Innocent Until Proven Guilty — Except in This "Court"

As a student at a large public university, I've seen my fair share of campus crime, including sexual assault. The numbers are disturbingly high and steps certainly need to be taken to analyze the crimes and strengthen protection for victims of sexual assault, a crime for which there is no excuse.

The rise of violent crime, specifically sexual assault, on my university's campus is very difficult to analyze. What factors have caused the higher rates of mugging, assault, and rape? How does one stop their rise and increase safety for many women (and several men) who are guilty of no crime but had a heinous assault committed against them? There are certainly no easy answers.

However, the American higher-education system (including my own university) has started prosecuting alleged sexual assault crimes in a way that violates and contradicts the very idea of a civilized justice system. For some time, sexual assault on college campuses was not harshly punished and criminals were allowed to remain on campus after conviction. The campus regulations and proceedings needed to be carefully modified to provide fair protection for victims of sexual assault or rape. However, these modifications have gone so far that they now cause some of the most blatant and egregious miscarriages of justice in America.

The prominent Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Judith Grossman, an attorney in New York City, describes the mockery of the justice system that Title IX has provided on college campuses and in student-conduct courts across the country. She writes, "Title IX, that so-called guarantor of equality between the sexes on college campuses, and as applied by a recent directive from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, has obliterated the presumption of innocence that is so foundational to our traditions of justice."

On the home front in Missouri, a high-profile case implicating Michael Dixon, a player on the men's basketball team, resulted in his dropping out from the University of Missouri after being heavily pressured by the Student Conduct Board and the administrative bodies of the university. As an uninvolved third party, I can't accurately speculate on the details of the case, but I'll provide an editorial written by the staff of the student newspaper, the Maneater, that might shed light on the way in which the case was investigated and how students reacted to it.

Michael Dixon, like Mrs. Grossman's son, was never afforded his day in court. The student body (and its publications and voices) professed the opinion that while Dixon was innocent until proven guilty, the defendant's claims were also true until proven otherwise. This handy legal paradox serves as a good summary for how some university students view alleged sexual assault cases. Mrs. Grossman's son suffered a gross ordeal that went against the foundation of our entire justice system, and indeed the principles of the justice systems established worldwide hundreds of years ago. Dixon was pressured to leave the school and forgo what could have been a successful NBA career because of accusations that were never proven or were based in concrete evidence— just very late-coming hearsay. 

The sexual assault cases described above and the many like them that occur throughout the country are unreasonable extensions of an attempt to stop "rape culture." While nobody should have to bear the pain of a sexual assault, nor should victims be blamed for the event itself, the way we often deal with sexual-assault accusations goes against the moral fabric of the judicial process. 

Cases that can not be proven true beyond a reasonable doubt by an accuser are thrown out of any true court in the country. Why is sexual assault worthy of violating hundreds of years of rational judicial thoughts and precedents? As long as we unreasonably condemn men and women for alleged actions that can't be proven, we will leave a gaping hole in the justice system. While rape is a heinous crime and a societal issue that needs to be addressed, violating a defendant's rights in court is not the way in which it should be faced.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Max Conger

Max is a 1L student at the University of Missouri School of Law. The only topic he can discuss with authority is firearms, so expect to hear a lot of that from him.

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