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Are colleges denying students rights in sexual assault cases?

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It’s a saying we all know and apply to many situations, especially in criminal cases. Many of us also know that we have the right to an attorney when facing criminal charges and have the right to a fair trial where the burden of proof lies on the accuser not the accused. These are rights we are grateful to have, even if we rarely find ourselves in need of them.

But a growing number of male students across the nation, including some here in California, are finding themselves finding themselves in need of this protection because of allegations of sexual assault and rape. These serious accusations would normally be afforded a fair trial by the criminal justice system; but when these accusations are handled by college boards, students are finding that they don’t have the same rights even though they face similar consequences.

It’s because of this injustice that more and more students are resorting to civil claims against universities across the nation. In most cases, it’s argued that the college hearing process is unfair because it assumes that the accused is guilty before the hearing even starts. In some cases, students are not even allowed the right to an attorney.

But aside from violating an accused person’s right to a fair trial, many of these cases are also highlighting the backlash an accused person faces because of these accusations. Much like the accusations made in a criminal trial, college students can also experience negative stigmas or permanent labels that may have been unjustly applied. In one case, a student found his acceptance to another college suddenly rejected when the school received an anonymous call about accusations of sexual assault against him.

While some argue that universities can clear up this issue by clarifying school policies regarding sexual misconduct, many others would argue that the root of the problem is how schools handle accusations and hearings afterwards. If it’s considered unlawful to violate a person’s rights in criminal courts, then why is it considered okay to do so in school board hearings?

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “More college men are fighting back against sexual misconduct cases,” Teresa Watanabe, June 7, 2014

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