Rape Is a Crime, Treat It as Such
March 12, 2013
Pop quiz: what major felony should be investigated and adjudicated by amateurs, in secret, without subpoena powers, a right to representation, or any kind of due process controls?
Did you say rape? If so, you probably work in university student affairs, where mock justice systems have been pretending to adjudicate sexual assault cases for decades. And it’s time for that to stop.
That the campus disciplinary process is faster than the criminal justice system does not make it better. It would be even faster to aid victims immediately and leave guilt to the courts.
The secrecy of these processes is often touted as a benefit on the theory that victims are more likely to report sexual assault if no one will find out it happened. But that very secrecy means that even the guilty will be walking the streets, potentially meeting their next victims. And participating in the culture of shame is what perpetuates the culture of shame.
Even if we thought this process was competent to investigate the cases (which it is not), it would remain a pointless exercise, because the strongest sanction in this process is expulsion.
Let’s assume someone is guilty of sexual assault. If that individual is sent to the criminal justice system, the worst case scenario is that he’s acquitted, which results in a rapist walking the streets. If that individual is sent to the campus disciplinary system, the best case scenario is that he’s expelled, which results in a rapist walking the streets.
When the best case outcome of the campus disciplinary process is the worst case outcome of the criminal justice process, you have to ask: What is this process for?
This is not to say that universities should not be offering services to victims. Student affairs professionals absolutely should offer counseling, re-arrange class schedules and dorm assignments, create independent studies and otherwise ensure that a victim feels safe and does not have to see the accused. None of that requires an ersatz court.
If student affairs professionals want to help victims, they can do that by helping victims, without the pretense of these Star Chambers. Leave justice to the justice system.