FIRE’s Joe Cohn Makes Case for Mandatory Reporting of Sex Assaults in ‘The Hill’

August 18, 2015

Today, The Hill’s Congress Blog features an op-ed by Joe Cohn, FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director, who argues for a mandatory reporting requirement for campus sexual assault allegations. Joe says that adopting several of the due process protections in the Safe Campus Act, introduced in Congress last month, would be a step in the right direction:

Under the bill, a student alleging a campus sexual assault may choose to keep the accusation from law enforcement professionals. But if he or she does so, then institutions may not initiate disciplinary hearings against the accused or provide accommodations like changes in class schedules and dormitory assignments. (My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, believes the bill should be amended to allow non-punitive accommodations to remain available to students who decide not to report accusations to authorities.)

Reiterating FIRE’s long-held position that colleges and universities are ill-equipped to adjudicate serious crimes and too often provide little or no due process protections for the accused, Joe writes:

Campus hearing panels stray beyond their competence when asked to adjudicate campus sexual assault accusations. They lack the ability to gather forensic evidence and the expertise to evaluate it. They lack the ability to subpoena witnesses or put them under oath. Parties do not have discovery, and rules of evidence limiting the use of improper information and requiring the consideration of relevant material do not apply. Except in North Carolina and North Dakota, neither student has the right to legal representation. Expecting panels of student conduct administrators, professors, and students operating under these limitations to consistently reach just results is unreasonable.

Concerns about the accusing student’s autonomy are also unfounded, Joe argues, because alleged victims would still be free to decide whether to work with law enforcement. As Joe notes:

Requiring institutions to report allegations to police doesn’t require the complainant to cooperate with investigators. If the alleged victim doesn’t want to talk to the police, he or she doesn’t have to.

Be sure to check out Joe’s op-ed in full.