Sex Crime Accusations On Campus Take A Toll

Accusations concerning sex offenses have the power to change a person's life. In a college setting, the impact of sexual assault allegations can extend far beyond the criminal process. Even an accusation that does not lead to criminal charges can destroy the life of the accused. The emotional and financial toll of a false claim of sexual assault is a growing problem given the pressure the federal government has placed on schools to appear diligent in sexual assault cases. Diligence in finding the truth is admirable. A process that ignores the rights of the parties involved, all the parties involved, is not admirable.

More than 100 colleges are currently under investigation for the mishandling of sexual assault cases under Title IX. The current administration, as well as the media, has placed substantial pressure on universities to address the problem of sexual violence on campus. In too many cases, addressing the problem meant ignoring the rights of the accused and assuming guilt based on nothing more than an accusation. Schools are free to punish students who have been exonerated by the criminal justice system. An accused may be not guilty, but he or she can still be expelled or suspended, often with little to no evidence indicating wrongdoing.

The victims of these investigations are often left with little recourse. They have been branded by their schools as a danger. They may or may not be able to continue their educations. The present and future prospects for those wrongfully accused can be bleak.

Due process rights in an educational setting are not well understood. There is obviously a difference between what a criminal court owes a defendant and what a school owes a student. That said, the procedures followed by a school in disciplining a student cannot be arbitrary. Most schools have established procedures and they are bound to follow those procedures in every case. Given the damage that a false accusation can cause, schools should be careful to have procedural safeguards in place and to follow those procedures exactly.

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