Letter to the Editor: Response to Groesbeck’s “DeVos Rescinds Obama-era Guidelines for Handling Campus Sexual Assault”

Letter to the Editor: Response to Groesbecks DeVos Rescinds Obama-era Guidelines for Handling Campus Sexual Assault

By Emma Tanner

Against the recent executive attenuation of Title IX’s application on college campuses, Groesbeck is concerned about what this means for survivors of sexual assault: it means an implicit silencing of female victims by bolstering procedural protections around the accused. In addition, because the new guidelines increase the burden of proof, “victims will be more fearful than they already are to speak out about the trauma they endured and the shame directly associated with it.”
Yes, it may mean this. In and of itself, refacing emotional trauma can be utterly debilitating; but I dare say many would undergo the temporary agony in order to secure justice against their attacker. In any case, I do not believe Groesbeck is making the argument that the changes in procedure are bad only because they may lead to heightened psychological discomfort for victims. Rather, Groesbeck does not like them primarily because “the new guidelines will discourage students from reporting assaults and make schools uncertain on how to follow the law, making campuses less safe.” In other words, assailants are more likely to get away scot-free.
It may also mean increasing a burden of proof will naturally decrease the likelihood that a prosecutor will be able to secure enough evidence to derive a conviction. Groesbeck’s concern is understandable only superficially, though. The Utah criminal code explicitly states that trials work off of a presumption of innocence, and that evidence must be provided for the objectionable act in question as well as for a “culpable mental state.” The judicial process protects the accused. In cases of rape and sexual assault, it is frustratingly difficult to prove elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt because the objectionable act is itself a state of mind, but what is the alternative?
This presumption of innocence is absent from Groesbeck’s piece, as evidenced by the repeated use of the words “victim” and “survivor” without the qualification “alleged.” Convicting criminals is not easy—that is, it requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt—under the Constitution and Utah law. But legally ruining a person’s life, i.e., punishing alleged criminals, is something which ought to be contested in court before it is rashly carried out for no better reason than compassion for alleged victims, important as that is.
As a man, I will not be one of those who, according to Groesbeck, “[complain] that campus judicial processes [are] heavily biased in the favor of female accusers.” I simply believe in rights of the accused, irrespective of who the accused may be.
Article by Gavin Doughty