The Growing Sexual-Assault Investigations Industry

August 28, 2014

By KC Johnson at Minding the Campus

In response to questions from the Washington Examiner’s Ashe Schow, a spokesperson for Iowa senator Charles Grassley made a telling admission that has received insufficient attention. “The university,” the spokesperson noted, “will be responsible for any new requirements in the bill and be responsible to find the funds within its budget, whether that be from an endowment, trimming administration costs, tuition, or any other area.” The spokesperson did not indicate how many new faculty lines should be sacrificed or how much of a tuition increase students should bear so that colleges can construct a parallel criminal investigations system, albeit one with many fewer due process protections for accused students and a much lower threshold of guilt.

It turns out that the financial pressure is starting on colleges even before the McCaskill-Grassley bill has cleared Congress. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that “a cottage industry is growing around campus sexual assault.” Some of these developments are benign or even helpful, such as a fingernail polish designed to detect date rape drugs, a product designed by UNC students (and oddly attacked by some ideologues as contributing to “rape culture”).

Consider some others, however. The NCHERM group, for instance, now offers a veritable catalog of services. (This is the group whose president wildly charged that FIRE “is sticking up for penises everywhere” when FIRE criticized the OCR mandate that colleges brand students rapists on the basis of a preponderance of evidence.) For a $5000 flat fee (a sale price expiring on September 5th) to cover all sexual assault cases during an academic year, schools can pay NCHERM “to be sure” the college’s process “got it right.” Will the group interview witnesses or conduct discovery? No—that costs more money. Instead, “an NCHERM Group partner will review your decision by phone and/or email, and let you know how they see it.” Due process in action!

NCHERM offers four other services for colleges—though the organization doesn’t reveal the prices for any of these. (Given that a handful of phone calls costs $5000, it seems likely none of these other options are cheap.) The group offers to help schools dispose of OCR complaints by coming “in to do a thorough investigation of the allegations, and help to process the complaint through [the school’s] own internal due process or other resolution proceedings.” The data then can be turned over to OCR—which, after all, “is swimming in a sea of complaints these days.” The group sells schools hope for a price: “Perhaps they’ll be willing to clear your [school’s] off their desks if the matter has already been addressed in compliance with the law.”

Another NCHERM service suggests allowing the group itself to conduct the school’s inquiry—that is, if the school would “just feel better using external, fully objective, highly-skilled investigators.” The group says it can send as many as 20 investigators to the school, all in pursuit of “the unvarnished truth.”

It’s worth pointing out that Sokolow has recently come under attack from anti-due process activists, in part because he suggested that colleges are responding to pressure from OCR by finding innocent students guilty, usually in cases involving alcohol. The organization, therefore, might be seen as what passes for moderate among the “cottage industry” of sexual assault investigating companies.

A final point. NCHERM’s sales pitch includes the following passage: “Simply, we have more collective expertise and experience investigating campus sexual misconduct and civil rights complaints than anyone else.” This statement—made by an organization that’s 13 years old—appears to take a very broad view of what constitutes “investigating campus sexual misconduct”: would the $5000 phone consult count as an “investigation”? But if true, it’s a sad statement. How could a private, for-profit company, not accountable to the public, have more “experience” investigating a serious crime than the nation’s police forces?