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Campuses that handle sexual assaults must balance victims' rights, due process

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A survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics asked college students whether they had been sexually assaulted during the 2014-2015 academic year. The respondents reported 2,380 rapes during the survey, 770 of which took place on campus. But only 170 of them were reported to the schools. That’s a reporting rate of just 7 percent, says Carrie Bettinger-Lopez, White House adviser on violence against women.

That disturbing number kicked off an afternoon of serious discussion at the annual meeting session, “Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Balancing the Rights and Interests of the Accused and the Victim.” The discussion was a showcase CLE presentation sponsored by the ABA’s Criminal Justice Section.

Bettinger-Lopez works on these issues full time; she also rep-resents Vice President Joe Biden on the White House Task Force to Protect Students Against Sexual Assault. She took the audience through the numerous federal resources available to colleges and universities, attorneys, victim advocates and others interested in the hot-button topic. Perhaps the most famous of those resources is a 2011 “Dear colleague” letter from the U.S. Department of Education that states that sexual assault and sexual harassment impede equality under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination from federally funded schools.

Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco said a turning point on this issue came in 2010, when a video of Yale fraternity pledges went viral, showing them chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!” After that, she said, calls to ERA’s discrimination and harassment hotline skyrocketed.

Farrell thinks the criminal justice system is not adequately handling cases—and the sexual assault case against Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, whose victim’s statement went viral online, reflects why: Too much emphasis is placed on how penalties could affect the bright futures of the accused.

“I can tell you these cases have a chilling effect on students who think about going to law enforcement for recourse,” she said.

the importance of the system

But Robert Cary of Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., thinks taking these cases to the criminal justice system is vital. That’s the best way to guarantee that people who are accused get the due process they are entitled to by law.

University disciplinary proceedings don’t necessarily give the accused the right to confront their accusers, gather evidence, have an attorney and more. And while the accused might not face criminal penalties in a university disciplinary context, being kicked out of a university can have a profound effect on a person’s future, according to Cary.

The criminal justice system also is better at stopping serial rapists, he said. Turner, for example, will be a registered sex offender for life, whereas someone kicked out of a university faces no civil disability. Farrell added that serial rapists are not uncommon on campuses, but their victims often don’t realize it until a legal case is filed or news of an accusation spreads.

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