Campus sexual assault op-ed


I have an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “College Sex-Assault Trials Belong in Court, Not on Campus,” and there’s already a lively discussion in the comments. I would welcome your thoughts, on this site or that one.

6 thoughts on “Campus sexual assault op-ed

  1. I agree with the main thrust of this argument-that sexual assault should be prosecuted by law enforcement, not colleges. But I take issue with some of your other points, such as:

    1. Working against cultural supports against sexual violence. That phrase conceals more than it reveals. I guess you would be against all sorts of establishments around college campuses and student living spaces that sell alcohol and (growing) cannabis?

    2. No, the reasonable doubt standard is a good one for all criminal crimes-we should not have special carve-outs for this-or-that pet cause.

    3. And no, students should not be suspended from school for being charged with a crime. That was terrible what happened to those Duke lacrosse players years ago.


  2. Are any of these statements made in this article backed up by data:

    1.”scandals that repeatedly show administrators failing to properly investigate, punish, or educate their way out of the problem”

    Does data show that there are a large number of such scandals?

    2. “colleges’ most important obligation and best hope for solving the problem: educating students to change the culture around sexual violence.”

    This assumes that a problem exists; “Rape And Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013” shows that sexual violence in colleges to be smaller than the society, in general (it is entirely funny that the article about this fact is the number 1 article in the chronicle).

    3. “Rape law notoriously pits the status of the victim against that of the defendant”

    It does no such thing. There is no special thing as “rape law”. In any event, there is no data indicating that the “status” of the victim is a good indicator of cases being not selected for prosecution, or failure to win a conviction.

    4. ” The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 65 percent of rapes and sexual assaults”

    This is across the entire US; the BJS dos not provide data for colleges. The BJS stimates a total of 211,200 sexual assaults went unreported each year. I went through the NCVS data, and using college towns as a proxy for colleges, estimate no more than 5000 unreported sexual assault and rape data, no more than 2.5%. The subsequent line “On campus, those problems may be exacerbated by young women’s desire to protect their social reputations, by the high status of male perpetrators,” has no support. There is no evidence that the male perpetrators have high status, or women do not report because they wish to support the social status.

    5. “It’s not poor or marginalized men who are getting away with sexual assault in our faulty campus judicial proceedings.”

    Where is the data to show (1) a large number of people are getting away with sexual assault in “faulty” campus proceedings, and (2) a significant percentage of them are rich and unmarginalized men?

    6. “No one should suggest returning to the days of simply ignoring sex crimes, even if that were permitted under federal law”

    Which were the days when we ignored sex crime? which federal law permits that? in any case, state laws state precedence, even in college campuses.

    7. ” And suspend students who are charged with violent crimes, ”

    This was one big blooper. If you want to work with the criminal justice system, then the suspect is innocent, and cannot be suspended until proven guilty, even if he were arrested.

    I am not against moving sexual assault crimes into criminal justice system. However, this article is entirely fact free in arguing for that. In any case, I am willing to bet that moving 100% of assault cases to the criminal justice system will substantially REDUCE sexual assault cases and convictions in universities.


  3. 2 additional supports for emphasizing the criminal justice system:

    1. Several years ago a mutual friend (who will be anonymous because I may not be remembering the details 100% correctly) investigated domestic abuse cases. To her surpise, the victims all reported quite favorable opinions of how the police treated them — in sharp contrast to how they were treated by medical staff at the emergency room. A little investigation showed why: the police departments realized they had not been doing a good job previously and so put all their personnel through training specifically about how to handle these cases. Lesson: training works.

    Maybe one piece of making progress on this issue is better understanding that (some) police do a really good job of working with sexual abuse victims. What about getting police spokespeople into high schools (& colleges) to explain how they handle sexual abuse cases? This could not only improve reporting, it would put pressure on those departments who aren’t doing a good job of handling sexual abuse complaints to improve their methods.

    2. The Institute of Justice report that non-college women report even higher rates of sexual assault than the college educated should come as no surprise to any student of U.S. inequality. But it reminds us that the police learn to deal with all classes and making a special case of the middle class in college risks reducing the pressure to reduce the problem in the working class.

    This is (understandably) a difficult time to advocate for police departments, but we must remember that some of them actually do a great job.


  4. Handling matters in house did not seem to go well for Catholic Church in terms of impartial investigations.

    Just call the police when there is an allegation of sexual assault. That is the principal criticism of the Catholic Church in its handling of allegations of sexual misconduct. The church did not call the police.


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