California is the first state to sign into legislation a bill that requires colleges to assess for affirmative consent when reviewing allegations of sexual assault. The bill has been hotly contested as gender biased. Opponents feel the bill targets men and that instances of regretted sex may end up as rape convictions. The bill’s language is actually gender neutral. False reporting of rape is relatively rare and is consistent with false reporting for other crimes (and may result in charges against the person who knowingly and willfully falsely reported.)
Too often we have seen campus judiciary committees insufficiently trained to handle sexual assault allegations; in these cases the complainant feels the judicial process itself re-traumatizes and victimizes them. The highly publicized mishandling of a sexual assault case at Hobart and William Smith Colleges all too poignantly illustrates that our campus judiciary process is ill equipped to effectively decide these cases. Rape cases are notoriously difficult to adjudicate in the criminal justice system, where professionals, both prosecutors and defense attorneys are presenting the evidence; campuses simply don’t have the experience to confidently and sensitively handle these unique cases… and too much is on the line for both the alleged assailant and the alleged victim to leave this to chance.
While this bill attempts to provide a higher standard of consent by which colleges can adjudicate these cases (and hopefully also sparks even more education about consent to prevent such situations from occurring), perhaps the real question is, “Do colleges have the knowledge and experience to review and adjudicate sexual assault cases?” And if the answer is not a resounding yes, then how should we address that?