There’s a very interesting op ed over at Feminist Wire which is well worth a read. (Thanks for the tip, L!) The author’s main point is that lost in the discussion of universities’ mishandling of sexual assault allegations is the question of why universities should be handling sexual assault allegations in the first place.
Three days after the first shot across the bow, the US Department of Education released the names of 55 colleges and universities currently under investigation for their mishandling of sexual assault cases. While I am pleased by this progress, one enormous question remains looming in my mind: why are colleges and universities “handling” sexual assault cases? If I were raped in the bathroom at my local supermarket, I wouldn’t expect the grocery store to “handle” it. I would call the cops and I imagine the grocery store would support that 100%. I’m not sure how or when this system of separate investigation and punishment began, but what it has created is a dangerous double standard that both perpetuates rape culture and allows some perpetrators to avoid well-deserved consequences.
Unfortunately, the author fails to address what I assume are the two main talking points of those who disagree with her. Firstly, universities can apply a lower standard of evidence than courtrooms – they don’t have to establish ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the assault took place in order to take action. That’s of particular importance for sexual assault cases – especially date rape or situations in which both parties were heavily intoxicated – where guilty verdicts in courtrooms are notoriously difficult to come by. Secondly, some students who wouldn’t want to go to the cops may nevertheless feel comfortable going and speaking to university administrators. So in-house procedures for reports of sexual assault can allow for action to be taken in situations were the victim is reluctant to speak with police or press formal charges.
Despite failing to address these points, though, the op ed is still a very interesting read. It presents one side of a conversation we should definitely be having.