This month, a judge ruled that a University of California, San Diego student accused of sexual assault was unfairly punished by the university, according to Al Jazeera. Because the university refused to grant the accused access to statements from his accuser or a witness in the university’s sexual misconduct panel, the university’s processes were deemed unfair. In reality, the judge’s ruling may be more unfair to the victim of the assault, whose case can potentially be used as a precedent for law enforcement to extend more courtesy toward the accused than to the victims.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are about 35 incidents of rape each academic year. In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in the year 2000, less than 5% of completed or attempted rapes against women in college were reported to law enforcement, but approximately two-thirds of incidents were discussed by the victim with at least one other person. According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, only approximately one in twenty women report their sexual assault to law enforcement.
Title IX, according to Know your IX, is a federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Under Title IX, all schools must have an established procedure for handling complaints of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual violence. The school must investigate all complaints regardless of whether the victim chooses to report to the police, and the school must take immediate action to ensure that victims can continue their education in an environment that is safe from ongoing sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual violence. This can include issuing a no-contact directive to the accused and making reasonable changes to the victim’s housing, class, sports schedule, campus job, or extracurricular activities.
Many victims opt out of reporting to the police out of fear that their cases won’t be taken seriously, even though only approximately two percent of all sexual assault accusations reported to the police turn out to be false—the same rate of false reporting for other types of violent crimes. According to Campus Safety Magazine, even in an ideal situation in which a college or university has all the appropriate measures in place to prevent sexual assault to the best of its abilities, more than half the victims will still tell no one of their assault, or will wait for days, weeks, or months before making a report if they choose to do so.
“She knows someone is going to ask her why she was wearing a dress that came up above her knees,” said Dr. Gary Margolis, managing partner of Margolis, Healy & Associates, in an interview with Campus Safety Magazine. “Why was she drinking? Why did she drink so much? Why did she go to the party alone? Why did she stay for the after-party? Why was her cell phone battery not charged? Why did she kiss him if she wasn’t interested in sex?” Such questions can give off the impression that victims will not be believed, and thus discourage them from reporting their assault.
The same applies to male victims. According to Brown University, because the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men, many believe that sexual assault is committed only by men against women. Thus, male victims can find it even more difficult to report their cases—to their schools and to law enforcement—and seek help, because there are many who do not take the sexual assault of men seriously. There are even some who will assume that male victims are the perpetrators in the incidents they choose to report.
The current laws in place, such as Title IX, are designed to protect victims. While the police and courts of law may be better equipped to deal with the rights of both the accused and the victim, it’s just as easy to disregard the victims when getting caught up in protecting the accused. If people accused of sexual assault were treated by schools and law enforcement like people accused of other violent crimes, then there would be no ambiguity.