Why Aren’t Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Treated Like Actual Crimes?
Acton Institute Powerblog

Why Aren’t Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Treated Like Actual Crimes?

campusrapeThe Education Department has concluded an investigation at Princeton University, and determined that the school violated the Title IX gender equity law in its handling of sexual assault cases.

What did Princeton do wrong?

Part of the problem, says the Education Department, is that the university violated the rights of rape survivors by using a standard of proof for sexual assault cases higher than the federally recommended standard, which requires a “preponderance of evidence” for responsibility.

At this point you may be thinking, “Wait, I thought the standard of evidence for crimes was ‘reasonable doubt’?” That is indeed the standard. But that is only if you treat sexual assaults as crimes. And as Ashe Schow notes, “Rape and sexual assault are crimes, unless they occur on college campuses.”

Then, the federal government believes untrained college administrators only need to be 50.01 percent sure that an accuser is more believable than the accused to brand a student as a rapist for life.

In a federal probe of Princeton University, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights faulted the Ivy League university for violating the federally recommended standard of proof for cases of rape and sexual assault. Read that again: the “recommended” standard of proof, not an actual law.

Princeton was using the “clear and convincing evidence” standard for its proceedings, which is a higher burden of proof than the federally recommended “preponderance of evidence” but not as high as the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If you steal a stack of textbooks at State U., you’ll likely be arrested and face criminal proceedings. If you bash a student over the head with a beer bottle at Commutersville Community College, you can go to prison. So why if you rape or sexually assault a fellow student at an Ivy League school do you face a college administrative hearing?

The fact that such hearings violate both the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim should horrify anyone who cares about justice. Why then are serious crimes being adjudicated by the same people who handle charges of plagiarism? Why aren’t colleges and the federal government treating rapes and sexual assaults on college campuses like actual crimes?

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).