Ben Boychuk explains how California legislators are using their financial muscle to force colleges and universities to crack down on the epidemic of sexual assault in the state’s institutions of higher education. As we’re often told, women in university are at great risk of sexual assault — figures from one in four to one in five are often quoted — yet the universities are not punishing anywhere near that proportion of male students. To lawmakers, this is proof positive that university administrations are not taking the dangers seriously enough and they’re going to use all the tools at hand to force that to change.
[...] at a June hearing of the California State Assembly Higher Education and Joint Legislative Audit committees, chairman Das Williams couldn’t understand why the number of students disciplined for sexual misconduct was so low. A University of California at Berkeley administrator, for example, reported just 10 suspensions or expulsions out of 43 cases involving non-consensual sex over the last six years. How could that possibly be?
Williams, a Santa Barbara Democrat, concluded that the number of suspensions and expulsions of these alleged perpetrators of sexual violence had to increase. The consequences for student assailants are “not significant enough to act as a deterrent,” he warned — failing to consider that perhaps the problem of campus sexual violence isn’t as widespread as he’d been led to believe. In any event, Williams’s point was unmistakable: California’s universities had better start punishing more alleged offenders, or there will be consequences for the universities. And if administrators need a lower standard of proof to boost punishments, he and his colleagues would be more than happy to give it to them.
Williams is promising a slate of bills early next year that would mandate training for all university employees to respond to, and intervene to prevent, sexual assault, and, more significantly, to beef up punishments for alleged assailants. “Rape is a very difficult thing to prosecute,” he told the Sacramento Bee. Because most college disciplinary boards already use the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard — as opposed to the more rigorous “reasonable doubt” standard that criminal courts apply — “there is a real role that schools can play that law enforcement can’t.”
The reigning assumption in Sacramento — and Washington, D.C., for that matter — is that universities aren’t taking the problem of campus sexual assault seriously enough. A state audit released in June drew precisely that conclusion, and recommended that California’s state universities “do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence.” Every campus has a rape crisis center of some kind, with counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every campus police department offers rape defense programs. “Take Back the Night” programs are ubiquitous. Is more training and “education” — meaning more bureaucracy — really the answer?
You can certainly understand the concern: with so many young women suffering (although not necessarily reporting the criminal acts), the universities must be literal predator paradises, as the sexual assault rate in the general population is so much lower than on campus (Heather Mac Donald noted that the sexual assault rate in New Orleans in 2012 was only .0234 percent, making it a far safer place for women than any Californian university).