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Schools protecting student-athletes from sexual assault charges

Jesse Wiles/The Round Table

This past summer, the nation erupted in outrage after Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer and Olympic hopeful, was sentenced to six months in jail after being convicted on three counts of sexual assault, due to raping an unconscious woman behind a trashcan. Stanford released a statement stating that they had done “everything within its power to assure that justice was served in this case,” from immediately investigating the incident to referring it to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Unfortunately, Brock Turner’s case is not the first case of an athlete receiving preferential treatment from the legal system or the school that they attend, and it will not be the last.

On Dec. 29, a Stanford University football player was allowed to play in the team’s college bowl game after being found guilty of sexual assaults by the majority of two separate panels used by the university.

According to the New York Times, “Both times, three of the five panelists — drawn from a pool of administrators, faculty members and students — concluded that the man, who remained on the football team throughout the case and is on the roster for a bowl game [on Dec. 30, 2016], committed sexual assault.”

At the same time, the University of Minnesota football team threatened to boycott a bowl game if the suspension’s of 10 separate players involved in sexual assault cases were not lifted. The players involved in the boycott believed that their teammates had not been given fair trials in spite of the fact that “the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action concluded last week that the 10 players had violated the university’s code of conduct — with four committing sexual assault according to the university’s rules, which require affirmative consent — sanctions have yet to be determined.”

These occurrences are just recent examples of the controversy surrounding schools and whether or not they have the ability to investigate sexual assault cases internally without involving outside sources. It also involves the processes of how they investigate.

According to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, people cannot be discriminated against based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Higher education institutions have interpreted this law as allowing them to investigate sexual assault cases internally, but the way that each institution does it varies greatly.

One such example is “a “non-hearing resolution” process,” which involves “allowing the Title IX coordinator to propose a resolution of the case acceptable to both students, forgoing a hearing.” Several schools have decided that this method of dealing with cases of sexual assault cases is ineffective, but “Stanford officials said 10 of 16 cases so far under the current system had been decided in this way.”

There are several problems with schools investigating these cases on their own, including the clear desire to protect their own reputation. This is why schools frequently generate a lot of criticism for cases involving high profile students, such as student-athletes. Student-athletes have garnered a lot of attention from the media, especially when they do something as awful as committing sexual assault. The process of internal hearings allow schools to shield these athletes, and themselves, from this kind of attention and discreetly keep these proceedings under wraps.

“Unless there is reason — for safety — we do not inform the individuals’ teachers, their conductor in the choir if they’re in the choir, the football coach if they’re on the football team, or any other head of an activity that they participate in,” said John Etchemendy, the outgoing provost of Stanford. By saying this the Etchemendy is making it clear that sexual assault is not considered a safety issue.

This kind of behavior by a school is unacceptable. Schools have no right to make these decisions without involving formal justice systems. The internal investigations make it nearly impossible for a student to find justice. The schools rarely expel students in these cases because of the damage it would have a negative effect on the school. Beloit College utilizes a variation of this system, based around internal investigation, that has allowed numerous students “found guilty” of sexual assault to continue their educations here.

Schools hide behind Title IX, but have recently been forced they to become more and more transparent thanks to the media. Because of cases like Brock Turner’s and those at the University of Minnesota, schools are under a greater pressure to properly handle sexual assault cases. They have seen what cases like this can do to the reputation of a school.

The victim in the Stanford football player case has asked, “‘But do I have to leave Stanford to feel safe? ‘I’m certain that this isn’t the way the Title IX process was meant to work.”

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