The U.S. Senate is planning a hearing Wednesday on the issue of campus sexual assault. Not invited: advocates of due process rights for the accused, or anybody else who is likely to question the narrative that campuses are rife with “rape culture.”
The hearing, being held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), includes two whole panels on the topic of “Combating Campus Sexual Assault.” The first panel consists entirely of four U.S. Sens.: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Dean Heller of Nevada, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The four senators are all co-sponsors of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), a proposed bill designed to deploy the power of the federal government against campus rape. (RELATED: Gillibrand: ‘Yes Means Yes’ Should Go Nationwide)
CASA, first introducted in 2014 and reintroduced this spring with some modifications, has several aspects that most have little objection to. For example, the bill bars colleges from using different disciplinary procedures for athletes and non-athletes accused of sexual assault.
But the bill has also drawn criticism from some for its shortcomings in the area of due process. For example, the bill refers to those reporting sexual assault as “victims” even before they have proven allegations of assault, subtly suggesting accused students are guilty until proven innocent (the 2014 bill also called accused students “assailants,” but that wording has been changed). The bill also requires schools to provide confidential advisers to anybody claiming to have been assaulted, without requiring the accused to be provided special advisers of their own, which critics say entrenches a notion whereby campus judicial hearings are seen as a way to help victims rather than a neutral adjudication process.
Senators backing the bill have often been evasive on the topic of due process, and Gillibrand has even been dismissive on the topic, saying reduced due process and lower standards of proof in campus sexual assault cases are fine “because you’re not throwing someone in jail,” as she said at a Washington Post panel in June. All four of those testifying have repeated the claim that one in five women have been sexually assaulted in college, although there are many reasons to be wary of that figure. (RELATED: Are 20 Percent Of Women Really Assaulted In College?)
The second panel, coming immediately after the senators, consists of several academic figures as well as one anti-rape activist. One panelist is Dana Bolger, co-founder of the group Know Your IX, which promotes the use of the federal Title IX anti-discrimination law to pressure colleges on sexual assault. Last year Know Your IX published a guide for journalists writing about sexual assault which told them to use the word “victim” rather than “accuser,” and encouraged giving accusers (but not the accused) prior review of anything written about them.
Also testifying Wednesday is Mollie Benz Flounlacker, a representative of the Association of American Universities. That organization has criticized several aspects of CASA, but concerns about due process are not among them; a recent letter from the group actually suggested due process was an inappropriate concern for campus tribunals.
The other panelists are Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, who last year launched an overhaul of the university’s approach towards sexual assault, and Dolores Stafford, executive director of the National Association of Clery Compliance Officers. The federal Clery Act governs how schools track and report on campus criminal offenses, and doesn’t directly concern campus judicial processes.
The overall result, then, appears to be a committee that will mostly consist of those who view campus assault as a major crisis and want significant steps to combat it, and others who may be more neutral on the issue. Lacking are any people who appear likely to question whether the “one in five” statistic is accurate (and by extension, whether campus sexual assault is an epidemic requiring drastic action) or who will emphasize the need to preserve students’ due process rights in campus tribunals.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to the HELP Committee asking how the hearing’s lineup was decided, and received a statement from Chairman Lamar Alexander defending its balance.
“Our committee’s bipartisan campus safety working group will be looking closely at fairness and due process for both the accuser and the accused,” Alexander said. “For Wednesday’s hearing, we have invited several experts to submit statements for the record on protecting the rights of the accuser and the accused, which is an essential part of our objective to help colleges and universities create safe environments for students on campus.”