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Report Claims U.S. Sexual Assault Guidelines are Harmful

Posters for sexual assault advocate groups hang in Loyola's Corboy Law Center. Photo by Julie Whitehair.

A conservative nonprofit is campaigning for the removal of the guidelines U.S. universities follow to prevent and respond to sexual assault cases, saying they infringe on the rights of those accused of sexual assault.

However, statistics show that the percentage of falsely reported rape cases is relatively slim.

Nonprofit organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) analyzed 30 lawsuits filed by students accused of committing sexual assault. Each lawsuit alleged that universities mishandled rape investigations.

The report, spearheaded by Gina Lauterio, a director for SAVE, challenges the U.S. Department of Education’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter advising schools on how to handle sexual assault cases.

The letter outlined measures for schools to prevent and respond to sexual violence cases, including assuming the victim’s account is more likely than not the correct version.

Some schools have taken the guidelines a step further by relying on one investigator alone to handle sexual assault cases or establishing temporary sanctions before a case is resolved, according to SAVE.

The report is meant to expose how the Dear Colleague Letter causes “systematic” problems in handlings of sexual assault, said E. Everett Bartlett, another director for SAVE.

“We have a broad based problem that springs from the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter,” Bartlett said. “That policy is shortchanging … victims of assault and shortchanging students who have been wrongfully accused, and it’s placing universities in an … unfair position.”

Departing from the typical focus on alleged victims, the SAVE report highlights the issues facing students who may be wrongly accused of sexual assault.

Since the 2011 letter was published, nearly 130 sexual assault mishandling cases have been filed against universities by both alleged victims and accused students, according to a lawsuit database regarding Title IX.

Title IX is a statute of the 1972 Education Amendments that protects people from sex discrimination in educational programs that are federally funded.

Of the lawsuits, 51 cases reached a decision, 30 of which ruled at least partially in favor of the accused student, according to SAVE.

Most claims against universities that resulted in favor of the accused student dealt with lack of due process, breach of contract, violation of Title IX and negligence, SAVE reported.

SAVE’s findings show that 17 of the 30 lawsuits were filed against private universities. The report suggests this may be a consequence of private schools not having the same legal obligation to follow “constitutional protections” as public schools, or simply because private school students can better afford legal fees.

Two of the 30 analyzed cases were filed against Jesuit schools: Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania and Xavier University in Ohio.

Attorney Eric Rosenberg, who defends clients accused of sexual assault, said at a press conference that universities often lack resources for sexual assault investigations and school officials act as prosecutors toward accused students.

“The pendulum has swung so far that universities have determined that victim complainants are females who must receive preferential treatment in part because of pressure from the federal government and the general public,” Rosenberg said.

But not all statistics reflect that claim. Between 2 and 10 percent of cases are false accusations, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, while more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assaults.

Loyola’s own Title IX deputy coordinator, Rabia Khan Harvey, said she finds the Dear Colleague Letter to be helpful rather than harmful.

“We appreciate and often rely upon the Dear Colleague Letters to help us interpret the law so that we can effectively respond to reports alleging sex/gender harassment or discrimination,” Khan Harvey stated in an email to The Phoenix.

SAVE itself is not without controversy. The organization drew backlash in 2012 for supporting the House Republican’s Violence Against Women Act that would limit the protections for immigrant abuse victims.

SAVE’s former treasurer Natasha Spivack was also criticized for her website, Encounters International, which arranges marriages between American men and Russian women. The website was sued for $400,000 by a Russian woman when the husband she met through the service abused her, reported The Huffington Post.

The Phoenix is waiting on comment from Loyola’s Sexual Assault Advocacy Line.

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