Is any school properly managing sexual assault on campus?
After ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was found on top of an unconscious woman in the early hours of Jan. 18, 2015, the response from the school was swift. Turner voluntarily withdrew from Stanford and was charged with five felonies about 10 days later. The school announced that he was ineligible for re-enrollment and banned from campus.
At the beginning, Turner's case -- while later controversial when he was given a short jail sentence -- had very little gray area: He was caught in the act. But that's rarely the situation with campus sexual assault, as incidents are sometimes reported days, weeks and even years later. And ever since sexual violence became a matter of Title IX in a 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, schools have struggled with how to "correctly" manage those types of accusations -- sometimes very publicly, particularly when athletes are involved.
As of June 21, there were 195 schools under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights -- the office of the Department of Education that enforces Title IX -- related to sexual violence. Accusations of sexual assault by athletes at Baylor and Tennessee garnered the most attention this year because of the alleged mismanagement of the incidents by the universities.
It has become easy to examine what colleges and universities are doing wrong, but pointing to schools that are doing a good job of handling their Title IX and sexual assault cases is significantly more difficult -- sometimes because the cases don't enter the public eye or because they might not exist.
"Universities are giant bureaucratic machines, so I think it's really difficult to know who's doing it well because our only real measure is when they don't do it well," Jessica Luther, a freelance journalist who reports on sexual assault on college campuses, said. "One of the things I think about when I meet Title IX coordinators and talk to them about their jobs is that they care a lot about survivors and the climate on campus, but translating that to 15,000, 25,000, 40,000 people is when it gets harder."
Organizations such as End Rape on Campus (EROC) and Know Your IX have stepped in to fill the perceived void left by universities, informing students on how to file Title IX complaints with the Department of Education. Those who have been accused of sexual assault sometimes turn to organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
"I've seen really good examples of good work, but not holistic good work," said EROC co-founder and director of policy and support Andrea Pino.
Pino pointed to the University of North Carolina's gender violence coordinator, an on-campus adviser who serves as the university's only fully confidential resource. The coordinator supports survivors on campus without the mandate to report, which is the typical responsibility for university employees. The position is relatively unique and provides tremendous support to survivors and various offices on campus, Pino said.
"[The role] is ahead of the curve, but UNC is not the best on this issue overall," Pino said of her alma mater, against whom she filed a Title IX complaint when she was in college with colleague Annie Clark, accusing the university of mishandling its own cases of sexual violence on campus. "But that's what I've seen all over the country." (North Carolina says it continues to work with the Department of Education and OCR as part of the investigation).
Pino also highlighted programs at Rutgers as ones that impressed her. The school's Office for Violence Prevention & Victim Assistance runs an educational improv group that performs at new-student orientation events each year, with some shows given specifically for athletes, by athletes. Rutgers also hosts a number of yearly events, such as a week-long program called Empty Chair, which raises awareness of interpersonal violence. Denim Day, another event, focuses on challenging the relevance of what clothing a victim of sexual violence wears.
"I think a lot of money is going to prevention, which is justified because prevention is very necessary," Pino said. "Unfortunately, we're not putting even a quarter of the money that we put into anti-violence campaigns as well as other bystander programs into actual holistic support for survivors."
Universities oftentimes find themselves stumbling after an incident is reported. Earlier this year, Yale men's basketball captain Jack Montague was expelled from the school after a university panel ruled him guilty of sexual misconduct.
The proximity of his dismissal to Yale's first March Madness birth since 1962 helped the story draw national attention. Yale's men's basketball team, believing Montague's investigation process to be unfair, wore jackets displaying his number and nickname during a Feb. 26 game against Harvard. The move prompted criticism on campus -- one detractor accused the team of "supporting a rapist." Montague has since sued Yale, claiming the school's process did not afford him due process.
The government's decision to make campus sexual assault a matter of Title IX -- thus attaching federal funding to how a school handles accusations -- changed the game, said Samantha Harris, director of policy research at FIRE. She says schools' moves toward single-investigator models, their lack of a mechanism for the accused parties to confront their accusers through indirect cross examination, and the ban on active representation during judicial hearings go above and beyond the Title IX outlines of the Dear Colleague Letter and undermines due process.
"We believe that the ideal policy should protect the due process rights of the accused students because that also protects the integrity of the process and ensures a fair and reliable outcome, which is something that benefits both parties," said Harris.
I've seen really good examples of good work, but not holistic good work.Andrea Pino, co-founder of End Rape on Campus
At Baylor, law firm Pepper Hamilton found "specific failings within both the football program and Athletics Department leadership," including the lack of response to reports of sexual misconduct and dating violence by football players. Baylor called for an independent investigation by Pepper Hamilton after former defensive end Samuel Ukwuachu was found guilty of sexual assault.
In the wake of the scandal, the university suspended football coach Art Briles with the intent to terminate and demoted President Ken Starr to chancellor. Starr resigned from that position, choosing to remain as a professor within Baylor's law school.
"We're talking about a very lucrative space that therefore has a lot of power," Luther said. "So you get these cases where maybe someone within athletics is affecting the outcome, and they're allowed to do that because they hold particular power within the overall institution of the university."
The core issues facing universities when it comes to sexual assault on campus are, "What constitutes a fair process, and is a collegiate hearing a court of law?" Judiciary hearings are not courtrooms, but they employ similar language.
"If colleges are going to be holding what are essentially quasi-criminal proceedings, those proceedings need to have a level of seriousness that reflect the seriousness of the accusation," Harris said. Advocates for survivors, however, push for a victim's right to continue to pursue an education.
Though not always mutually exclusive, these perspectives can butt heads, adding more difficulty for colleges and universities.
"Culturally, we have trouble dealing with sexual violence," Luther said. "Even our criminal justice system, which is the thing people fall back on, we know isn't good at [adjudicating sexual assault cases]. Most rapists don't even get charged, forget doing time. So the most robust system we have doesn't do that good of a job because we have so much cultural baggage around this particular crime that makes people disbelieve survivors -- and makes survivors not want to come forward."