Do accused rapists deserve their checks and balances?

By Ian Hagerty

(Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)
(Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

One of the most gut wrenching problems on college campuses or anywhere in the world is sexual assault and rape. A National Institute of Justice study found that every year, up to 19 percent of women on United States college campuses experienced rape or attempted rape. To think of this on a person-to-person level while walking around University of Massachusetts is simply staggering and changes my perception of an otherwise hopeful seeming atmosphere. I can’t even imagine that on average one in five women I encounter has had to deal with such an experience. The number is probably even higher, because many instances of rape or sexual assault go unreported. Rapists shouldn’t be allowed on the streets and deserve our harshest punishments.

Now, as an NPR report outline on Sept. 3, many college students accused of sexual assault, including a male UMass student, are suing their respective schools, claiming that their rights were violated and they didn’t get a fair hearing.

The accused UMass student claims in the NPR report he received consent from the other anonymous UMass student and alleged victim, while she claims to have been drinking, with no memory from the evening except being held down while having sex.

Shortly after, she told a friend what happened. The friend alerted a dorm advisor. Within two days, the school launched an investigation.

“Right from the start they treated me like I was the scum of the earth,” the UMass student accused of sexual assault told NPR when describing the investigation process. He was told that he was being investigated for sexual assault and that he only had several hours to move out of his dorm. Shortly after, he had a hearing process and was expelled from the school.

The defendant’s complaint was that he was denied his rights and wasn’t allowed any witnesses or an attorney to speak on his behalf during his hearing. The attorney representing the UMass man among the others suing their respective schools say that schools are desperate to prove that they aren’t soft on sexual assault, and therefore might hastily jump to a conclusion of guilt.

It is hard to imagine anyone falsely accusing someone of rape or sexual assault. It is such a serious issue and such a terrible one, even to joke about, that we would all hope no one would have any reason or want to cry wolf. The entire experience can be stressful and humiliating, so someone would be hard pressed to make a false accusation for any reason.

However, according to the journal, Violence Against Women, a review of every rape allegation made on a college in the U.S. amassed to an estimate of 5.9 percent of rape allegations being false. This in no way downplays the monstrosity of the act of rape or proves the innocence of any of the defendants discussed. Chances are, the men filing the lawsuit are guilty and they should definitely be brought to justice. This does beg the question, though: shouldn’t we all have a right to defend ourselves?

Plain and simple, we should have a better system in place for handling this type of situation. Even if there is only a 1 percent chance that the accused is not guilty, we should still have some other checks and balances in place so that every person gets a proper chance to defend themselves. The thought of being kicked out of your home within hours and shortly thereafter expelled from school without any due process seems like something you would find during Communist Blacklisting in the United States, or when prisoners were being detained at Guantanamo indefinitely without trial. Of course, these are harsh examples of rights violations, but it is a slippery slope.

Some may argue that if we add more checks and balances to the current system, that more guilty rapists will get away with their crime. There may be insufficient evidence or the accused could win out with a better lawyer. However, this doesn’t change the fact that we shouldn’t be putting the innocent behind bars. I’ll repeat again, that false accusations of rape are rare and accused rapists should never be able to get away with their crime, but can we really use a system that assumes guilt before innocence?

This is a very tough subject, because when it comes down to it, the only evidence of an incident of rape or assault can often come down to the word of one of those involved. Also, rape is a crime that shouldn’t be given any reasons to be easier to commit. What I do know is that if relinquishment of human rights is allowed for the sake of the greater good, how are we supposed to justify that? I don’t think we can justify it and I also don’t think we can let any rapists slide through the cracks. There has to be a better way to handle this. Currently, I just don’t know what.

Ian Hagerty is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]