Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Office fails victims and accused alike

In 1972, President Nixon signed into law Title IX, a bill stating that “educational opportunities may not be denied on the basis of sex.” Eight years later, Alexander v. Yale determined that “a school’s failure to adequately remedy sexual harassment could constitute sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

Due to this particular interpretation of the law, the case set a legal precedent that is followed to this day. On college campuses across the nation, Title IX offices gained the authority to preside over sexual assault cases, entirely independent from the court of law.

Now, while the reasons for this ruling are too many and varied to be explained here, the legal mess that has resulted is not. In short, it catalyzed the creation of the heaviest handed institute in American university life.

Recently a number of questionable decisions made by the Stanford Title IX office have turned public opinion decidedly against it. In order to see the wreckage created by this legal quagmire, one need not look far. High-profile incidents such as those of Brock Turner, the Stanford marching band and recent Jane Doe cases accused by the New York Times have collectively garnered Stanford a previously unfathomable amount of negative public attention.

But frankly, these controversial decisions have been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere. Rather than continuing to question every decision the Title IX office makes, we instead should be asking why the office gets to make these decisions at all.

Now to be fair, there is no crime that exists in legal limbo more than that of sexual assault. In many cases, the traditional judicial system is inadequate to handle the intricacies of this type crime. But with that being said, the University Title IX office is not the better alternative and frequently fails all parties involved.

The central issue with tasking an arm of university administration with preventing sexual assault is that this office was not originally designed to take on such a monumental task. It is therefore unequipped to handle the rigors of criminal investigations and the legal procedures that follow.

As previously stated, the Title IX office was originally responsible for maintaining equal school and extracurricular opportunities for students regardless of gender. Unfortunately, the explosion of sexual assault reports in recent years has left these offices overwhelmed and unable to handle even the most straightforward of cases. The office’s consistently dubious track record may even actively discourage sexual assault victims from coming forward, thus perpetuating rape culture even further.

The heart of the Title IX office’s problems lies with the flawed nature of its procedures. Nearly every step of its protocol has problems that range from “imperfect in nature” to “a betrayal of the legal process.”

For example, one would think that, at the very least, there would be a set of guidelines that campuses nationwide could follow in conducting these investigations. And, while these “guidelines” exist in name, they could not possibly be made more vague.

The federal statement on this includes lines such as the following: “The investigation will vary depending on the nature of the allegation, age of the students involved, size and administrative structure of the school, state or local legal requirements, and what it has learned from past legal experiences.”

This total lack of concrete details essentially gives schools carte blanche to decide how they investigate sexual assault. Perhaps the scariest part of this is that, due to the lack of public records in these cases, no one really knows how most investigations are conducted or resolved. Title IX investigations almost always leave more questions than answers.

The few details that we do have regarding the process used by Title IX offices don’t paint a rosier picture. In many cases, the accused are denied due process or are assumed guilty from the start.

Additionally, Title IX investigations require a lower standard of evidence than cases in a real legal process. This low bar leads to more errors and puts the proceedings on legal par with a kangaroo court.

This combined with the inability of most colleges to pay for even the most basic of investigative procedures, such as forensic units in the case of rape, means that there is almost no concrete evidence that schools can use when making these life-changing decisions.

Most damningly, Title IX requires colleges to take action if an attacker is presumed guilty, without specifying what those actions should be. By ordering every college to take action in sexual assault cases or risk having their federal funding revoked, schools are always inclined to overreact or ignore victims entirely.

It was this particular phenomenon that led to Stanford eviscerating Full Moon On The Quad and the band. Because these two entities had the potential to violate Title IX regulations, the University was forced to dole out inordinate punishments or risk its all-valuable federal funding. Considering that Stanford receives some $700 billion from the Fed annually, any concerns regarding Title IX compliance will always take priority.

On the other end of the spectrum, universities can also choose to hand out diminutive (or nonexistent) punishments to perpetrators of this crime. This disgusting attempt to avoid scrutiny from federal Title IX officials led Stanford to hand a slap on the wrist to a student accused of at least four different sexual assaults. That student went on to graduate.

Regardless of Title IX’s original intentions, change must occur. The statistics of the current office are unflinching. In 2016, Stanford was the home of the most sexual assault cases under review of any college in America. That fact alone, added to the qualitative horror of recent events on campus, provides all the evidence necessary in a case that even the Title IX office should be able to interpret.

Simply put, the current system of sexual assault investigation and prevention doesn’t work, both on this campus and in the nation at large. Both Stanford and America must collectively question the goals, motivations and procedures of the Title IX office. By avoiding this task, we are doing a grave disservice to the victims and those wrongly accused of sexual assault. Although they undoubtedly have a difficult job, Title IX officials must reform their office or be stripped of what remaining confidence we hold in them.

 

Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.