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College Justice, Where Are You? 

Imagine being a college student who has falsely been accused of sexual assault; then imagine you were suspended or expelled from college simply because of these allegations. No hearing, no courts, no due process. College is supposed to be a new and exciting time but for a third of male college students this is not the case. It is estimated that 1 in 3 male college students will suffer this fate.  False accusations are occurring more than they should and the sad part is these students will be failed by a system which should be equally protecting them.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, campuses are required to prevent and remedy sexual assault cases or they face losing federal funding. In the past, campuses have had a reputation for not taking students’ complaints of sexual assault seriously; so, federal mandates have been put in place beginning with the Obama administration reinterpreting Title IX to the U.S. Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter. These mandates have put pressure on campus to find more accused students responsible, instead of the truth of the allegations. According to the Department of Education’s regulations, state schools must have a “prompt and equitable” procedure for resolving sexual assault complaints. These mandates also included adopting a “preponderance of evidence” standard. Under the preponderance of evidence standard due process is non- existent, meaning a hearing is not required, the accused does not have the right to appeal or have an attorney, and campuses are discouraged from permitting cross-examinations. Because of these mandates and regulations, the accused students are being suspended and expelled without the protections they would normally receive in the criminal justice system.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced she is moving to end the sexual assault procedures on campus set forth by the Obama administration. DeVos mentioned the current Title IX policies often denied due process to the accused, and that is what they are looking to change. Some feel this allows campuses to weaken their procedures for handling sexual assault cases and makes it more difficult for victims to seek justice. While others feel it will allow the accused a fair investigation.

There are detrimental effects for those who have been falsely accused of sexual assaults. In the case of  Andrew Doe v Ole Miss, a third party, who is unnamed, claimed “Andrew Doe” sexually assaulted “Bethany Roe.” Although Roe and Andrew both claimed they had consensual sex, Doe was never formally charged with a crime and Roe never filed a complaint. The University Judicial Council found Andrew guilty and expelled him from the university. The charge is permanently on his record. In Zackary Hunt vs. Denison University and Sophia Celeste Lee,  Zackary Hunt lost a $30,000 scholarship and his place on the University’s football team when he was falsely accused of sexual assault. In Joshua Strange v Auburn University, a grand jury failed to indict Joshua Strange in criminal court but Auburn University found him in violation of the student code of conduct and expelled him from the University. 

Over the last eight years more students are starting to sue colleges when they feel campuses violated their rights under Title IX.  In the case John Doe v. Swarthmore the college was accused of violating “John Doe’s” student rights after he was falsely accused of sexual misconduct. John Doe won and the suspension was lifted. This is not the norm; however, as cases seldom win in criminal court, but the costs for colleges to defend themselves is adding up. Nothing can replace the reputation lost or the mental and emotional toll false accusations take on accused students. With the help from lawyers, parents, and advocacy groups falsely accused students can fight back. While these students believe, their rights have been taken away, anti-rape advocates see it a different way. Anti-rape advocates believe that colleges are now paying more attention to sexual assaults on campuses and offenders are starting to cry foul. They believe most people who are accused of sexual assault would contend that they are innocent. 

Sexual assault on campus is a serious problem. There are not many educational issues debated more than how colleges should deal with sexual misconduct. Of course, Title IX has its challenges, all policies do, but regardless, protocols should be clear that ALL students are protected equally. Have efforts to protect sexual assault victims lead to policies that infringe on the civil right of men?  

This post was authored by Jessica Sherwood, a masters student in Higher Education Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio. 

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Reader Comments (8)

The "1 in 3 male college students" statistic is misstated from the original student and a false premise on which to base these conclusions. Additionally, students are allowed to have an advisor of their choosing, which may be an attorney, though that person is to act as an advisor not counsel. If truth is our most important concern, I would start with these two...

April 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRC

As one of the co-reviewers of this article I cannot confirm the 1/3 statistic because I have not done all the math that John Villasenor did for the cited paper, A probabilistic framework for modelling false Title IX ‘convictions’ under the preponderance of the evidence standard. However, I can confirm that the writers of the Washington Post article are from a very trusted group, The Volokh Conspiracy, who are a group of lawyers that started as a blog and are now on Eugene Volokh, founder of The Volokh Conspiracy, is by no means a close friend of mine, but he is a friend and one that I have been reading for years.

As for the rest, the Truth is that somewhere between 2-10% of cases are false accusations from what can be told so far, but it is not easy and there is still a lot of research to be done.


April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKyle Richey

I agree that sexual assault is a major problem, but I also think that it has been swept under the rug for many years. Like you had mentioned they can lose federal funding. We now take training on how to repot things that we see that are "illegal or not right". But after reported, unless it goes to a criminal case I think its not given much thought. Since the #METOO campaign I am sure more people are reporting now and feel that they can tell someone but what are we doing about it, and preventing it?

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Redwine

Campus rape accusations pose grave consequences - both for the accused and the accuser - that may involve expulsion and the transcendence of a malignant, irrevocable reputation. Therefore, it is reasonable that critics of the Obama's Preponderance of Evidence era, established in his "Dear Colleague" letter, call for more of a clear and convincing standard that resembles the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt burden prevalent in criminal court.

Unfortunately, colleges and universities across the nation have conceded to the risk of error, crucifying the accused unjustly under the preponderance standard. The lack of plausible definition to characterize sexual assault has excluded the accused from ongoing investigations, leaving it up to fate while internalizing emotional turmoil inevitably suffered. Schools should be extremely vigilant of this error in the miscarriage of justice. Instead of implementing measures to safeguard these errors, DeVos' recession simply grants the accused a greater chance of walking away.

The reason why the Preponderance of Evidence standard should stand is because both the accused and the accuser are placing their reputations on the line. The implications for being losing in trial imprints the Scarlet Letter as a "rapist" for the accused and "liar" for the accuser. The consequences of the accused losing in court is well known: expulsion and being branded as a rapist, thus, impeding his (or her) efforts to transfer to another higher education institution. Not often covered are the equally grave consequences for the accuser: the immense weight of shame if the accused survives trial - not to mention the traumatic experience of encountering the accused on campus.

The 50/50 chance of being right captures the irrevocable consequences in campus rape accusation. However, specific guidelines and definition must be instilled rather than the sweeping overhaul of campus sexual assault policies.

April 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDeon Turner

When I think of Betsy DeVos, I admit that I am biased against her due to my experience as a public school educator. There is a lot I do not agree with her about. I also am a huge advocate for making sure justice is swift and appropriate when it comes to situations of sexual assault. Always believe the victim is my mantra, but after reading this article, I can now see how there might be specific situations where the accused is just that, accused. I can only imagine as a parent how I would feel if I got a call from my son or daughter that they were accused of sexual assault and they told me they did not do it. I would defend my own child and make sure that due process has been granted. If my child is guilty, then my child is guilty, but I would appreciate more investigation on the accused side. Again, this is not saying that I would not believe the victim, I believe there must be due process for their part as well, but after reading this I do believe that there should be more legality on both sides what with students becoming braver and finally reporting assaults that are happening to them. I've read plenty of news articles where the victim was not believed due to the accused having legacy ties to the university and I feel the first step of due process across the nation for both sides, we must have objective views and a non biased investigating committee to make sure that both sides were heard and justice is served appropriately. If it is an obvious case where the accused is guilty, that makes the cost of investigating smaller, and due process to happen faster than normal. This will probably be the one thing I agree with DeVos about, but I will not be satisfied until the legal process of both sides has been taken into consideration in an objective, non biased standpoint. Great blog post Jessica!

April 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos Villarreal

Like the first commenter, I found the 1 in 3 college males statistic to be unbelievable. And the article cited did not use 1 in 3 college males as the statistic. While I agree due process for all students is important, I still find the prevalence of sexual assault and misconduct on campus disturbing. I find it disturbing that students are fabricating stories, and I find it disturbing that so many stories are never even reported. I do not think the students accused should be scapegoats or made to be an example for all the unreported cases. I wonder what other strategies campuses could incorporate to ensure that all students feel safe and protected. I personally believe there are more unreported instances out there than there are fabricated stories. And until we have a way to protect those students who feel unsafe to even report, we will also continue to face challenges with due process of the accusers. I think this is also an example of where sometimes universities should not be handling these types of cases and they should be turned over to the court system. As seen in the Penn State and Baylor examples, when administrators try to handle the situation themselves, worse things happen.

May 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Severance

Campus rape is starting to become more known throughout institutions. This has been happening more since the #MeToo. It is giving more women and men the chance to speak up. After reading this article I never thought of the students that are being falsely accused. Some women get mad just because something happens to them with the accused. I am not stating that all the people that are accused are innocent, but institutions should look more into on giving their students due process. It will help both the accuser and accused have some justices within the higher education.

May 7, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterApril Vasquez

This one is tough for me. It is definitely a hot topic. I see both sides. I want justice for the victim especially because often times victims, mainly females, never get any kind of justice or even a day in court. I do however do have an issue with what happens when a student is wrongly accused and loses everything. The campus has a duty to both students and they deserve a fair trial. Secondly I believe that it is found that the "victim" has falsely accused another student of sexual misconduct that that student should be expelled and pay the accused student a fee of some sort. Once something has been said you can't take it back. The damage is done. I just hope that universities can see that one day.

May 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTarecka Payne

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