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Three months after its creation, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault issued its first report (PDF) this past Monday night. Titled “Not Alone,” and accompanied by a new website, NotAlone.gov, the report announces new recommended practices for colleges and universities nationwide. Unfortunately, the Task Force fails to answer—or even address—my organization’s, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)’s, grave and continuing concerns about campus civil liberties and the reliability, impartiality, and fundamental fairness of campus judicial proceedings for students accused of sexual harassment and assault.
Here is an excerpt from my official statement released yesterday:
Perhaps most worryingly, the Task Force appears to be enthusiastic about essentially eliminating hearings altogether for students accused of assault and harassment. The Task Force is exploring a “single investigator” model, where a sole administrator would be empowered to serve as detective, judge and jury, affording the accused no chance to challenge his or her accuser’s testimony. Tellingly, the Task Force expresses only the most meager sense of the rights necessary to secure fundamentally fair hearings, noting that it believes the single investigator model would still “safeguard an alleged perpetrator’s right to notice and to be heard.”
Sexual assault is one of the worst crimes a person can commit. Those found guilty of it should be punished to the fullest extent allowed by law. But precisely because sexual assault is such a serious crime, providing those accused of it with due process—a term that appears nowhere in the entire report—becomes even more important. Due process is more than a system for protecting the rights of the accused; it’s a set of procedures intended to ensure that findings of guilt or innocence are accurate, fair, and reliable.
While there is no simple solution to the problem of sexual assault on campus, lowering the bar for finding guilt, expanding the definition of harassment beyond recognition, eliminating precious due process protections, and entrusting unqualified campus employees to safeguard the vitally important interests of all involved is no solution at all.