For many years now, enormous pressure has been placed on colleges and universities to take a hard stance against campus sexual assault. Often, when a student--particularly a student athlete--is accused of rape or sexual assault, the school is forced to move to punish the student even before criminal charges are filed. In many cases--for example, the case of Frank Shannon at the University of Oklahoma--the school must take punitive action even when no charges are ultimately filed or the case is dismissed completely.
Certainly, universities must take allegations of sexual assault seriously. School administrators must protect all of their students, and they should not shelter sexual predators. But it can be tricky to assume that organizations not equipped or trained for law enforcement should punish crimes when even law enforcement agencies cannot find sufficient evidence to prosecute.
These issues were complicated with the publication of "A Rape on Campus," a Rolling Stone article that claimed a young woman named Jackie was raped by several members of a fraternity at the University of Virginia. The article discussed a university "rape culture" and harshly criticized inaction by the university.
After the publication of the article, the school suspended the fraternity involved in the allegations, and the Charlottesville police department launched an investigation. After four months, the police ended their investigation, saying that it "has not revealed any substantive basis to confirm that the allegations raised in the Rolling Stone article occurred." The fraternity's suspension was lifted, and the Rolling Stone article became widely discredited after multiple discrepancies were revealed in the story.
Rolling Stone retracted the story, which became known as "The Worst Journalism of 2104."
Since then, a number of male students have begun suing the universities that punished them, saying that the schools have deprived them of their right to due process by suspending them, expelling them, kicking them off teams, revoking scholarships, and so forth without sufficient evidence and without allowing the accused students to defend themselves. In other words, where the courts are told to presume innocence unless guilt is proven, universities are told to presume guilt unless innocence is proven.
In one such case, a University of Montana quarterback was accused of rape, expelled from the university, and criminally charged. However, he was acquitted at trial and promptly sued the school for kicking him out without evidence that he committed any crime. Earlier this week, he was awarded $245,000 from his lawsuit.
Vindicated quarterback Jordan Johnson released a statement:
"Any student accused of wrongdoing deserves a fair and impartial hearing of the facts of his or her case. Officials at the University of Montana — people who were in positions of great power — were unfair and biased. Their misconduct made my family and me suffer unnecessarily, both emotionally and financially.”
As of November 2015, at least 50 similar lawsuits are pending at colleges and universities around the nation.
Rules requiring university administrators to act as law enforcement in sexual assault cases often put these educational institutions in a difficult spot. Universities must protect their students from sexual assault, but they must also provide due process to the accused. Clearly, better guidelines are needed for establishing and enforcing sexual assault policies on American campuses.
If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime speak to an experienced sex crime attorney before talking to anyone else.
Image Credit: Phil Roeder