In recent years, we’ve seen activists and rape survivors across the country push their colleges to more effectively address campus sexual assault. From Dartmouth to Amherst to Yale, they’ve spoken out about how their schools’ administrations have failed them. And they’ve filed lawsuits to hold them accountable. The Know Your Title IX campaign, which our own Alexandra helped launch, is working to ensure that all students know that colleges in fact have a legal obligation under Title IX, which prevents gender discrimination in education, to create a safe learning environment for all their students–and is calling on the federal government to enforce the landmark law.
Now this activism seems to have inspired some unlikely copycats. Apparently, rapists are convinced that Title IX can also be used to protect them and their right to…not be accused of sexual assault? Not go through a campus sexual assault investigation? Not be disciplined by their college? I wasn’t actually aware of rights to any of that, but that seems to be the idea. Bloomberg reports:
Now, college men accused of sexual assault are protesting the same system. Taking a page from the women’s complaints, men are citing violations under Title IX, the anti-gender discrimination law that women have used to demand equality in sports programming and education for 40 years.
Men are claiming the investigations are biased in favor of their accusers, who are most often women. Campus sexual-assault investigations represent a parallel criminal-justice system run by school officials without legal training in which evidence and the burden of proof are scant and punishments harsh, said Robert Shibley, senior vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The sanctions, which can include expulsion from college are “massively life-changing,” Shibley said. The process “makes someone guilty of what in most states is considered a felony.”
Young men in college face a growing risk of being accused, said Nicole Colby Longton, an attorney who sued Holy Cross on behalf of a student accused of sexually assaulting a woman on campus.
“One sexual encounter that involves alcohol, and the next thing you know you’re accused and expelled and branded for life,” Colby said in a phone interview. “Schools are going to push kids to have signed waivers before they have intercourse.”
First off, I have nothing but eye-rolls for rapists’ complaints over how “massively life-changing” it is to be expelled–especially since actually getting kicked out of school for committing sexual assault is super rare.
It likely only happens is very clear-cut and serious cases of rape. Which, yes, is indeed considered a felony. But ”the process” isn’t what makes someone guilty or not guilty of a felony. If you sexually assault someone, you–you and no one else–have made yourself guilty of a crime–whether it is ultimately punished by the criminal justice system or a campus sexual misconduct board, or not at all. And the indisputable fact is that the odds are good that it will not be punished at all. I mean, for God’s sake, it’s a little bit hard to take accused rapists’ complaints of “discrimination” seriously at all when you’ve got schools meting out oh-so-horrific punishments like five-page book reports to people who are actually found guilty of rape.
The crux of these complaints, though, is that college sexual assault investigations, since they are not criminal cases, do not give the accused legal representation and have a lower burden of proof. To be convicted in a courtroom, the charges must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But campus investigations go with the “preponderance of evidence,” which is the standard used in civil cases. (Which makes all sorts of sense since Title IX is a civil law.) Of course, the flipside is that the penalties in campus investigations are also not criminal ones. If a school’s sexual misconduct board finds you guilty of an assault, at worst, you may be expelled–and supposedly “branded for life,” which I’d say is highly arguable–but you’re not looking at jail time.
Which I think is a good thing–for everyone. As Alexandra has written before, for folks like us who are looking for alternatives to the criminal justice system, campus investigations offer at least the potential for a more holistic, transformative justice. “The two goals of the process are education and protecting the community, as opposed to the punitive nature of the criminal justice system,” Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, told Bloomberg.” And though most are clearly falling down on the job, colleges actually could be well-poised to protect the community–which, yes, I believe does require respecting the rights of both the accused and the victim. “Who else,” Alexandra wrote, “has the authority simultaneously to protect survivors and, informed by the faith in humanity’s ability to better itself inherent to the academy’s mission, to compel perpetrators to change?”
Instead, those accused of sexual violence seem to want campus investigations to be more like “mini versions” of the mainstream criminal system. Considering how often that system also fails rape victims, that’s probably not surprising.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.