In a very recent post on guns on campus, I selectively surveyed the statistics on violent crime in the 2012 report on crimes reported on college campuses.
I cited the statistics on sexual assaults but noted that those crimes have apparently been very under-reported, at least on some campuses.
Female students on four campuses in particular—Amherst College, the University of North Carolina, Occidental College, and the University of Southern California—have organized formal protests against the ways in which their institutions have recently handled cases of rape and sexual assault.
I have read several dozen news articles on the protests at the four campuses, and I have to say that the issues have not been much clarified by that reading.
Here is what I believe that most people would assume would occur.
If a student reports that she (or he) has been the victim of a sexual assault, then she should report the crime to the campus police, who should treat her with sensitivity while also insuring that nothing is done to jeopardize the proper and thorough investigation of the complaint. Indeed, larger campus police departments should include officers specially trained to deal with these crimes and their victims.
But as soon as possible, local law enforcement should be brought into the case to conduct the actual investigation.
At that point, the university should do what is necessary to protect the accuser from further trauma—and, as much as possible, to protect the accuser’s privacy.
If the accused is another student, that student should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but if the district attorney’s office feels that there is enough evidence of a crime to bring charges, the university should proceed on the premise that the accuser’s interests should take precedence over those of the accused while the case is active.
This all seems like simple common sense to me. Sexual assault is a very serious, violent crime, and it demands formal investigation.
But, the articles that I have read seem to indicate that sexual assaults are being handled on some campuses or in many instances as “student misconduct” cases.
Here is the beginning of an article recently published on the Huffington Post, “Occidental College Sexual Assault Response Subject of Federal Complaints”:
“Female Occidental College students, faculty, and alumni say in a federal complaint that the Los Angeles school failed to take campus sex crimes seriously by improperly reporting and adjudicating sexual assaults and covering up rapes.
“The 250-page complaint filed by a group of 37 Thursday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights says the school maintained a hostile environment for sexual assault victims and their advocates and violated federal Title IX laws against sexual discrimination.
“Even when the school’s investigations have found wrongdoing, punishment has been light, the complaint says. One student found responsible for raping a woman was given the punishment of writing a five-page book report, according to the complaint.
“‘I’ve seen some of the outputs of these so-called “educational sanctions” like book reports and apology letters and they’re abysmal,’ said Danielle Dirks, a sociology professor who specializes in crime and punishment and one of the women who filed the complaint.
“’The fact that Occidental has invited rapists back to campus and even told survivors not to worry because “he’s reformed now” after these types of inadequate sanctions is an abomination.’”
The rest of the article is available at www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/occidental-sexual-assault_n_3118563.html?view=print&comm_ref=false.
If the cases were handled as “student misconduct” and are no longer prosecutable as criminal complaints, then this sort of lawsuit is essentially a last resort for the victims.
We have just endured a decade or more of revelations about the Catholic Church’s incomprehensible mishandling of sexual predators’ serial assaults on children. More immediately, we are in the midst of an escalating furor over the military’s grossly inadequate handling of sexual assaults. And, closer to “home” in terms of our campuses, the conviction of Jerry Sandusky has not provided anything close to an end point on the institutional and broader attempts to come to terms with the ramifications and implications of his crimes.
So it seems absolutely preposterous to me that colleges and universities would treat sexual assault as anything less than a very serious crime.
Students should be thoroughly informed about how to report crimes against them, especially violent crimes. And great emphasis should be placed on the importance of formally reporting, investigating, and prosecuting such cases to the axiomatic “full extent of the law.” Given the seriousness of the crime, anything less is unfair to the accuser and, if the accused is guilty, to the potential future victims of the accused.
Any university official who attempts to treat a report of a sexual assault, or any other violent crime, in any more casual way should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice—and if found guilty, removed from his or her position.
Finally, university administrators who believe that reporting sexual assaults is more of a liability for their institutions than the failure to treats those assaults as crimes are, at best, very short-sighted and, at worst, completely unprincipled.