Widgets Magazine


Letter to the Editor: Alum responds to ASSU and administration letters on sexual assault

To the Editor:

I write regarding two recent articles in The Daily: An open letter to Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Persis Drell from current and former members of ASSU regarding campus sexual assaults, and the administrators’ response to the letter. While sexual crimes are amongst the most heinous crimes in our society and should be punished accordingly, it is my hope that the “stand with survivors” mantra does not distract from the University’s obligation to provide due process of law to all parties involved in sexual assault cases.

As noted by the open letter from the ASSU, the 2011 Dear Colleague letter essentially mandated the implementation of a lower burden of proof – preponderance of the evidence – in sexual assault proceedings. The bare minimum for civil or criminal liability, this using this standard means that hearing officers need only feel that is ever-so-slightly more likely than not that respondents committed the alleged offense to find him/her guilty. In numerical terms, this corresponds to a 50.1 percent burden.

That seems remarkably low when dealing with charges as weighty as sexual misconduct. For both complainants and respondents, charges of sexual assault can be life-altering. For a sobering look at how these situations can impact complainants, read Brock Turner’s victim’s impact statement.

For respondents, accusations of and subsequent violation determinations of sexual assault can be equally devastating. Branded as sexual predators for their entire lives, these individuals often have their educational and career goals shattered as the result of campus judicial processes that are infamous for failing to provide the due process that most accused persons enjoy. These failures are chronicled in The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities, which I encourage President Tessier-Lavigne, Provost Drell, and authors of the open letter to read.

At many campuses around the country, respondents are not entitled to a formal hearing prior to disciplinary determinations, and even if they are, are hamstrung in their defense. Contrary to the demands of due process, respondents cannot directly cross-examine complainants, are not entitled to have a voice in the selection of hearing officers, and oftentimes cannot use a lawyer in the same manner as they could in a court of law. At Stanford, training for student hearing officers included guidance that respondents “act[ing] persuasive and logical” is indicative of guilt.

Basic due process protections are all the more necessary in sexual assault proceedings, whose outcome often turns on the credibility of the parties and the biases of the hearing officers. If the consequences for sexual misconduct continue to be expulsion or lengthy suspensions – as they should – then the protections and rights afforded to all parties in the adjudication process should be commensurately high. Lower burdens of proof and diminished due process protections not only place respondents’ personal and professional futures at greater risk, but also leave complainants’ accusations vulnerable to re-litigation and possible reversal.

In addition to “standing with survivors,” I encourage the Stanford administration and ASSU to stand also for the rights of respondents, and more importantly, the truth.


-Cameron Miller ’16