Since the Obama administration increased its focus on campus sexual assault in January 2014, there has been a steady flow of articles criticizing university sexual assault proceedings. Authors have decried innocent men being railroaded through a system with limited procedural protections and a low burden of proof. Based upon those sources, one would think that prosecution, expulsion, and punishment of innocent men was the norm. Meanwhile, case after case surfaces where the university either failed to act or acted in a woefully inadequate manner.
Consider the case of Yale. After numerous findings of wrongdoing in Title IX and Clery Act audit investigations were made, Yale had the opportunity to start fresh in handling complaints of sexual violence on campus. The critics of campus tribunals cite schools like Yale as embodying the liberal politically correct ethos they associate with rigged campus tribunals. So what happened after the federal regulators left Yale? Yale has issued three semi-annual reports covering the period of January 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014 during which I count 20 resolved complaints of sexual assault (non-consensual sex) between Yale students. In 10 cases, the university found inadequate evidence or the victim decided not to pursue the complaint further. In the other 10, the university assessed some sanction/punishment as follows: 3 received a 2-semester suspension, 2 received a 1-semester suspension, 3 received a written reprimand, and 2 were expelled. Yale should be applauded for making their handling of cases transparent so that this analysis is even possible. Most schools offer little information beyond what the Clery Act requires. In the end, the numbers at Yale are hardly consistent with an off-the-rails tribunal system.
Meanwhile, at Columbia, Emma Sulkowicz is facing the far more common scenario. Most victims are left on campus with their rapist. Emma has decided to protest Columbia’s indifference to her rape complaint by turning it into her senior honors visual arts project. She will be carrying her dorm mattress with her everywhere she goes until her alleged rapist is kicked off campus.
At my home institution, the University of Kansas, the Huffington Post is reporting today that the university decided that community service was too punitive for a student who “would later admit to campus police that he continued to have sex with the woman even after she said ‘no,’ ‘stop’ and ‘I can’t do this.'” Instead, he received a ban from university housing and probation.
We live in a world where police and prosecutors do not regularly pursue rape complaints and convictions are a rarity. If an attempted murderer was left on campus with his or her intended victim, we would be horrified. If a student brutally assaulted another, we would want the university to take action to protect the victim. Even in the non-criminal cases of sexual harassment at universities, defendants are separated from victims without waiting for a civil suit to be completed in the plaintiff’s favor. As a matter of simple humanity, universities need to protect rape victims by having a mechanism to remove/punish rapists.
Does this mean universities have designed effective and fair sexual assault tribunals? Absolutely not. I have been critical of the uneven protections and ad hoc processes often used. However, simply letting the criminal justice system resolve the matter, as many have proposed, is unrealistic and wrong. We should treat alleged rapists on campus as we would alleged murderers, brawlers, burglars, and other violent criminals. That means an internal university process needs to assess the available evidence to protect victims of sexual assault.