Editorial: Police should handle campus sex assaults

The Detroit News

Michigan's first lady wants more awareness directed to sexual assaults on college campuses. That's a good call, but universities are already on high alert from the federal government that they must crackdown on assaults. If the state wants to make a real difference, it should pass a law requiring that police investigate all campus sexual assault allegations.

Sue Snyder held a summit Monday on campus sexual assaults, which highlighted victims, professors and others experts on the topic. Her husband, Gov. Rick Snyder, announced $500,000 in the 2016 budget for implementing best practices on college campuses to help prevent sexual assault.

But the summit focused little on the problems that come with schools trying to muddle through these complicated cases on their own, with real repercussions for both the victim and the accused.

State Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia, participated in Snyder's summit, and the former law enforcement officer is troubled by universities handling sexual assault internally and without the aid of police.

"A crime is a crime whether you commit it on a college campus or in a backyard," she says. Cox says she is an advocate for victims but that she's also concerned about due process for the accused. "There are gaps in the process," Cox says.

Rape and sexual assault are crimes. Period. If a student reports such an incident, university officials should call police immediately.

That's not happening consistently now. Universities set their own policies about how to handle reports of sexual misconduct, often leaving the decision of whether to involve police to the victim. Some call the authorities, some don't. That leaves investigations up to college administrators.

But universities lack the expertise to act as judge and jury, and political pressures to produce outcomes rather than justice too often means that civil liberties for the accused are sacrificed. For example, the Obama administration has demanded colleges use a preponderance of evidence standard for determining guilt, rather than the higher beyond a reasonable doubt standard used by the legal system.

Three Michigan universities—Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan—are under investigation by the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights because of how they responded to sexual assault claims.

Nearly 100 institutions around the country face similar reviews. And the Civil Rights Office is using Title IX, which was passed to end gender discrimination in schools, as its tool against universities that don't adequately punish claims of sexual assault. Colleges risk losing federal funding if they don't comply.

But what colleges should be responsible for is creating the safest possible environment for their students by educating their students about sexual assault and cracking down on underage and binge drinking on campus. If despite their best efforts, a crime occurs, the police should take over from there.

Allowing colleges to keep rape investigations internal invites everything from cover-ups to bungled investigations to kangaroo courts.