I read with great interest and gratitude The Miami Student's excellent article on sexual assault reports and sanctions at Miami University. I wanted to respond to a couple of the troubling comments made by the administrators in your piece.
First, it is shocking to see the university's director of Student Conflict Resolution, Vaughn, make the comment that "it says something that even criminal courts have difficulty with cases like this, so now it's ended up in places like universities." This reflects a fundamental ignorance of why survivors need university processes in the first place. Title IX, the federal mandate guaranteeing women equality in education, gives students rights to assistance and protection that the criminal courts do not. An abundance of research shows that sexual assault trauma causes serious health consequences for survivors that can lead to a drop in grades, depression and suicidal aspirations, withdrawal from classes, and even withdrawal from university altogether. As Georgetown law professor Nancy Cantalupo put it in a USA Today piece, "these consequences deny victims equal educational opportunity." A criminal process is not a substitute for Title IX, as it does not protect students from gender inequality. If a student wants a dorm or class change because seeing their perpetrator could disrupt their education, then it is the university process, and not the criminal one, that will grant that.
Secondly, President Hodge's claim that sexual assault cases are especially difficult because they are "one person's word against another" demonstrates more egregious ignorance that must be challenged. Every case, from drugs to murder, involves an accused person who is going to vehemently deny that they committed a crime. The accounts of accuser and accused are not equal. The victim's words are not inherently untrustworthy and should be believed unless the accused can demonstrate some reason to suspect that the victim is fabricating his or her accusation. Rape is the only crime where people want to presume the victim has some reason to lie. On the contrary, every credible study done worldwide in the last 15 years proves allegations of rape are no less trustworthy than allegations of any other crime - across the board we see a two to eight percent rate of false accusations. In addition, there is often substantial ancillary evidence to corroborate that the victim has suffered a traumatic crime, in physical evidence, in witness testimony and in the psychological injuries exhibited by the victim.
While Miami should be applauded for seeing a significant increase in reporting, the fact that they have only expelled one person who was found responsible is a huge cause for concern. A now-classic study published in 1992 found that for potential perpetrators of sexual assault, the perceived threat of formal sanctions (being dismissed from the university or arrested) had the most significant deterrent effect to their willingness and desire to commit the crime. If Miami wants to see a drop in their sexual assault numbers, they need to hold perpetrators accountable by the imposition of genuine consequences. Furthermore, given that research has demonstrated that most college perpetrators are serial offenders who commit six rapes on average as well as other violent acts such as battery and voyeurism, administrators need to consider more seriously whether allowing a perpetrator back on campus will put their student body at risk. One must wonder whether the administration's decisions not to expel Antonio Charles after his first or second offenses were really the right ones, given the wide spectrum of crimes he committed and the many victims whose lives he most likely devastated.
Sexual assault on campus is an issue most universities undoubtedly would rather not deal with. The fact remains, however, that universities can and must tackle this issue, and given that fact, Miami University administrators can and must do better.
Attorney, Author, and Ally to the Title IX Movement