Last week, Representative Earl Ehrhart, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee On Higher Education, had much to say about due process in collegiate judicial proceedings involving students, or lack thereof. Chairman Ehrhart’s criticism of the school’s judicial proceedings is actually completely legitimate.
Sexual assault allegations should be taken very seriously. It’s a problem plaguing many college campuses and in the past has been overlooked by campus officials (especially in cases of athletes). But now it’s 2016; society is outraged by sexual assault on college campuses and demands action be taken to protect victims. Great–it’s about time. Colleges are banning entire fraternities, suspending students, and taking legal action.
This all begs the question: At what point does the accused become a victim? Hear me out.
Remember when Rolling Stone published an article about a rape at the University of Virginia? Within months, the Rolling Stone retracted the story after the allegations proved to be untrue. “Jackie” lied about being raped. The accused, while his name was never made public, faced scrutiny by his peers. I can assure you the story did more damage to him than “Jackie”.
Closer to home, a Georgia Tech student was accused of rape by another male student who said he was heavily intoxicated and did not give the unidentified student consent. After an investigation, the unidentified student was expelled from Tech for rape. After further review, another investigation, and two lawsuits, the university was forced to reinstate the student and he was cleared of any wrongdoing. The accusation of rape stole a semester of college from the unidentified student and he was forced to come out as homosexual to his family.
USAToday wrote about the testimony from a mother of an accused student at Chairman Ehrhart’s committee.
In another case at Georgia Tech, a student was accused of sexual assault, reportedly for helping a drunk woman home and not doing anything to her. No, really. Here’s how Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner, who covered Monday’s Georgia legislative hearings, reported it: “The mother of the student accused of sexual misconduct also spoke. She told a story of her son helping a drunk woman home when she had lost her key. The accused student let the woman wait at his apartment until her roommate returned home to let her in, so that the woman wouldn’t be alone outside in the cold. Sometime later, another young woman accused the student of holding the alleged victim against her will, despite text messages from the drunk woman thanking the accused student for his help. The text messages were not allowed as evidence in the hearing. Even the alleged victim didn’t even believe she was the victim of anything. Yet on the word of a third-party, the accused student was suspended.”
So let’s get back to Chairman Ehrhart’s question: Do school’s judicial proceedings properly investigate male students or do they at times err on the side of the accuser?
In the UVA case, officials jumped to conclusions when the accuser had the facts wrong. In the Georgia Tech cases, officials ignored evidence that would have exonerated the accused. It seems the processes in place by universities are bias in favor of the accuser. It’s understandable given the horrific nature of sexual assault, but it seems the accused is guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, damage can be done before the case is truly resolved.
Overall, it’s a tricky issue. Victims of sexual assault deserve justice, but those innocently accused deserve a system that will protect them from vicious accusers. In the committee, Chairman Ehrhart demanded college presidents make due process protections for students before he discusses any state funds with them.
Chairman Ehrhart’s efforts opened the door to this conversation. Should these issues be handled on the university level or by the judicial system? How can we protect students wrongly accused of rape? In this day and age, we often seek to protect the victim, but sometimes the victim is the person who is wrongly accused.