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Should Colleges Still Punish Sex Assault Suspects – Even If They Weren’t Convicted?

Two UT students are suing the school about procedures related to sexual assault allegations against them.
Flickr/Wally Gobetz (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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Two UT students are suing the school about procedures related to sexual assault allegations against them.

From Texas Standard:

This month two male students  filed separate lawsuits against the University of Texas at Austin. The men claim they were unfairly treated after allegations of sexual assault were made against them. Authorities never charged either student, but university officials have moved to expel both of them. The plaintiffs say the university is using them as scapegoats to demonstrate the school is tough on sexual assault.

This case has raised some questions: What can schools do in sexual assault cases? What rights do accused students have? How common are these lawsuits?

 

Samantha Harris, director of policy research for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says everyone agrees universities and law enforcement should investigate sexual assault claims, but the problem is the kind of procedures adopted as a response to pressure from the federal government.

"A lot of universities have begun adopting procedures that deny students who are accused of sexual misconduct the right to a fair procedure, to a fair hearing on campus," she says.

Neither case was reported to the police and Harris says students have the right to due process, but it's not the same process as in a criminal court.

"Despite the fact that it's a public institution, it's more akin to an administrative proceeding," Harris says. "But sexual misconduct is a serious offense and being labeled as someone who has committed sexual misconduct can have potential lifelong consequences. So there needs to be some sort of fair procedure."

In his lawsuit, one student alleges that he wouldn't have the right to confront his accuser and wouldn't have the opportunity for the accuser to be cross-examined. Campus officials, in an effort to appear tough on this issue, still have the choice to offer a fair hearing to students who have been accused.

"Taking it seriously does not mean depriving an accused student of any rights," she says. "And taking it seriously doesn't mean finding every accused student guilty without offering them a fair procedure."

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Rhonda is the newest member of the KUT News team, joining in late 2013 as producer for KUT's new daily news program, The Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.