The Safe Campus Act looks like a step in the right direction.
The Safe Campus Act, sponsored by three House Republicans, promotes two imperatives: the rape victim's right to justice and the right of the accused to a fair hearing. It was introduced earlier this week.
Meanwhile, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), introduced in 2014 by four senators, including two Republicans, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Dean Heller of Nevada, has been widely criticized. Its critics charge that it disregards due process for the accused. The Democratic sponsors are Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
CASA almost seems to start from the premise that there is no such thing as a false rape accusation (the accuser is referred to as the "victim" even before it is established that a crime has taken place). Unfortunately, false rape allegations do happen.
The Safe Campus Act is designed to be fair to both the accuser and the accused.
The Washington Post had a story on the Safe Campus Act yesterday, and my friends who have been in the fray and trying to assure that there will be due process for the accused, praised the story. It is a highly-charged subject, and the Post played it straight.
One of the most important issues confronting administrators and the accuser is whether to go to the police. The Obama administration has promoted campus tribunals, which are sometimes ill-equipped to sift through the information, and stringent rules that undermine the accused person's ability to mount a defense. Twenty-eight Harvard professors last year urged their university to rethink its handling of sexual accusations because the system, in line with administration directives, eroded civil rights.
This is how the Safe Campus Act addresses the tribunal versus police issue (in the words of the Washington Post report):
Students alleging sexual violence could decide whether to report the incident to law enforcement or not. If a serious crime were alleged and the student preferred not to involve police in an investigation, campus officials would not launch an internal investigation. But they could provide protections to the student, such as requiring the accused to avoid the accuser.
This seems infinitely sane and just. If somebody alleges sexual violence but is unwilling to go to the police, the accuser should not be judged by an ill-equipped campus body which is more likely to be swayed by personal friendships and campus pressure.
But, on the other hand, the accuser should be spared running into the accused.
And here is another provision:
All students involved, both those reporting an assault and those defending themselves against the charges, would have the right to hire lawyers at their own expense. Both sides could ask questions of witnesses.
Some colleges allow the accused to have legal advice and even have a lawyer help with a hearing before the tribunal. But this is by no means universal. We hire lawyers today for trivial matters, and a rape allegation is anything but trivial.
Those accused would have the right to know the charges they’re facing, and see the evidence against them.
Not knowing the charges you're facing? Sounds like something out of the Star Chamber in Elizabethan England.
By the way, the Senate held a hearing yesterday on CASA, the older bill, yesterday, and it appears that nobody was invited to represent due process for the accused.