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Op-Ed: Campus judicial systems are kangaroo courts


After conducting a four-month long investigation into the alleged University of Virginia gang rape first reported in Rolling Stone by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in November 2014, police concluded that they were unable to find a shred of evidence in support of the victim’s story.

Gross inconsistencies discovered in the police investigation and the alleged victim’s earlier statements have left the public wondering if the true victim in the Rolling Stone story is “Jackie,” the alleged victim or the accused who, as in many other campus rape cases, had their reputations burnt at the stake despite the absence of any incriminating evidence. Could the campus rape epidemic become the Salem Witch Trials of the 21st century?

In 2013, a female student at Occidental College texted a fellow student asking if he had a condom (apparent code for “want to have sex?”). Days later, the woman filed rape charges against her partner. Prosecutors determined that both parties had consented to sex. Nevertheless, Occidental College administrators took it upon themselves to conduct their own investigation, which resulted in the expulsion of the male student.

At Hobart and William Smith College, a campus court clearly lacking in investigational expertise acquitted all the accused despite medical evidence consistent with rape and incriminating eyewitness accounts.

Surprisingly, both Occidental and HWS College were just doing what many colleges across the country have to do in response to pressure from the federal government to address the so-called campus rape epidemic: bypass the criminal justice system to arbitrate felony sex crimes in an on-campus kangaroo court. Lacking in due process, incarceration powers and the institutional competence to arbitrate felony sex crimes (or anything beyond plagiarized homework, for that matter), campus courts are simultaneously failing to punish real rapists adequately and branding innocent students as rapists when indeed no rape took place.

Due to increasing pressure from the federal government and anti-rape activists to address campus rapes, universities like Columbia, Dartmouth, Vanderbilt have begun to label any sexual liaison after a few sips of alcohol as rape. The distinction between “victim” and “assailant” gets murkier when both students are drunk, as is often the case. It may be preposterous to suggest that the male drunk driver is automatically presumed guilty when colliding into a female drunk driver, however, when two drunken students ‘collide,’ the male student is almost always found guilty. At Harvard, 28 law professors recently condemned the university’s new sexual assault procedures as overly broad and fundamentally unfair. No wonder we are experiencing a campus rape epidemic.

The claim that one in five college women are raped is manufactured by counting almost every drunken sex as rape, even if the “victims” themselves do not believe they were raped. Of course, even a single rape is too high, and must be taken seriously.

Anti-rape activists who encourage victims to bypass police and go straight to college administration are unwittingly endangering other women by allowing rapists to walk away with a slap on the wrist. Campus courts, limited to punishing students with mere suspensions and expulsions, are paradoxically helping real rapists avoid the serious jail time they would be facing under the criminal justice system.

To be sure, research tells us that rape is often underreported because victims fear they will not be believed. So it is important to train police investigators to be sensitive of victim’s feelings and build public trust in her words. False accusations, which studies show can be as high as 10 percent, are by far the most serious threat to a rape victim’s credence. Unless we stop pretending that false accusations don’t exist, public trust in genuine victims will be a major casualty.

Clearly, campus courts are not the entity we should turn to as the keepers of due process and student protection. Should we continue to pursue this route, the crisis will burden universities with additional costs in lawsuits, implicate innocent students, divert resources away from genuine victims and, as Gellian Greensite, founder of a rape prevention program at University of California Santa Cruz, points out, undermine the seriousness of the crime.

If we really want justice for college students, our first step must be to do away with the kangaroo courts on college campuses and place felony sex crime investigations where they belong: in the hands of the criminal justice system that guarantees a fair trial to the victim and the accused. It is a pity, helping genuine rape victims is not a priority to some.

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