Police, not bureaucrats, should handle charges of campus sex assault

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/08/25/police-not-bureaucrats-should-handle-charges-of-campus-sex-assault/

A bill introduced last week in Congress has the right idea for addressing college sexual assaults. It would require universities to call the police when an allegation of sexual assault is received.

Rape is a very serious crime, and once university officials learn of a complaint, they should not have the option of handling the investigation internally, even if that’s what the victim requests.

The bill from Republican Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Kay Granger and Pete Sessions, both of Texas, would remove the discretionary element of reporting college rapes and require university officials to bring in law enforcement immediately.

Rape is a felony charge, and should be treated seriously no matter where it happens. It is inconceivable that if a sexual assault occurred in, say, a factory that the owners of the facility would be able to bypass the police and handle the investigation internally, including the meting out of punishment.

But on many campuses, that’s what’s happening with sexual assaults. The policy differs from school to school, even within states. The University of Michigan lets victims decide whether to involve the police; Michigan State University calls the cops from the start.

Colleges are not equipped to conduct a felony criminal investigation. Nor are they capable of acting as judge and jury.

Too often, the victim’s allegations are not handled in a serious manner, or the proceedings devolve into a kangaroo court that denies the alleged attacker due process.

So the proposal is a good one. But Congress is not the right venue for its adoption.

The process of handling local crimes should be decided by the states. Federal lawmakers are stepping outside their constitutional bounds in dictating the specifics of state criminal codes.

But the concern and controversy over campus sexual assault has invited a flurry of congressional action, much of it not particularly useful in addressing the problem.

Another bill offered in June — the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency Campus Sexual Violence Act, or HALT — would bury colleges under a mountain of paperwork and litigation. It would require the repeated surveying of students and the meticulous tracking and reporting of allegations of sexual assault to a federal clearinghouse. It would also penalize colleges financially for violating the requirements of various regulations and laws adopted to stem college assaults, and give victims greater right to sue universities for not maintaining safe campuses. It would also require universities to do a parallel investigation even when police are called.

Colleges certainly have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for their students. The schools should do everything humanly possible to prevent sexual assaults.

But when they do occur, the criminal justice system should take over.

The members of Congress seeking to encode that concept into federal law are on the right track. State lawmakers around the country should seize the idea.