In April 2011, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, specifying actions colleges and universities must take in order to promote an accountable culture with regards to sexual assault. The much-debated Alternative Review Process (ARP) is Stanford’s implementation of the letter’s prescriptions. The Editorial Board debated the merits of the ARP and was unable to reach a unanimous conclusion. What follows is the opinion of four members. Editorial Board Chair Adam Johnson ’13 recused himself from this editorial.
The Dear Colleague letter is straightforward. It requires colleges to have a coordinated review process to respond to sexual assault reports that gives equal balance to both the impacted party (alleged victim) and responding party (alleged perpetrator) throughout the process. For instance, reviewers may not conduct pre-hearing interviews with one student but not the other, and both parties must have equal ability to call witnesses. The letter also specifically mandates a preponderance of evidence standard for sexual assault cases – a “more likely than not” standard, unlike the “clear and convincing” standard. Schools that do not implement the letter’s requirements risk jeopardizing their Title IX funding.
In addition to being consistent with Title IX, we believe that the ARP is good policy, particularly the controversial preponderance of evidence standard. The stricter ‘clear and convincing’ standard is inappropriate for an entity like Stanford that, unlike a criminal justice system, does not have the power to compel testimony. Stanford’s review process inevitably will have access to substantially less data than a true court of law, so the standard of evidence should reflect this discrepancy.
But most significantly, the ARP is important because it promotes a culture of reporting and accountability that is desperately needed. Most of the ARP’s changes aim to make the process of reporting sexual assault friendlier and less intimidating. For instance, if the ARP allowed the two students to confront and cross-examine each other – the procedure in place before ARP’s adoption – far more sexual assaults would go unreported: No victim of sexual assault wants to be forced to interact with their assailant in a traumatic and intimidating manner.
Moreover, we are not terribly concerned that the system will be abused by false reports. The problem we face now is chronic underreporting of sexual assaults. The statistics on sexual assault in college are grim: a 2007 report found that about one in five women and 6.1 percent of men are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault while in college. More frighteningly, a 2005 report found that fewer than 5 percent of completed or attempted rapes are reported. We therefore applaud the adoption of the ARP as a means of encouraging more victims to come forward, thereby establishing a healthier culture where sexual assault isn’t implicitly tolerated by an incredibly low percentage of reported incidents.
Editor’s note: Editorial Board Chair Adam Johnson ’13 recused himself from this editorial, instead penning a dissenting op-ed (“Against the preponderance of evidence standard,” May 21).