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PR: ‘Totalitarian Justice:’ Criticisms of Campus Sex Assault Panels Intensify

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‘Totalitarian Justice:’ Criticisms of Campus Sex Assault Panels Intensify

WASHINGTON / April 29, 2013 – Three articles sharply critical of the handling of sex assault cases by campus disciplinary committees were published this past week. The critiques suggest college administrators may need to re-evaluate whether the federally mandated sex assault panels are rendering a disservice to victims, to the accused, and to the principle of justice itself, according to Stop Abusive and Violent Environments.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on April 16, Judith Grossman describes the experience of her son, a student at a New England liberal-arts college (1). The panel’s hearing consisted of a “two-hour ordeal of unabated grilling” during which he was “expressly denied his request to be represented by counsel.” Grossman, a lawyer and self-described feminist, charges the student courts have “obliterated the presumption of innocence that is so foundational to our traditions of justice.”

The following day Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, and Jane Shaw, president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education, penned a critique of the University of North Carolina’s adjudication of a recent rape case (2).

After the accuser criticized the student panel for exonerating the accused, the university then proceeded to charge her with engaging in “disruptive or intimidating” behavior. Lewis and Shaw allege the student was denied her First Amendment rights, and conclude sexual assault cases are “certainly beyond the capacity” of campus disciplinary courts.

The sharpest critique appeared in the Northern Kentucky Law Review. Titled “A Hostile Environment for Student Defendants: Title IX and Sexual Assault on College Campuses,” attorney Stephen Henrick highlights the inherent conflicts of interest in college disciplinary panels (3).

One of these conflicts Henrick describes as ideological. At Stanford University, for example, a training manual advises sexual assault fact-finders that “persuasive and logical” statements by the accused should be interpreted as a sign of guilt.

“In the former Soviet Union, defendants were often denied legal counsel, freedom of speech was a legal fiction, and protestations of innocence were taken as evidence of guilt,” notes SAVE spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Now we are seeing a similar form of totalitarian justice, imposed by federal fiat on American universities in the name of curbing sexual assault.”

To date, over 110 editorials have criticized the Department of Education policy (4). Thirteen national organizations, including the American Association for University Professors, have called for repeal of the federal mandate (5).

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is a victim-advocacy organization working for evidence-based solutions to domestic violence and sexual assault: