According to a March 2 press release, a University of Virginia rape victim has filed a landmark civil rights action in an effort to halt the Campus SaVE Act – a new U.S. federal law which is scheduled to take effect this week, on March 7.
The suit alleges that SaVE undermines women’s civil rights in various ways, including that it permits colleges and universities to mandate that victims prove their credibility under an exceedingly rigorous “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In contrast, the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Department of Education as a clarification/guidance for Title IX requires only that victims meet a much lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Under SaVE, the higher burden of proof will only be allowed in cases involving violence against women, and will not be applied to cases involving violence against students based on other protected class categories such as race, disabilities and ethnicity. The victim alleges in her suit that it is unconstitutional to subject violence against women to weaker legal standards compared to violence based on these other categories.
Another objectionable provision in SaVE requires schools to apply state criminal law standards to violence against women cases on campus. Current law requires schools to apply more generous federal civil rights standards so that, for example, a sexual assault is proved as long as the conduct was “unwelcome.” Under SaVE, “unwelcomeness” will not be enough. The victim will have to prove that the conduct violated state criminal law, which in most states means the victim will have to prove both non-consent and that the assault involved the use of force.
Because the more generous standard of “unwelcomeness” will continue to apply to cases involving violence that occurs on the basis of race, disabilities and ethnicity, the victim alleges SaVE violates women’s equal protection and due process rights.
UVA is under investigation by the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for allegedly mishandling a sexual assault case on campus where a female student was drugged and raped by a male student. Allegations include that a UVA nurse falsified medical records and reported there were no injuries consistent with sexual assault despite multiple findings of significant injuries; and that UVA lost or destroyed photographs of the victim’s injuries.
According to the press release, UVA has not expelled a single student charged with sexual assault in more than 10 years. In the case currently under federal investigation, UVA’s own Sexual Misconduct Board ruled that the victim was “compelling” and “credible,” yet the Board cleared the accused of all charges, ruling the evidence was insufficient. UVA later granted the accused a teaching assistant position on campus.
Many advocacy groups have expressed support for the funding provisions in SaVE that will go toward anti-violence training and education programs. Those provisions are not being challenged in the lawsuit.