Sure, you can bring a lawyer (who can’t talk)
College attorneys were bowled over with bliss when Trump administration officials promised to pull back on the open-ended, guilty-until-proven-innocent investigations their predecessors led – investigations that incentivized schools to punish accused students regardless of evidence.
They shouldn’t get too excited yet.
Due process for accused students is still a cause with a vanishingly small constituency, as evidenced by a report released last month by a New Jersey campus sexual-assault task force appointed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Brooklyn College Prof. KC Johnson, co-author of The Campus Rape Frenzy, writes in The Wall Street Journal that the task force seems intent on carrying on where the Obama administration’s Department of Education left off:
The panel, dominated by academic administrators and victim advocates, based most of its work on the assumption that university investigations are meant to validate accusations rather than test them.
The report urged Garden State schools to ensure that “equal representation is provided to survivors and the accused” and to develop “an investigation and adjudication model that honors the survivor [and] the respondent.” To describe an accuser as a “survivor” before the complaint is adjudicated is to prejudge the case. Patricia Teffenhart, one of the task force’s leaders, implicitly concedes the point: She told me the panel did intentionally “interchange (at times) the words ‘survivor’ and ‘complainant,’ ” so as to “avoid seeming to be one-sided.” [This is similar to the explanation Minnesota Daily gave me for why it referred to an accuser as “victim-survivor.”]
Ms. Teffenhart added that the task force paid “specific attention” to the accused’s ability to mount a defense, and the report does recommend that schools appoint an “adviser” for students charged with sexual assault. But it neuters that safeguard by urging colleges to ensure the adviser is “without a voice” in disciplinary hearings. That leaves students who have no legal training to fend for themselves, often against college lawyers or administrators who know and control the proceeding.
As with other reports that recommend accuser-centric investigation practices, this task force cites the dubious and methodologically suspect statistic that one in five (or four!) women will be sexually assaulted in college.
Observer reports that it downplays the fairly obvious factor behind so many alleged assaults – alcohol-fueled confusion between sexual partners – and instead “recommends increased education for students about the inability to legally consent if alcohol is involved.”
The task force’s source for deciding if a person is legally incapacitated? The infamous 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter released by the Office for Civil Rights, which does not bother to define “incapacitation” – a higher standard than simply being drunk.
And it’s not just New Jersey that’s working overtime to ensure accused students are put at a disadvantage in campus adjudications.
White college women get all the attention
Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos* asking her to overturn the Office for Civil Rights’ measured new approach.
Last month’s directive to field staff by acting OCR chief Candice Jackson – to only open broader investigations when the evidence suggests there’s a pattern of Title IX violations – is intended to reduce an enormous backlog of Obama-era investigations that stretched on for years by design, depriving justice to both complainants and respondents but giving OCR an excuse to demand huge funding increases from Congress.
The senators claim this judicious use of resources and interest in providing timely justice is “hindering” efforts to root out rapists:
We have seen through our work on this issue that often if a school fails to protect students from sexual assault or mishandles an incident of sexual assault that this is rarely an isolated case on that campus. Far too often, when cases of mismanagement are brought to light, it is part of a larger pattern that includes a campus climate where victims are afraid to come forward and the institution has systematically discouraged reporting and failed to prevent these crimes. OCR’s decision to only address the specific complaint fails to protect all students as required by Title IX.
Just who has “systematically discouraged” the full investigation of “these crimes”? Precisely rape-culture propagandists like Gillibrand and McCaskill, who insist that reporting rape allegations to police and pursuing justice through real courts (not kangaroo courts) is misogynistic and anti-victim.
The narrow focus by these privileged white women on sexual assaults on campus – perhaps the least likely place you can get raped in America – is part of a broader problem in journalism, as Amanda Hess of The New York Times recently told a conference dedicated to media coverage of sexual violence:
When Rolling Stone retracted “A Rape on Campus,” the story became evidence of the specific kinds of stories that journalists often like to tell about sexual violence …
Here are some ways in which Jackie is described in the Rolling Stone story: She is “a chatty, straight-A achiever” who “wasn’t a drinker.” She was proud of herself for having selecting “a tasteful red dress with a high neckline” to head out on her date. When they arrived at the fraternity party, Jackie was “sober but giddy.” When her crush asked her to go upstairs, where it was quiet and they could talk, “her heart quickened.”
So: She was romantic, naïve, modest, innocent. She was also young, pretty and white, a fact that was emphasized in the illustrations that appeared with the piece.
Hess fact-checks Gillibrand by name, saying the crusading senator is wrong that “women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus”:
That’s another little myth that’s likely been communicated to the public and to senators alike by virtue of the sheer volume of stories that have been told about campus rape in recent years. Being a young woman does put a person at a higher risk of sexual victimization, but if you’re a young woman who goes to college, that actually helps to lower your risk. …
What would journalism look like if it accurately reflected the whole scope of sexual violence? We would see more working-class victims, elderly victims, some male victims, too. We would read stories about abuse committed not just by strangers or sadistic frat boys but by family members and committed partners, not just in elite colleges but in detention facilities. Why it is that we seem to be reporting so much on the sexual assaults experienced by white women in college, often to the exclusion of these other crimes?
Good question. These rich white women in the world’s greatest deliberative body should check their privilege.
IMAGE: Andrey Popov/Shutterstock