Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Harvard has the right to investigate an off-campus rape

Fewer than two weeks after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed new regulations to Title IX scaling back the responsibility of colleges to investigate off-campus sexual assault, the regulations are already coming into play in yet another lawsuit against Harvard University.

A Harvard student has filed a lawsuit against the school for investigating a rape allegation that police declined to prosecute in a city hundreds of miles away, according to The Boston Globe.

Local police should be on top of this, but since they’re not, Harvard has every right to step in and set a precedent acknowledging that the college plays an important role in how safe students are on their campus and among members of their community.

The unnamed male student said he wants the investigation halted because he faces “a grave risk of being incorrectly branded a rapist,” according to The Globe.

Being incorrectly branded as a rapist is a horrible thing that nobody should have to experience, but few do. False rape accusations are blown out of proportion, distorting a statistic that is actually very small, on top of many rapes that go unreported and many that are brushed under the rug, according to The Cut.

The risk an accused party faces of being incorrectly branded as a rapist is no justification for halting an investigation entirely. That fear is no reason for surpassing the judicial process entirely, and it’s especially no justification for freeing colleges from accountability for their students.

If the student who filed this lawsuit truly had nothing to hide, he shouldn’t be so afraid of an investigation. It’s nothing more than a talking point for him to say he’s worried about his reputation by going through the judicial process — you’d think someone accused of a crime would want to be proven innocent.

This is perhaps the first test of DeVos’s proposal — we’re seeing in action how detrimental these new regulations could be if colleges don’t have to investigate outside campus lines.

If it becomes law that colleges are only responsible for policing the conduct of students on certain property limits, some colleges might take it upon themselves to investigate behavior of their students regardless, but some might take advantage of a lack of accountability. That’s not a world we want to live in.

Many universities are already notorious for finding every way possible to avoid taking action for the sexual misconduct that occurs on-campus. They prioritize their own reputation over bringing justice to victims of sexual assault.

DeVos and the student who filed this lawsuit might see a need to reign in on sexual assault policies they feel are overbearing, harming men in the pursuit of justice, but there’s no logical reason to ease up regulations that are already so poorly enforced and inadequate at holding those in power accountable.

Colleges that don’t want to take responsibility for cases on campus probably won’t want to have to get involved in cases that transpired hundreds of miles away either. But in situations where the local police force turns a blind eye, colleges that want to take accountability for their students — like Harvard — should have the ability.  

Harvard is doing the right thing by sticking with their policy of investigating accusations of rape, whether their student was in a dorm or hundreds of miles away — even though the last thing they need right now is another lawsuit. Harvard is stepping in when the right people won’t.

If a university hears that one of its students raped someone anywhere off campus, they should have the right, not to mention the obligation, to look into that claim. They might be the only ones holding that student accountable and bringing someone justice.


  1. Think of how dumb your position is. Harvard has no connection to this event which occurred hundreds of miles away. What sort of investigation can it possibly perform? Would a committee get together and read newspaper stories about it?

  2. “False rape accusations are blown out of proportion, distorting a statistic that is actually very small”

    Talk to a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) and you may find that about half of those making rape
    claims withdraw them. Other studies put the number of false claims only slightly lower than that 50%.

    It’s true that nobody can have an accurate statistic on rape, since we don’t know how many may go unreported. OTOH, it’s also true that emotional entanglements can result in vindictive false claims (If you don’t think so, visit any divorce court).

    It’s too easy now to make an accusation and have that equal guilt. Making a false claim of rape ought to be treated as serious a crime as actual rape — that is, the accuser should face the penalty the accused would have received. That’s called “justice”, which is the result our system is supposed to produce.

  3. Of course an innocent person would want to clear their name as long as the have the ability to do so. Under the current Title IX process what chance do they really have? Truth be told, virtually none and that’s the problem. What ability does the university have to investigate an incident in another city? What’s more, how much better is a university investigation going to be if the police (you know the people who’s job it is) couldn’t find enough evidence to charge the alleged young man with a crime? That’s not to say that I wouldn’t want the university to investigate an alleged violation of student conduct, as long as the process is fair and impartial to both sides. Currently it’s not. Those who are accused have very little ability to properly defend themselves and maybe that’s the point. It sounds like to me you want the university to punish this young man since the police couldn’t or wouldn’t. You know that pesky whole due process thing.

  4. “you’d think someone accused of a crime would want to be proven innocent”
    I’m sorry–has the presumption of innocence been thrown to the wind? In the case of criminal inquiries, the government actually has to prove that a crime was committed so that the accused’s personal liberty is not taken from him. So the BU editorial staff is willing to throw out due process and allow the individual to be stripped of his opportunity to receive a high-quality education, to be expelled from Harvard, to be subjected to ridicule, and to be rejected from other first-rate universities over a lowered standard of proof and at the whim of one or a few lay judges who may share the same vengeful political agenda as these editorialists. These lax attitudes towards justice foreshadow a frightening future if these people get ahold of our court system.

  5. I don’t know what’s more upsetting in this article, the mindless commitment to an illiberal leftist ideology or the rank hypocrisy and double standards. Or perhaps it’s that this piece was written by the editors, who are supposed to be the best of the best at upholding journalistic standards. This isn’t even up to the all-but-non-existent standards of a Breitbart or Fox news. Be careful when fighting monsters that you do not become one yourself.