colleges and sexual assault
Consider the following fictional story: Let’s say that I was sexually assaulted as I walked around my hometown of Cape May, New Jersey. I found out that the perpetrator was employed at Google in California, where I also held a job and worked with that person. Upon returning to California, I decide to file a complaint with Google about the sexual assault.
What is your response to this story? I’ll tell you mine. I think that it would be unwise to assume that Google has any responsibility to conduct a criminal investigation. Google is not a police department, does not have the resources to investigate, nor has it been invested with the responsibility insure the personal safety of the citizens of California or New Jersey.
The primary purpose of informing Google would be to tell them that they have a dangerous person at work and they should take all precautions to ensure employee safety. If an employee has been accused of a violent offense, then they should be given leave while the issue is investigated by the police. Or, they could work in a capacity that will not endanger other employees until the employee has been cleared of wrong doing. Google also has the responsibility to call the police. Any citizen has the moral duty to call the appropriate authorities if there is a reasonable suspicion that someone is violent. An accusation of assault would in normal circumstances be a reasonable cause. We don’t assume that a special Google court will punish sexual offenders using special Google rules. That’s why we have the police and state law.
Now, all this reasoning immediately disappears when it comes to college student crime. Even though most college students are adults, we ask that universities shoulder the burden of investigating and punishing sexual offenders. For example, Slate recently recounted the story of a young woman who was sexually assaulted in Alaska, allegedly, by a fellow Stanford student. She then filed a complaint at her university. The story also discusses the difficulty that colleges have in getting people to file sexual misconduct complaints.
But this, I believe, misses the point. PhD’s are not police officers or prosecutors. Stanford, and other schools, have duty to provide a safe environment for women students, but they aren’t district attorney offices. The insistence that colleges punish sexual offenders likely stems from the in loco parentis doctrine that gives colleges a strong role in student discipline. It’s time to abandon that belief, treat adults as adults, and shift the burden of public safety to police departments. It’s their job to protect women, including college students, and we should insist that they do it on our campuses.