Friday, July 31, 2015

The backlash against the Safe Campus Act has begun

The inevitable backlash to the Safe Campus Act came sooner than I expected--it started a few hours after the bill was introduced. What's jaw-dropping is that the backlashers aren't even bothering to hide their contempt for due process any more.

A woman named Sarah Merriman, identified by the Washington Post as a spokeswoman for SAFER Campus, has come out against the bill, which would provide badly needed due process protections for students accused of sexual assault. Ms. Merriman made it clear that she's not interested in hearing about due process rights for the accused at this time:
We are not at a point to analyze “due process,” when many survivors are publicly shamed on their campuses, when charges against assaulters can be dismissed out of hand by administrators, when an assaulter is allowed to sit across from a survivor and shout down their story.

If we are to truly believe in due process for all, we must prioritize the needs of survivors first and foremost.
Why do people like Ms. Merriman harbor such fear and loathing of fair hearings? Insisting that the system is "broke" for accusers is not a valid justification for keeping it "broke" for the students accused.  And there is no question the system doesn't work for the men accused. The leading champion for victims' rights on campus has openly admitted that "in a lot of these cases, the campus is holding the male accountable in spite of the evidence – or the lack thereof – because they think they are supposed to . . .." And: "We see complainants who genuinely believe they have been assaulted, despite overwhelming proof that it did not happen. . . ." The academy's hostility to due process has been roundly condemned by prominent legal scholars with no ax to grind and who skew progressive. A court recently ripped off the scab and revealed an ugly pus--students accused of sexual assault are being treated unfairly. That's not something dreamed up by conservatives or the "men's rights movement."

All of us can be concerned about injustice to both the victims of sexual violence and the victims of wrongful accusations of sexual violence without comprising our fidelity to either group. It's not all-or-nothing, it's not a zero sum game, and it's not always about them--meaning the gender zealots who dominate the public discourse on these issues. Sometimes, its about the innocents who are wrongly accused because, yes, sometimes accusers lie, and sometimes they are mistaken.

Due process was invented to protect the innocent not the guilty, and that's why an accusation is never tantamount to a finding of guilt. Insisting on due process in rape cases is not "victim blaming" or misogyny because we cannot assume guilt based on what happened in unrelated cases. People of goodwill have grown weary of the sexual grievance lobby's Oppression Olympics and it's blithe dismissal of the wrongly accused. And the extremists' shrill insistence that the interests of one gender trump those of another evinces a childish and unschooled contempt for concepts that are foundational to our jurisprudence.

It is well to note that Ms. Merriman and her ilk do no favors for survivors of sexual violence by refusing to embrace fair processes for students accused of sexual violence. A system so obviously in need of repair undermines the public's confidence in the results it reaches. When it's widely, and correctly, believed that students accused of sexual violence aren't being treated fairly, triers of fact on disciplinary boards may become all the more wary about punishing even those who deserve to be punished, compounding the injustices. That's not good for anyone. The "round up the usual suspects" crowd has done more to harm victims of sexual assault than anyone (can you say "Duke Lacrosse"? "Hofstra"? "Brian Banks"? Jackie of Rolling Stone fame? Need more examples? Spend a few weeks reading through this blog--that's how long it will take you.)

It is time for all persons of goodwill to condemn comments like those made by Sarah Merriman. And all of us should urge our representatives to get behind this effort and to become a co-sponsor of it: http://www.house.gov/representatives/