Rape on campus, and due process of law

There’s a new documentary film out about how college administrators frequently ignore rape of students on campus.

I think there is an inherent problem with pursuing charges of rape through complaints about violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments rather than the criminal courts.

Title IX bans discrimination based on sex, on penalty of losing federal aid.  The argument is that failure to punish rapists is a form of sex discrimination.  The standard of proof violation of Title IX in an administrative proceeding is less than that required for conviction of a felony in the criminal courts.

I can understand why rape victims hesitate to complain to the police.  Rape is the only crime which, sadly, is regarded as shaming to the victim, and also is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The problem is that college administrations are not set up to administer criminal justice and they have a conflict of interest between doing justice and protecting the good name of the college.

A trained prosecutor is the best qualified person to deal with an actual crime, and college students should be subject to the same laws as everybody else.  Keeping college rape cases out of the criminal courts is the equivalent of the “benefit of clergy” during the Middle Ages.


A college professor named Adam Kotsko says this is an example of how certain people suffer less from committing actual crimes than other people from saying the supposedly wrong thing:

What’s strange to me, though, is that students are always right about very trivial matters, but in the eyes of administrators, they are only very seldom right about much more serious offenses.

When a professor is accused of sexual exploitation of students, for instance, suddenly he can count on institutional backing and the glories of tenure.

There is a similar mismatch between students who are uncomfortable reading Huck Finn (always right!) and those who are uncomfortable being in class with a fellow student who has raped them (let’s not be hasty…).

One almost begins to think that administrators are opportunistically deploying student complaints as weapons in their ongoing war against faculty job security, while taking an equally opportunistic approach to more serious accusations that could significantly damage the institution’s reputation.

And maybe part of the education we as faculty can provide to students is how to recognize these dynamics and start fighting the real enemy.

I am not an academic, and I don’t know how widespread these attitudes are, but what he writes sounds right.


Kids these days by Adam Kotsko for An und für sich.

Sexual assault victims speak out against number of campus ‘cover-ups’ by Gianna Toboni for Daily Mail Online.

Rape on the Campus by Zoe Heller for the New York Review of Books.  The case for due process of law.

I’m a liberal professor and my liberal students terrify me by “Edward Schlosser” for Vox.

I was a liberal adjunct professor.  My kids didn’t scare me at all by Amanda Taub for Vox.

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2 Responses to “Rape on campus, and due process of law”

  1. Perette Barella Says:

    Rape is abhorrent, and I’m glad the issue is finally being getting more attention on campuses. But I’m also worried about overshooting the mark, especially when it comes to date rape and such. Michael Crichton’s novel _Disclosure_ relates an incident involving sexual harassment accusations, and the relating confusion, differing agendas, after-the-fact changes of mind, and accusations used as weapons. And there’s a problem that even if some is cleared, it’s assumed to be because “they got away with it,” not because they didn’t do it.

    Certainly, with “traditional” rape, where sex is forced by an unknown assailant, there is little question. But when it comes between friends, or after a date, especially if there’s alcohol or intoxicants involved, then there’s a mess. As colleges are obliged to toughen up, I expect the same pitfalls that Crichton documents, since date rape falls in between traditional rape and sexual harassment. This is a very sticky area, and simply buckling down (as will happen given the aggressive push and media attention) will overshoot the mark; this needs finesse and care that, sadly, is unlikely to happen.


    • philebersole Says:

      Someone guilty of a crime deserves a harsher penalty than a college administration can impose.

      Someone innocent of a crime deserves better due process of law than a college administration can provide.


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