anti-rape protestors

Why campus approaches to sexual violence shouldn’t be more like criminal trials

Over at The American Prospect, Alexandra has a thorough and much-needed explanation of why campus disciplinary proceedings on sexual violence should not just become more like criminal cases but instead enforce procedural reforms that protect both survivors and the accused. 

Building off the writing on the topic she’s done here at Feministing and in her law studies, she argues that, contrary to the claims of critics ranging from Harvard Law profs to MRAs, protecting the rights of survivors and of those accused of violence are not at odds but instead are mutually dependent. And to the extent that many schools fail to protect both parties in a gender-based violence claim — which is certainly true — it’s because they’re failing to follow the guidance set forth by the Department of Education. “More robust enforcement of Title IX, then, will help students on both sides of an accusation, ensuring protection of both of their rights” — and also helping to legitimize the process.

She faults those who advocate for reforms that would make campus proceedings more like criminal trials for failing to recognize the reason colleges get involved with addressing gender-based violence in the first place: to protect students’ right to an education free from violence and harassment. “School investigations don’t look like trials because they aren’t supposed to.” It makes sense that they provide fewer procedural protections and a lower standard of evidence, because they’re seeking to engender equality, not to protect the rights of the state by throwing people in prison. And she questions why this devotion to criminal law and concern about accused students’ rights only seems to rear its head when it comes to claims of gender-based violence:

Some critics, I believe, are so focused on the criminal justice system in their professional and academic lives that they fail to appreciate in the full the different goals and consequences of campus disciplinary hearings. I also worry that, for some but not all, this devotion to the criminal law response suggests a subtle misogyny that many focusing on this issue have internalized. No one cries foul when a student is expelled for cheating on an exam based on the preponderance of the evidence. Yet many mourn the lost “bright futures” of classmates accused of rape. And they insist that accusations of gender-based violence, and only gender-based violence, be put to the test of the criminal justice system. In doing so, they invoke old, insidious myths about the woman who “cries rape,” found everywhere from the Bible to the Model Penal Code. Why do we think an accusation of sexual assault is any more likely to be false than an accusation of a punch in the face? The answer necessarily lies in the differing confidence placed in different kinds of victims—and there is a special skepticism reserved for anyone who claims to have been raped.

Read the rest here.

Header image credit: Christine Baker/The Patriot-News/Landov

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation