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Opinion

Campus sexual assault: The only crime where due process is shunned

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Ashe Schow,Gender Issues,Campus Sexual Assault,Rape

In a report about those accused of sexual assault suing their universities, National Public Radio correspondent Tovia Smith interviewed a lawyer for accusers who suggested those men needed to evolve and get over that pesky due process thing.

According to Smith’s paraphrasing, attorney Colby Bruno suggested the fact that “a lot of young men are suing their schools doesn't mean the process is actually unfair – only that it suggests some students are having trouble adjusting to the changing norms on campus sexual assault.”

Bruno perpetuated the “guilty until proven innocent” mantra against those accused of sexual assault that is permeating college campuses.

“I don't have sympathy for the guy who assaults somebody and thinks he's been railroaded,” Bruno said. “The cases where students are deluding themselves into thinking that what they did wasn't rape and sexual assault? I think those are 85 percent of boys coming forward saying, 'I was railroaded.’ ”

Of course, Bruno has no more proof of her 85 percent claim than I have to say 85 percent of college women are turning regrets and failed relationships into rape or sexual assault.

Smith also interviewed Annie Clark, labeled as “a student survivor turned activist.”

“If a survivor is told that they would have to face their rapist, and that person would be allowed to interrogate them, that could absolutely have a chilling effect,” Clark said.

If due process were included in campus sexual assault hearings, however, the accuser would have a right to counsel as well. The accuser would have someone helping them through the ordeal, preparing them for the cross-examination. Though all the preparation in the world won’t make it easier for accusers to face those who they believe assaulted them, that fear shouldn’t be the basis to remove due process rights from another person.

Schools should continue looking for ways to make accusers feel more comfortable reporting a crime – whether to police or to campus administrators. But that comfort should not be obtained by hamstringing the accused and labeling them guilty before they’ve even had a chance to make their cases.

With so many campus sexual assault reports coming down to “he said, she said,” automatically taking one side’s word over the other will never provide justice — for either party.

Smith ends her report with an interesting idea — that different levels of due process be used depending on the potential punishment.

“For example, a student accused of misconduct, who might only be required to change dorms, may be entitled to less due process than someone facing the more severe punishment of expulsion — which might permanently mar his record and impact his life,” Smith wrote.

That could be an acceptable compromise, because in the current landscape, expelling a student — an act that ruins futures — without allowing them to tell their side of the story or provide their own evidence is what’s leading to more and more lawsuits.

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