Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer, has served as an adviser to Chi Omega fraternity chapters at two universities. Trent Lott, a former Senate majority leader (R-Miss.), serves as a lobbyist for fraternities and sororities as part of the Safe Campus Coalition.
As the 2015 freshmen class navigates their first semester, sexual assault at our nation’s colleges and universities remains a topic of serious concern. The current system of investigating and adjudicating allegations of sexual assault on campus is broken. It does not serve the interests of students, schools or the public.
A recent poll by Penn Schoen Berland found that over 90 percent of likely voters believe that law enforcement — not colleges and universities — should be responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of sexual assault on campus. It is time to bring justice to campus, protect the rights of all students and student organizations, punish perpetrators and ensure a safe college experience for students.
Today, colleges and universities are frequently required to investigate and judge reported crimes of sexual violence without first involving law enforcement. Because schools do not possess the investigative and forensic capabilities of law enforcement, or the due process protections of the criminal justice system, this results in a deeply flawed process that is less capable of stopping and punishing perpetrators and more likely to violate the basic due-process rights of those involved. Recently, San Diego Judge Joel M. Pressman ruled that the University of San Diego did not give an accused student a fair hearing, sparking conversations nationwide about the need to overhaul this troubled system.
The current approach is much more likely to result in errors that could harm students for the rest of their lives. In many cases, students are not allowed to review the charges against them, are not permitted access to counsel and cannot cross-examine witnesses or know the status of their cases. Student groups have been subject to blanket bans or suspensions due to the alleged activities of a small number of students.
When a perpetrator has been found guilty by the school, the most serious punishment available is expulsion. But those who commit sexual violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As the Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network (RAINN) wrote to the White House last year, “It would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process. Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault?”
Last year, the disappearance of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham drew nation-wide attention. The discovery of her remains and the arrest of Jesse Matthew in the case revealed that Matthew had been expelled from a university in 2003 following a sexual assault allegation. Local police were never notified. Matthew is now suspected in another murder and was sentenced last week to three life terms for a brutal sexual assault in Fairfax. This is a tragic example of what can happen if sexual assault cases are not reported to law enforcement.
We need to do everything possible to ensure our nation’s campuses provide safe environments for learning and growth. The Safe Campus Act, introduced in the House of Representatives this year, would require that law enforcement authorities have a first look at claims of sexual assault on campus. It would provide interim measures to improve student safety, due-process protections for students and student organizations, and for more education to prevent such crimes. It is time for a national policy that treats sexual assault on campus as the serious crime that it is.
Read more about this issue here: