Sexual assault on campus has been a hot-button issue in the past few years, and as a result, more sexual assault survivors are speaking out and raising awareness of its pervasiveness. On Friday at 11 p.m. EDT, Vice on HBO will air “Campus Cover-Up,” which zeros in on the role of campus tribunals in adjudicating sex crimes on campus and whether or not they truly serve survivors.
VICE correspondent Gianna Toboni and the doc's producers even wire up a student with a hidden recording device to capture the awkward questions that are asked of survivors, often by panels made up of students and faculty untrained to handle sexual assault adjudication.
The question of why a university committee, instead of law enforcement, would handle what is considered a crime comes down to two things. First, the burden of proof required by law enforcement that a rape occurred is often too high for survivors, and meting out justice takes too long. This is combined with the requirement under civil rights law Title X that universities must remove sexual offenders from the survivors' environment so that a sexual assault survivor can exercise her right to an education. (Title IX requires that any institution that receives federal funding is legally obligated to provide a safe environment -- and hence equal environment -- to women to pursue their education.)
Former sex crimes prosecutor Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who recently conducted a nationwide survey of sexual assault at colleges, responded to Toboni, who asked why campus officials were doing the work at all.
"There are many of these cases that might not be taken by a prosecutor’s office for actual prosecution because the factual scenario is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," McCaskill said. "The Title IX process is a way to have some accountability to protect the young woman on campus so that she doesn’t have to be in the same class, the same dorm, so she does’t have to see the person who assaulted her day in and day out."
Because colleges create what one survivor called a “kangaroo court” to look into campus sexual assault, they’ve been charged by many women with sweeping cases under the rug so as not to attract negative attention.
McCaskill and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have introduced legislation that seeks additional funds to employ compliance teams at the Department of Education and to have a dedicated staff that investigates and enforces Title IX provisions regarding sexual violence.
"America's colleges and universities are the best in the world," said Gillibrand, according to an NPR report. "But it is simply unacceptable that they become havens for rape and sexual assault. It is time to take this crisis head on and end the scourge of sexual assault on our college campuses, hold offenders accountable and keep our students safe."