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.