Why universities should decide sexual assault cases

Approximately 20% of women and 7% of men experience rape or sexual assault while attending college, but only 20% of these incidents are reported to law enforcement. This gap in reporting represents a significant issue, not only in terms of accountability but also in the protection of college students through law enforcement. However, Title IX in the Education Amendments of 1972 grants and expects colleges to combat sexual discrimination, gender inequality, and other forms of violence or misconduct. This amendment prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational program that receives federal assistance, making it applicable to sexual assault, which perpetuates gender inequality. Thus, if a university wishes to maintain its federal funding, it is the university’s responsibility to prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence. Since sexual violence can impact someone’s access to education, holding perpetrators accountable on all levels is crucial for the community and victims of sexual assault. Therefore, universities should be authorized to handle sexual assault cases.

Regarding accountability for cases of sexual assault, it is essential to acknowledge the extensive amount of time that criminal trials take. Many cases go on for years before a verdict is reached, and even after a lengthy trial, only one-fifth of sexual assault cases lead to prosecution. According to Know Your IX, “even survivors who report to the police are often abandoned by the system. Only a quarter of all reported rapes lead to an arrest, only a fifth lead to prosecution, and only half of those prosecutions result in felony convictions.” Many survivors of sexual assault are hesitant to involve law enforcement due to fear of skepticism or judgment from officers. Others are discouraged from contacting law enforcement due to concerns about retaliation from the assailant, which is intensified by the fact that only three out of every 100 assailants are imprisoned. University-controlled civil procedures can be an alternative method of pursuing justice and establishing safety on college campuses.

Through Title IX regulations, universities have a unique opportunity to assist survivors and create a safer campus environment. This alternative procedure can be used for smaller infractions as well. Another common obstacle to reporting sexual assault is not feeling validated as a victim. Not every sexual assault case is rape or even violent, but everyone deserves to be heard and protected. Police departments often lack the resources to investigate every infraction, such as harassment, crude jokes, or stalking. These cases, which may not rise to the level of criminal conduct, demonstrate the effectiveness and necessity of university civil operations. Additionally, not all states have laws that cover sexual violence from all angles. Many states have laws that exclude men from being victims altogether or that do not include same-sex encounters. For some victims, their university is the only way to obtain justice because disciplinary action can be taken through the university even when there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal action.

There is a common misconception that Title IX allows universities to act as the law. However, this is far from the truth. Universities and law enforcement can work simultaneously on cases; filing through Title IX does not prevent someone from taking legal action as well. Universities act as a supplemental form of justice for everyone, including those who wish to involve law enforcement and those who do not. As the article Why schools handle sexual violence reports explains, “This isn’t a replacement for reporting to the police; it’s a parallel option for survivors based on civil rights – rather than criminal – law.” Schools should not wait for the conclusion of a criminal trial to begin their investigation. University civil cases for sexual assault work as an additional opportunity to prioritize safety on campuses. This can allow victims to feel safe even in the midst of a criminal trial.

Despite the beneficial aspects of universities deciding on sexual assault cases, there is significant opposition as well. Nearly every aspect of Title IX has been debated, particularly regarding sexual assault. Some argue that Title IX should not be applicable to sexual assault cases at all, questioning whether sexual assault is discriminatory in nature. Nancy Gertner counters this argument by stating, “Sexual misconduct impairs a woman’s ability to function as an equal in an academic environment and, by extension, menaces all women” (2015). One major issue with universities deciding on sexual assault cases is the investigative process. Critics contend that the new policies are of questionable constitutionality and have turned campus sexual assault hearings into “kangaroo courts” that ignore the accused’s due process rights to obtain easy convictions. This question of constitutionality arises from the lack of due process and concrete trial policy seen in campus sexual assault hearings. According to the 2011 guidance, the civil trials that universities hold are not substantial enough to warrant due process because they will never result in incarceration. Therefore, concerns about unconstitutionality are not valid.

It is true that trials, hearings, and investigations held by universities are not perfect. They can result in “reports of false charges, biased proceedings, and due process violations” (Gertner, 2015), but all of these concerns also occur in some criminal trials. Instead of not allowing universities to decide on sexual assault cases, options exist to make the process more regulated and transparent to reduce negative outcomes. Improving federal enforcement of Title IX so schools actually follow legal requirements can be a viable solution to reduce complaints about the process of Title IX hearings.

In general, nothing is perfect, and Title IX is no exception. However, Title IX was created as a safeguard to reduce discrimination and address campus safety concerns for students and staff members. It has proven useful in allowing victims of sexual assault further protections that do not involve the uncertainty and length of a criminal trial. The criminal justice system also receives constant backlash for how they handle sexual assault reports and investigations. Therefore, uncertainties surrounding Title IX should be further investigated as a means to improve the amendment and its implementation. The decision for civil protection can be used with or in the absence of a criminal investigation and trial. Universities deciding on sexual assault cases allows for the victim’s needs to be fully assessed and can provide safety in a timely manner compared to criminal trials. Not requiring or allowing universities to decide on sexual assault cases eliminates an additional layer of protection, safety, and accountability for victims of sexual assault.

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