Appeals court ruling gives option for cross-examination in sexual misconduct cases
- Students accused of sexual misconduct on campus have the right to cross-examine their accusers and witnesses in the presence of a neutral party if the public university overseeing the investigation is working off competing narratives to resolve the case, the Associated Press reported.
- The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision applies to colleges in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. It stems from a lawsuit filed in a district court against the University of Michigan by a student claiming a campus investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him did not afford him due process and violated Title IX.
- Critics of the live questioning decision say allowing victims of sexual misconduct to be questioned face-to-face by the accused is “ill advised,” Inside Higher Ed reported. The AP notes that the University of Michigan allows hearings with cross-examination in other misconduct cases not involving sexual assault. Having a neutral third party question the accused and accuser separately is considered a suitable alternative in cases involving sexual misconduct.
The court’s decision is in line with expected policies from the Trump administration on the rights of students facing sexual misconduct allegations. In August, The New York Times released a version of the proposed policies, which give the accused and accuser the ability to cross-examine and request evidence from each other. Previous guidance from the Obama administration discouraged live questioning, but did not prohibit it.
The first few weeks of the academic year is a critical time for administrators to be aware of the potential for sexual misconduct on campus. Quartz reports that roughly half of all sexual assaults that occur on campus happen in the first six weeks.
Colleges can take several steps to help mitigate the risk of sexual misconduct. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016 found that attending a four-part course on recognizing and resisting sexual assault helped to significantly reduced female college students' risk of being raped, according to the Los Angeles Times. The study compared the impact of attending the course to that of reading university-provided brochures.
A 2017 report from the Association of American Universities found that colleges are improving training and education around sexual misconduct for faculty and students as well as developing programs for specific student groups, including LGBTQ students, sexual assault victims, Greek life students, first-year students and student-athletes.
All 55 responding universities said they added services for victims and made them easier to obtain. Three-quarters of institutions said they gathered data on issues related to sexual misconduct on campus in order to inform further investigation of problem areas.
- The Associated Press Court boosts rights of students accused of sexual misconduct