EDITORIALS

What you shouldn’t say about sexual violence

A rally for justice for all victims of sexual assault was held, October 22, 2013, on the square in Maryville, Missouri. Cortney Cooper, right, of Lee's Summit embraced her daughter, Tatum Cooper, 13, during the event.
David Eulitt | MCT
A rally for justice for all victims of sexual assault was held, October 22, 2013, on the square in Maryville, Missouri. Cortney Cooper, right, of Lee's Summit embraced her daughter, Tatum Cooper, 13, during the event.
Posted June 30, 2014, at 11:57 a.m.

You may have heard of or read a June 6 Washington Post column by George Will in which he wrote about the “coveted status” of rape victims on college campuses. That’s right. “Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses … brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates,” he opined.

The point of his piece was, we think, to point out that colleges have somehow lost autonomy because of the Obama administration’s recent proposals to help prevent and address sexual violence on campus. Let’s look at some of those ideas.

— One initiative of the administration includes providing a toolkit to schools, so they can conduct campus climate surveys. Most sexual assaults are not reported to college officials or police, so surveys are often a better way to gauge the full extent of what’s happening. For now the administration is just recommending the surveys but said it “will explore legislative and administrative options” to require colleges and universities to conduct them in 2016.

— The administration released an advance summary finding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the best known ways to prevent sexual violence on campus — and what doesn’t work. For instance, college students are more likely to report violence when they trust university administrators. And one-session educational programs often given to college students about healthy sexual conduct don’t appear to have lasting effects on behavior; a sustained educational focus is more effective.

It put together sample reporting and confidentiality protocols for schools to follow, a checklist for sexual misconduct policies, and an example of a memorandum of understanding with a local rape crisis center, which schools can adapt if they want. It also released a public service announcement.

Does any of that sound burdensome? Or even especially remarkable?

Will is vague about how exactly the government is cramping universities’ “autonomy, resources, prestige and comity,” but he does mention a directive to schools by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to use a “preponderance-of-the-evidence” standard when adjudicating sexual assault cases. The standard is used in civil cases and requires a finding that the sexual harassment or violence occurred “more likely than not.”

Will apparently wants colleges, in their administrative disciplinary process, to use a much stricter “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, which is used in criminal trials. He explained more in a C-SPAN interview by saying, “You’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this, don’t get into medical school, don’t get into law school.”

First of all, a university is not a court, and it has an obligation to protect its students just like a company would protect its employees. Universities decide whom to admit, and they can decide who poses a risk and must leave.

Second, the disciplinary process is confidential; the potential offender’s name is not publicly released by the college.

Third, there is no evidence that colleges are inflicting undue or overly harsh punishments en masse. If anything, there are examples of colleges being too lenient in their sanctions — by requiring offending students to write reflection papers or go to counseling.

The fact is that sexual assault on college campuses is a problem. And it’s not going to get better if colleges keep doing what they’ve always done. Many agree that Will’s piece is nonsense; the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column in response. But it represents views that some people still hold — such as that if a girl had consensual sex with a guy in the past he couldn’t possibly have raped her now.

Some people think colleges shouldn’t deal with sexual assault cases at all and instead let police do the work, even though most victims don’t want to report to police, and it can take years for a case to make its way through the judicial process, if it’s even prosecuted.

The country desperately needs more information about what works to prevent sexual assault both on and off campuses, not more bloviating from those who come across as uninformed rape apologists.

 

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