UVA Gang-Rape Allegation Shows Why Universities Shouldn’t Arbitrate Sexual Assault

November 24, 2014

By Ashe Schow at Washington Examiner

For all my writing about the rights of the accused in campus sexual assault hearings, one must never forget that horrific rapes do actually happen on college campuses.

Case in point: A story from Rolling Stone last week about a woman at the University of Virginia who says she was gang-raped at a fraternity party her freshman year. Regardless of the specifics of the crime, it’s clear the university mishandled her sexual assault complaint.

Rolling Stone author Sabrina Rubin Erdely detailed that the head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, Dean Nicole Eramo, showed no emotion when the woman – known in the article as Jackie – described the gang rape. This is baffling to me, as the level of detail Jackie provided in the article – and the fact that she claims she was sober during the attack – doesn’t lend itself to a shrug.

Eramo laid out Jackie’s options for filing a complaint and detailed how each of them would unfold. That’s fine, but as the article noted, that lack of guidance proved “counterproductive” for a traumatized 19-year-old.

“Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing,” Erdely wrote.

Which is what happened in Jackie’s case. She ended up not filing a report.

While it’s all well and good to allow accusers to decide how to proceed with filing a report – whether to keep the matter within the university, report to campus police or local police – rape accusations need to be taken seriously.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spoke at a recent Federalist Society panel about the difficulty colleges have in adjudicating sexual assault allegations.

Citing data showing that most campus rapists are repeat offenders, Lukianoff explained that no college is equipped to get them off the streets.

“The idea that the best we can do against serial rapists, if that’s what the data is showing, is kick them out of Swarthmore so they can prey on the 70 percent of the population that isn’t wealthy enough to go to college is an outrage,” Lukianoff said.

Lukianoff, who advocates for due process rights for accused students, also explained that while local police departments in the past have not taken sexual assault allegations seriously, there hasn’t been a push to hold them accountable.

“It seems like we completely skipped over the idea of why don’t we try to get them to take this seriously. Why don’t we try to actually make this a law enforcement issue,” Lukianoff said. “Because I don’t think it’s the 70s anymore, I don’t think it’s the 80s anymore. I think that we have an opportunity to deal with this.”

That oversight has hurt students like Jackie. She needed guidance and support through the process of holding her attackers accountable. If there’s one place a university can help when it comes to sexual assault accusations – it’s assisting the accused through the difficult and potentially traumatizing ordeal of the justice system.

In Jackie’s case, Eramo eventually told her that “all the boys involved have graduated.” This meant the case was no longer in the university’s hands and if Jackie wants justice, she’ll have to go to the police, only now it will be more difficult as the attack was years ago, meaning evidence and witnesses may no longer be available.

Jackie’s case highlights why the handling of sexual assault claims on college campuses need to be reformed and why they should absolutely not be left in the hands of the universities – for the sake of the accusers and the accused.

Schools: University of Virginia