In light of the horrific allegations that UVA covered up a student’s gang-rape, Libby Nelson imagines applying the university’s honor code – which has seen 183 students expelled over academic infractions since 1998 – to sexual assault allegations:
When California colleges began requiring affirmative consent, or “yes means yes,” there was an outcry from commentators afraid that they were reclassifying ordinary sex as rape. But “yes means yes” is simply the sexual version of an academic honor code. It’s acknowledgment that attending a college is not a right but a privilege that comes with responsibilities, and that one of those responsibilities is to treat fellow students with respect. …
Although false accusations of rape are extremely rare, a wrongful criminal conviction for sexual assault is a travesty. A wrongful expulsion from college after due process for the accused is deeply unfair, but it leaves a less permanent stain. If a student expelled for sexual assault enrolls elsewhere, their transcript doesn’t usually list the reason for the expulsion, and colleges don’t have to disclose the details.
Wendy McElroy disagrees on that last point:
A common rejoinder is that hearings are not legal proceedings. But the hearings actually operate in a legal gray zone.
For example, the last campaign from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault includes improving cooperation with the police. Increasingly, the testimony an accused gives without due process can be turned over for use by the police and courts. Moreover, the hearings impose penalties as draconian as a court. A student can be expelled with the word “rapist” permanently in his file. He may be tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no ability to obtain a license to practice his chosen profession. Many unlicensed professions will shun him as well. What university of quality will accept him? His reputation and belief in justice may be damaged beyond repair.
Rebecca Plante and Andrew Smiler take a different view, arguing that the low standards of evidence used by the university’s misconduct board actually make them less likely to “convict”:
Although apparently the president’s office was aware of allegations of sexual felonies, including gang rapes, it also appears that the Charlottesville police were not asked to investigate until recently. Why are colleges and universities investigating allegations of felony sex-related crimes without having to involve local law enforcement? Given the paucity of the training, is it reasonable to expect board members and university staff members to investigate and adjudicate such serious criminal allegations? Board members are also expected to base their findings on a preponderance of evidence (for example, a 51-percent likelihood that a crime was committed). That standard may dissuade board members from finding the accused guilty.
Jackie makes her way downstairs, her red dress apparently sufficiently intact to wear; the party is still raging. Though she is blood-stained – three hours with shards of glass “digging into her back,” and gang-raped, including with a beer bottle – and must surely look deeply traumatized, no one notices her. She makes her way out a side entrance she hadn’t seen before. She calls her friends, who tell her that she doesn’t want to be known as the girl who cried rape and worry that if they take her to the hospital they won’t get invited to subsequent frat parties.
Nothing in this story is impossible; it’s important to note that. It could have happened. But to believe it beyond a doubt, without a question mark – as virtually all the people who’ve read the article seem to – requires a lot of leaps of faith. It requires you to indulge your pre-existing biases.
Bradley’s skepticism makes Robby Soave wonder:
[W]hen I say that I was initially inclined to believe the story, it’s not because I wanted or needed it to be true to fit my worldview. Rather, I assumed honesty on the part of the author and her source—not because I’m naive, but because I didn’t think someone would lie about such an unbelievable story. This isn’t a case of he-said / she-said; this is an extraordinary crime that indicts a dozen people and an entire university administration. Assuming a proper investigation—which the police are now conducting—confirming many of the specific details should be relatively easy. If “Jackie” is lying, there is a good chance she will be caught (and Erdely’s career ruined). So I believed it.
However, some of the details do strike me as perplexing on subsequent re-reads.