‘Rape Is a Crime, Treat It as Such’

By on March 13, 2013

In The New York Times’ "Room for Debate" online section, Student Press Law Center Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein has penned a critically important article about due process when dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. Goldstein makes several crucial points in the debate over how sexual assault accusations should be handled on campus—a debate of which FIRE has very much been a part. He begins:

Pop quiz: what major felony should be investigated and adjudicated by amateurs, in secret, without subpoena powers, a right to representation, or any kind of due process controls? 

Did you say rape? If so, you probably work in university student affairs, where mock justice systems have been pretending to adjudicate sexual assault cases for decades. And it’s time for that to stop.

People who defend this use of campus disciplinary processes usually point to the shortcomings of the criminal justice system—principally, that it’s slow and the publicity can be uncomfortable. But what makes the justice system slow are the evidentiary and procedural protections that are the hallmarks of competent adjudication.

FIRE has made the point over and over again that the reduction of due process protections—the extremely unwise path mandated in 2011 by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights—will lead to unreliable outcomes in which students and the public will rightly lack confidence. As a result, we’ve argued that reducing due process protections cannot succeed in seriously addressing the problem of sexual misconduct on campus. Goldstein likewise makes powerful points as to why he believes that colleges should concentrate on helping victims rather than maintaining a seriously flawed quasi-judicial system. 

You may also read opposing and differing viewpoints in the Room for Debate section online. FIRE highly recommends reading Goldstein’s column and the differing views for anyone who wants to get a sense of the important debate over due process that is playing out on campuses.