Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Duke Again Dismisses Due Process
Last Wednesday’s Duke Chronicle published a lengthy item on Duke’s sexual assault procedures. Though framed as highly sympathetic to accusers (the article contains no quotes from accused students, defense attorneys, or civil libertarians), the major takeaway from reporter Julian Spector’s piece is that colleges in general (and Duke, of all places, in particular) have no business adjudicating sexual assault cases.
The Chronicle article explores the treatment of two sexual assault accusers. There are four takeaway items:
(1) Duke uses secret training material for those who adjudicate campus sexual assault cases. This is perhaps the most troubling item to appear from Spector’s report. The use of specialized training material for panels hearing sexual assault claims (and only for such claims) moves the process an additional step away from the accused student being judged from a jury of his peers. More problematic, the one school’s secret training material to be made public (Stanford’s) suggests that such items dramatically increase the chances of a guilty finding. Stanford’s specialized training, for instance, suggested that defendants who presented their case in a logical fashion were more likely to be rapists.
(2) Duke administrators appear unwilling or disinterested in encouraging alleged victims to report violent crime on campus to police, or even to encourage accusers to have medical exams. Spector describes the experiences of two campus accusers, “Jean” and “Christine.” Both met with Duke administrators to allege sexual assault; in Spector’s reporting, at least, neither was encouraged to report the assault to police. It’s hard to imagine any other violent crime, or any serious crime at all, in which campus officials would not encourage victimized students to go to trained law enforcement.
Nor does Duke appear much interested in encouraging any type of formal investigative process, including medical exams. Yet a SANE report includes a near-contemporaneous account by the accuser, and can provide other types of corroboration for a real victim of crime. Duke’s dismissal of SANE exams is particularly odd given that elsewhere in the article, Duke administrators suggest a key problem is determining consent in cases involving drunken students, and, according to one administrator, “These cases are strengthened by if there’s somebody else . . . or if there’s some documentation.” Accusers who immediately went for a SANE exam presumably would have a blood test to determine their alcohol level, giving Duke adjudicators something tangible to evaluate, rather than basing their ultimate decision on subjective standards.
(3) The preponderance-of-evidence threshold encourages a guessing game. A finding of culpability for sexual assault has a life-changing impact for the convicted student: even if Duke doesn’t expel him, the notice goes on his transcript, and likely would foreclose future careers in any profession that requires a background check. For students who actually committed a rape, of course, such a punishment is nowhere near sufficient.
But there’s nothing in the Spector piece that suggests Duke’s process can successfully weed out false claims from true ones; indeed, much of Duke’s focus seems to be less due process than protecting the feelings of the accuser. Here’s Gender Violence Intervention Services Coordinator Sheila Broderick describing the process: “Nobody gets slut-shamed in that room, nobody gets disrespectfully spoken to—the conduct panel members are exceedingly pleasant.” Indeed, Broderick hinted to Spector that she accepts accusations as the truth, since even “if they [the Duke disciplinary panel] say he’s not responsible—you and I know that he’s responsible, and that’s at the end of the day what really matters.”
(4) Duke’s administrative process is one-sided. Duke administrator Stephen Bryan conceded the obvious: “There’s not one central body that works with students who are accused. We have disciplinary advisers who are trained by our office to offer support and guidance, but it’s not like the Women’s Center setup where most students go through them coming forward.”
Duke has a world-class law school. Is there any excuse for this oversight?