Our editorial: Let experts handle campus assault

The Detroit News

With so much attention focused on the failures of Michigan State University to stop the serial abuse of young women by sports doctor Larry Nassar, it’s a good time to highlight the shortcomings of campus sexual assault investigations.

The university’s office for handling Title IX assault and harassment complaints clearly failed the women who sought help at MSU. This happens on college campuses around the country that take government funding and must abide by the federal law banning sex discrimination.

Over the years, that law has been stretched by the courts in a way that forces university administrators to serve as police and judge in these investigations.

And justice is often not served for either the accuser or accused. It’s a flawed system in need of an overhaul.

So it’s good that Gov. Rick Snyder and first lady Sue Snyder are seeking a better alternative for Michigan’s universities.

This week they announced they are putting together a group of experts who are charged with providing “a framework of best practices for preventing assault and a model to pilot regional centers to investigate reports of sexual misconduct.”

“To help keep our college students safe and ensure reports of sexual assault are being handled swiftly and appropriately on all campuses, we are going to pilot independent, regional centers to review and investigate reports of assault,” Snyder said in a statement about the workgroup, which will include representatives from universities and law enforcement.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has similarly suggested the concept of regional centers that could focus on investigating campus assault cases. DeVos is in the process of retooling guidelines for how campuses should handle such reports, and she laid out a few ideas last September, but the department’s Office for Civil Rights is still crafting its framework which will go before the public for comment before it’s finalized.

Under President Obama, the Education Department placed much more pressure on university administrators to wrap up investigations swiftly, as well as greatly lower the burden of proof to punish an accused student, stripping due process from the campus courts.

Regional investigation centers staffed by experts in sexual assault seem like a much better approach for ensuring justice is served in these cases.

“Having a new, uniform approach to investigating campus sexual assault is an important step toward ensuring justice for all survivors,” Sue Snyder stated.

This group continues the work the first lady has undertaken the past few years to combat and prevent campus sexual assault. She will be holding her fourth annual summit on the issue in September at Western Michigan University.

The current system isn’t working, and taking criminal investigations out of administrators’ hands is the right approach.