Instead, the message here is, “Do not even think about reporting a rape or sexual harassment on campus, or we will make you wish you hadn’t.”
If either of these proposed measures passed, a federal law that’s supposed to prevent discrimination against women would be used in a new way to discriminate against them by systematically favoring those who are accused over those who’ve filed a complaint. In essence, the accused would become a protected class. How’s that for upside-down thinking?
These bills are such an over-correction to the alleged over-correction of Obama-era enforcement of Title IX that the Missouri Senate version sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine does not even differentiate between an assault claim that is false and an assault claim that a panel cannot or will not corroborate.
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That’s jaw-dropping, given that this legislation would thus make it possible for the accused to successfully sue a victim for filing a complaint, even if the assault happened but the accused student was for whatever reason found “not responsible.”
Here’s where we are now: A world in which we’re choosing up teams on everything, with Republicans championing the rights of the accused — but only when the accused are college boys, and the crime in question is sexual assault or harassment. Democrats, meanwhile, are carrying the banner for the rights of the mostly female victims of assault and harassment.
But there is no reason this should be “boys versus girls.” The choice is not between whether we’d rather see rape victims re-victimized or the lives of wrongly accused young men ruined. Both of these outcomes are unacceptable, even if the former happens a lot more often than the latter.
The right course is to fully investigate each case and then act on the facts, whatever they are. That’s what the sponsors of the Missouri bills say they want, too. But that is not what would happen as a result of their legislation, the goal of which, as The Star’s news story said, is “giving the accused more power over the process.”
So much more power that those accused of campus sexual assault in any Missouri school would as a result enjoy more protections than in any other state. Is this really the recruitment tool we’re looking for?
Both proposals would change how Missouri universities handle complaints under Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972, which address discrimination in education “on the basis of sex.”
The House version would allow the cross examination of victims, and both versions say that if the administrative courts find that a student was not given due process, a student can sue his or her university and the employees who conducted the investigation.
In 2011, former President Barack Obama issued what’s become known as the “Dear Colleague” letter that changed how universities are supposed to investigate such claims in two main ways: It required that the investigations be done in a timely manner, because previously, the probes tended to drag on and on, and as they did, women had to keep attending classes with their rapists. If the accused was an athlete, those investigations tended to wrap up when the player’s eligibility ran out.
The Obama guidance also urged schools to adhere to the civil standard of evidence as they always should have, but not all did: the preponderance of the evidence, from the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.
All workplace investigations of discrimination of any kind use this lower standard, but the push from Republicans across the country has been to compel rape victims to go to the police instead of to campus disciplinary boards that they say are ill-equipped to handle such serious matters.
In theory, that makes sense, but in reality, rape kits still go untested, and it’s still more difficult than it ought to be to successfully prosecute rape. That’s especially the case when the accused is a college sports hero. Another reality is that schools often have cozy, conflicted relationships with their local police departments and district attorneys.
The campus boards were supposed to give victims a more realistic way to avoid having to attend classes with a perpetrator. And the “Dear Colleague” letter was intended to address the widely ignored and routinely mishandled problem of campus assault. It was supposed to reduce the risk of tragedies like the 2011 suicide of University of Missouri swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, who told doctors, a nurse and counselors that she had been raped by a football player the previous year.
“Republican legislators see these boys as under attack, but it’s not the fault of Title IX” or the “Dear Colleague” letter, said Kathy Redmond, one of the country’s best known advocates for victims. When the accused is not treated fairly, “it’s the fault of administrators” who are not applying it correctly.
Redmond, a political conservative who no longer considers herself a Republican, says that her challenge to her former party — she’s an independent now — is to help her understand “why Republicans see white males as victims. The law-and-order party was doing nothing to protect women before, and now it protects perpetrators. I struggle greatly with this.”
She said regularly hears from victims, including from Missouri schools, who still haven’t reported their rapes because “they knew nothing would happen.”
There’s little doubt even more victims would feel that way if Missouri lawmakers pass either of the measures aimed at turning Title IX on its head.