You could predict this (in fact, I think I did): The Washington Post reports that men on college campuses accused of sexual assault are alleging that federal pressure has created an atmosphere in which they receive unfair publicity and unfair “trials.”
They fiercely dispute the validity of internal investigations that rely on a lower standard of proof for determining misconduct than what is required for a conviction of a sex crime. They also contest accounts circulating on campuses and the Internet that label them as sexual assailants or rapists.
…A student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who was found responsible this year for sexual misconduct after an internal investigation he called biased, said: “I wasn’t given a fair trial or anything. It’s sad that this process can be abused and that the university can totally change somebody’s life, with very little evidence. . . . In the real world, rape and sexual assault are crimes punishable by going to jail — and rightfully so. Why is this left up to schools?”
That last is a fair point. I’m pretty sure I wrote earlier that the federal pressure to impose rigid guidelines for handling sexual assault cases would likely force universities to involve local police departments more than they do currently. It’s interesting that some of that pressure might actually come from the men involved, who feel that they’re more likely to get a fair trial outside the campus system. What would a university do if a man accused of sexual assault insisted on going to the police?
Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, one of the senators pushing legislation that would set up mandatory policies for how campuses handle allegations of sexual assault, tells the Post that she wants as many cases as possible to be handled in court—but disagrees that there’s a widespread problem of unfair treatment of the accused.
“I don’t think we are anywhere near a tipping point where the people accused of this are somehow being treated unfairly,” McCaskill said.
Many who have faced disciplinary sanctions disagree. They question the fairness of closed-door, internal proceedings that don’t follow the same rules of evidence and procedure as criminal courts. Usually, accused students must speak for themselves, with little or no help from an attorney. Some are filing lawsuits against schools.
That, I suspect, is something we will see more and more of—universities being sued. Which will in turn force them to involve external police departments more and more. Which is something that many victims of sexual assault apparently don’t want.
But I think that may be a good thing: The idea that you could accuse someone of rape but then say, I don’t want the police to handle the matter, let’s do this on the qt, creates a situation where you’ve departed from the rule of law. The police aren’t perfect about handling allegations of sexual assault, obviously. But at least they have well-defined and public standards; rape is against the law. I think that’s better than the shifting sands of a university bureaucracy and political hype.
I can well believe that the way many universities handled these matters in the past favored the accused. But now the pendulum has swung the other way. Neither situation is tenable. This has really become a fight about cultural and political power, and not about the administration of justice.