Op-Ed: Many sexual assault ‘perpetrators’ deserve a government apology
A male UCF student spotted a female acquaintance walking through campus one day. He gave her a hug.
He thought it was harmless. She did not and alerted UCF’s Title IX office.
You’ve probably never heard of the Johns Committee, but it was a McCarthy-like commission that targeted civil rights leaders and gays in 1950s and 1960s, many of them at state universities.
Apologizing for the past is in vogue now, and those persecuted by the Johns Committee deserve an apology. So what about current-day victims of state-sponsored smears?
I’m talking about college students who were thrown into the kangaroo court system governing sexual assault.
It began in 2011 with a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Obama Administration’s Department of Education to universities that receive federal funding. That includes those in Florida’s State University System.
The letter recommended new guidelines. If they weren’t followed, colleges risked losing federal dollars.
The motive was good. They wanted to make it less horrifying for victims of sexual assault to come forward.
But the guidelines gave little thought to the accused.
Key word: Accused.
Not convicted, though you wouldn’t know it.
In many cases, students didn’t know they’d been charged until they were handed their convictions. They were not allowed to face their accusers, cross-examine witnesses or present evidence.
Title IX hearings can’t send you to jail, but sexual assault is a life-altering charge. Criminal courts require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The campus requirement was “preponderance of evidence,” the lowest burden of proof.
Schools were required to investigate “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” Like a completely clothed male hugging a completely clothed female in front of people during the middle of the day.
The unidentified male student spent six months fighting for his future.
“If you’re suspended for sexual misconduct, you’re essentially branded a rapist or sexual predator,” Miltenberg said.
The student eventually was found not guilty, which made him luckier than hundreds of others. A student in Oregon had no idea why he was told to immediately move off campus.
He ended up losing his job and dropping out of classes. All because a female student said “he reminded her of the man who had raped her months before a thousand miles away,” according to the Harvard Law Review.
Travesties like that mounted, but the U.S. Department of Education pressed ahead. Federal documents began referring to accusers as “victims” and the accused as “perpetrators.”
A school could appoint a single staff member to act as detective, prosecutor, judge and jury. It became such a legal joke that 28 Harvard law professors signed an open letter about the “Dear Colleague” letter, saying its guidelines were “so unfair as to be truly shocking.”
What’s shocking is the ongoing resistance to changing the system. The Trump Administration rescinded the “Dear Colleague” guidelines in 2017 and has been working with Congress to come up with new ones.
Among the recommendations are allowing representatives of the accused question the accuser. It’s a vital part of due process, which is the foundation of our legal system.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the reforms show “utter contempt for survivor justice by making schools unwelcoming and unsafe.”
Nobody wants that, of course. What we all want is a system that’s fair to both the accused and the accuser.
The Dear Colleague Star Chambers obviously failed to deliver. That’s why its victims have filed more than 500 lawsuits seeking to have their names cleared.
Colleges have settled many cases before going to trial. They are writing big checks, but the problems aren’t going away.
In fact, the overzealous crusade has made things worse. Not just for the accused, but also for the accusers.
Miltenberg and other lawyers are seeking class-action status for lawsuits, which means every case could be overturned in that jurisdiction or state-college system.
Theoretically, the cases could be re-tried. Women who really were sexually assaulted will have to relive their ordeals if they want justice.
There’s a word that was all but missing in the Title IX directives.
That led to a lot of innocent people being convicted. But a lot of guilty ones were, too.
The sad irony is all the verdicts could now be thrown out. So the Dear Colleague zealots not only owe a lot of “perpetrators” an apology, they should also apologize to a lot of authentic victims.
That’s what happens when you are seeking convictions, not the truth.