criminal sex-assault allegations. Colleges lack the expertise and authority to compel testimony/obtain evidence; leave these issues to the police, DAs, and criminal court judges.

    We often — incorrectly — view colleges as a kind of city govt and implicitly expect colleges to exercise city govt powers. In practice, colleges are not city govts but rather sellers of service (and, for some students, landlords). We do not expect bar owners, concert promoters or apartment house owners to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate allegations of criminal sex-assault occurring on their premises; likewise, we should not expect colleges to do so.

    More fundamentally, society generally should revise its approach to “date-rape” kinds of sex-assault allegations (not talking here about gun/knifepoint stranger sex assault). Society treats date-rape sex assault as an extremely serious crime — comparable in seriousness to armed robbery, manslaughter or even murder. Yet, in virtually all date-rape sex assaults the victim suffers little/no physical injury. Although the victim may suffer severe psychological injury, that severity is the result of society training pretty much everyone to believe that sex assault is a horribly serious personal violation — it is not inherent in human beings that sex assault will be perceived as a horribly serious personal violation (that is, it’s not analogous to seeing someone else’s arm or head chopped off).

    At the same time, normal sex drives as well as society’s attitudes towards dating among single men and women (including the male-aggressor/female-resistor sex roles and the routine use of alcohol in social situations) make it virtually inevitable that sex assaults along the date-rape continuum will frequently occur. It’s as if we gave 18-yr-olds drivers licenses, expected them to drive hundreds of miles each weekend and then treated speeding tickets (including speed trap speeding tickets) or running a stop sign (including rolling stops) as if the offense was comparable to armed robbery or manslaughter.

    Not arguing that date-rape sex assault is OK — it’s wrong. But it’s not horribly wrong and society should stop treating it as if it were horribly wrong.

    If we started treating date-rape sex assault as an offense comparable to — say — a 18-yr-old having liquor in his dorm room, then we could allow colleges to enforce sex assault rules the same way we allow colleges to enforce liquor-in-dorms rules. Until then, we should limit sex-assault enforcement to the local govt and keep the colleges out of it.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: I completely agree. Campus courts are kangaroo courts that deny the accused the rights they possess in criminal courts. Too much is on the line to allow this travesty of justice to continue. Date rape claims always presume the male is guilty.

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