Reid Exhibits Misunderstanding of Campus Assault

Editor’s Note: This article contains discussions of violence, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

April is Consent Month at Oberlin. The College puts in effort year-round to provide workshops and other opportunities to create healthy conversations about sexual assault, sexual harassment, and consent. However, this month is special and receives much more attention and tireless work from the Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct staff and the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The Review’s April 13 issue included a troubling op-ed by Duncan Reid that criticized the “Orwellian underbelly” of Title IX sexual misconduct investigation and trial procedures (“Current Title IX Regulations Deny Accused Students Fundamental Rights,” The Oberlin Review, April 13, 2018). Having read that piece, I worry that it may be necessary to remind our contributors and readers why April is special.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in the United States.

This month is not Oberlin-specific. It’s not by chance that this month boasts PRSM workshops and free frisbees at TGIF. Sexual assault is an unspeakable disgrace of human behavior, and it is widespread. The only greater tragedy than its prevalence in reported incidents is that the unreported incidents of sexual assault far outnumber reported ones. The Department of Justice conducted a study on college campus sexual assault over the course of almost 20 years, and between 1995 and 2013 it found that for every five incidents of sexual assault against college students, only one is reported to police. It takes bravery and a great deal of resilience to actually go through with the proceedings.

Title IX acts to protect gender equality in higher education by providing an avenue to challenge gender discrimination. The operative text reads that no person “be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” in an educational environment that receives federal aid. I certainly hope it goes without saying that survivors of sexual violence may struggle to reap the full benefits of a robust education. In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs states that 94 percent of female rape survivors experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms in the weeks following their attack, and about a third reported that symptoms remained even nine months later. According to the National Comorbidity Survey, 9.7 percent of female North Americans experience lifelong PTSD, but it develops in over 30 percent of sexual assault survivors. This disparity proves beyond a reasonable doubt that sexual assault is profoundly impactful on the lives of survivors, who deserve to be taken seriously.

The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network — the most prominent anti-sexual violence organization in the country — reports that compared to all women, women in college are three times more likely to suffer sexual violence. If you’re tempted to clutch your pearls and point to the “bias of the source,” I recommend you ask yourself exactly what bias RAINN has that is so offensive. College can clearly be a hotbed of sexual misconduct, which the offices of Title IX can address.

Unfortunately, colleges have demonstrated untrustworthiness when it comes to giving accusers the enshrined privilege of taking reports of misconduct seriously. The law agrees. In 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Arizona State University was liable under Title IX when it chose to readmit a student whom they had expelled for multiple instances of severe sexual misconduct. In a truly surprising turn of events that shocked no one, he sexually assaulted another student within months of readmission. ESPN reported that university administration officials had deleted emails relevant to the case with knowledge that the plaintiff was filing a lawsuit.

Expressions of callousness and ignorance about rape and sexual assault are a dime-a-dozen in our society. There is nothing new about bending over backward to find arguments that college rape investigations are too stringent or that administrations too harsh with accused offenders. However, I have heard few things so outlandishly insensitive and ill-informed as the suggestion that, in cases of sexual violence, the accused should cross-examine their accuser. The April 13 Review issue published that suggestion, because that’s what the Review does; it publishes submissions of all viewpoints, even ones whose substantive value have a half-life of how long it took to imagine them.

I believe that the right to a fair and speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment intends to protect the accused from indefinite incarceration and the accuser from indefinitely-postponed justice. I think it’s a crucial piece of our justice system that is too often neglected, especially in immigration law. That said, in cases of campus sexual misconduct, if a speedy trial puts a recently-assaulted person on the stand under duress from the accused, it can severely inflame trauma.

Sexual assault cases do indeed have an “enforcement” problem, though it isn’t necessarily in Title IX’s realm. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2015 National Incident-Based Reporting System disclosed that only 310 of every 1,000 rapes get reported to police. Of those, only 11 rape cases get referred to prosecutors, and only six will result in incarceration — that’s six incarcerations for every thousand rapes. In the same report, the FBI states that there is an average of 321,500 victims every year. As Reid wrote in his March 9 op-ed: “That doesn’t add up.”

There are plenty of problems with college responses to sexual assault. Title IX can be difficult to navigate, bureaucratic minutiae can extend timeframes, and many survivors simply don’t feel comfortable with the system. Title IX offices also do not have the investigative tools or resources at their disposal that police authorities have, and the closed-door style of their procedures can be unsettling, even for the victims. Schools are often unwilling or unable to provide appropriate accommodations for survivors who don’t pursue disciplinary action but want to minimize interaction with their attacker.

Title IX and college responses can resemble less of an iron fist and more of a soggy cotton glove.

Suspension of civil liberties is always a concern. Due process is a critical part of our criminal justice system. And the suggestion that an alleged rapist should be able to question their accuser illuminates the misplaced priorities and fundamental misunderstanding Reid has of the problem at hand. Title IX offices are not courts. They are vehicle for academic disciplinary action. At the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie. Campus sexual assault is rampant. Perhaps it may be more worthwhile to focus on preventing sexual assault than coddling the accused.