The Damage Control Is Done

In a deeply reported, deeply disturbing story published late last week, Sabrina Rubin Erdely exposed how the University of Virginia has repeatedly mishandled and covered up rape allegations, including the gang-rape of a first-year student at a frat house two years ago:

UVA furnished Rolling Stone with some of its most recent tally: In the last academic year, 38 students went to [Dean Nicole] Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in “complaints”; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearings. UVA wasn’t willing to disclose their outcomes, citing privacy. Like most colleges, sexual-assault proceedings at UVA unfold in total secrecy. Asked why UVA doesn’t publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with “best practices” and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie [the 2012 gang-rape victim] got a different explanation when she’d eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, “Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”

Erdely’s exposé has already had consequences: UVA’s president has suspended all fraternities and associated parties until further notice and belatedly asked the local police to investigate the 2012 incident. Dreher compares the UVA coverup to the Church’s sex abuse scandal:

This is what the Catholic Church did. The first case I wrote about, back in 2001, involved an immigrant teenager who was passed around priests in a Bronx parish. When the boy’s father learned what happened, he went to see an auxiliary bishop. According to the victim’s lawyer, the auxiliary bishop allegedly pulled out a checkbook and offered a payout in exchange for the father signing a paper giving the Archdiocese of New York’s attorneys the right to handle his case. The father may have been a laborer and an immigrant, but he knew a scam when he saw it. He left and hired his own lawyer. And here we see the University of Virginia following a similar script.

Dahlia Lithwick’s takeaway is that the Title IX-mandated system by which college administrations are expected to adjudicate rape cases outside the criminal justice system is fundamentally flawed:

If the purpose of the current internal adjudication is to increase transparency and reporting, that runs against the most basic institutional incentive to hide bad news. If the object is to counsel and support survivors, it’s not clear that has worked very well either. And if the object is to keep the campus safe, it has failed spectacularly.

According to one Justice Department report, less than 5 percent of attempted or completed rapes on campus are reported to law enforcement. Universities attempted to create a second-tier system that bypassed that criminal justice process, softened the impact of filing a complaint, and lessened the process obligations and the fact-finding capacities of internal reviews. It worked. And in so doing, it largely failed. The question we should be asking ourselves is not simply what it is about campuses that lead the friends and counselors of the victim to discourage her from seeking help from the police and the hospital. The real question is whether, having crafted an internal system that either masks or exacerbates many of the worst features of the systems it seeks to replace, do we want to stand by it? After reading the Rolling Stone piece do we think universities are moving toward solving the campus rape problem or inadvertently colluding in hiding it?

Judith Shulevitz asks the obvious followup:

So what should universities be doing about violent sexual assault? In those orientation sessions, they should be teaching students to see sexual felonies as feloniesnot as violations of campus policy, but as crimes to be reported as soon as possible to police officers trained to investigate them so that prosecutors can prosecute them. If local cops and courts aren’t doing their job, then universities should use their considerable clout in make sure that they do.

A study published this year in the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, for instance, suggested that if universities want to make women feel more comfortable about reporting rape, they should add more women to their campus security police forceas of about half a decade ago, only 17 percent of campus police officers were women. A body of research on regular female police officers shows that not only to women prefer to report rape to them, they’re better at eliciting painful details from victims, which leads to higher rates of conviction. There is no reason that university officials couldn’t be working to help their local police departments make reforms like these.

On a related point, McArdle responds to our reader’s contention that the concept of due process is not cut-and-dry and that making it easier to expel accused rapists from college is not that big a deal:

In the first place, the government is pushing for these relaxed standards of evidence and due process, via Title IX, which means that this is the government doing something to you.  Not putting you in prison, to be sure.  But — and I hardly believe I have to say this — getting expelled on a sexual assault charge is, in fact, something very bad happening to you. I don’t know why people keep saying that this is “all” that happens, as if it were the educational equivalent of having to change hotels mid-vacation. …

Rape is a terrible thing, which is why we try it in courts, and lock rapists away for a good long time. It’s also why we treat rapists like they are terrible people who may be admitted to normal society only after convincing repentance and rehabilitation. That’s precisely why it’s problematic that we’re adjudicating these charges through such a weak process. Expelling someone for rape creates an official record that brands them, in the eyes of society, as a rapist. We should do that only after careful examination, giving the accused every chance to tell his side. Not because we are making light of rape, but because we are treating these terrible events, and the punishment we mete out, with all the seriousness they deserve.