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Column: Federal efforts may tip scales on campus rape

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Well, I guess if you can’t solve issues such as immigration or tax reform or how to make the Affordable Care Act work like it was envisioned or resolve stagnant growth, you can at least take on the problems of sex on campus — the unwanted kind, of course, even though the chances of pulling that off may be slimmer than solving all the other problems we face.

The ultimate solution may be a federally administered forced saltpeter program aimed at all male students but especially those who won’t take no for an answer. Put it in their mashed potatoes. According to legend that’s what the Army did once upon a time.

But if that were more than myth, it seems not to be the case now given the growing number of sexual assault allegations among the current coeducational military.

Before I am met with a blizzard of charges that I am an insensitive baboon, please let me state that rape is an abhorrent crime of violence that should be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It is no laughing matter. Any institution of higher learning that fails to do everything in its power to determine the truth of a sexual assault allegation or repeatedly treats such charges cavalierly should be put on a blacklist for attendance, at the very least.

In a perfect world, everything would be clear cut. But our system provides protection for the accused as well as the accuser. Those making the allegations therefore must realize that unfortunately it won’t be a pleasant experience. It is a reason so many decide not to pursue the justice they believe they deserve and may in fact.

It is up to the school to provide the balance to get at the heart of the matter. When both parties are drunk, which is often the case, do they not share responsibility? It is a fine line.

Whether a college or university deserves to be pilloried on the strength of a single complaint that it failed to investigate a case satisfactorily is another question. Still with prodding from President Barack Obama, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has done just that by releasing a list of 55 major institutions of higher learning that face inquiries of civil rights violations based on such complaints. These weren’t obscure schools, but many of the nation’s most prominent, including Harvard.

Worse yet, some of the schools have met the federal action predictably by overreaction that threatens to upend not only the truth in these cases but also any expected justice for either party in the scenario. They have begun to lower the standard of proof and broadened the definition of what is considered an assault. In both cases, what might have seemed like a consensual activity to the offending party could be the end of a college career if not worse.

In recent history, politics has played a deplorable role at the expense of justice in the matter of sexual harassment or worse on campuses.

Duke University dove off the deep end of political correctness without looking to see what was in the pool. It turned out to be filled with lies by an overeager prosecutor seeking re-election and an alleged victim looking for a big payday ultimately.

The school fired the lacrosse coach, expelled the alleged perpetrators and suspended lacrosse all before tackling the facts. Fortunately the parents of the accused lacrosse players had sufficient resources to hire the kind of legal knowledge that utterly destroyed the case and ended the prosecutor’s career and license to practice law.

More recently, the U.S. Naval Academy’s reputation for fairness was damaged by political pressure aimed at the Pentagon over failures to pursue egregious incidents of rape and assault. A female midshipman reluctantly brought charges against three members of the football team who allegedly had nonconsensual sex with her at an off-campus party. She admitted to being highly intoxicated during the affair and unable to remember much about it.

Only one of the midshipmen was dismissed from the institution after a trial that strained our notions of responsibility.

The colleges have the obligation to examine these cases fairly and without being pushed to tip the scales in one direction or another by the federal government for reasons suspiciously political. I fear that is just what is happening here.

Dan K. Thomasson, a Hoosier native and Franklin College trustee, is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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