Last year California passed a law that defined nearly all sex on college campuses as rape unless proven otherwise. Now, in addition to making it easier to label someone a rapist for just about every sexual encounter, state legislators want to go further to ensure that accused students' lives are severely disrupted — if not ruined — by introducing mandatory minimums for their punishment.
The mandatory minimum would be a suspension of two years for students found responsible for sexual assault. But bear in mind that the burden of proof already lies with the accused, thanks to California's "yes means yes" law. Accusers do not have to provide any proof that that they failed to give consent or were unable to consent due to incapacitation, and now a guilty finding would carry a minimum punishment under this new proposal.
First they made it easier to brand a student a rapist, and now they want to make it easier to ruin that student's life.
The legislation states that the mandatory minimum would apply to students found responsible for "rape, forced sodomy, forced oral copulation, rape by a foreign object, sexual battery, threat of sexual assault, and any other forms of sexual assault."
Elizabeth Woodson, Stanford University's student body president and a member of a task force that recommended changes to the school's sexual assault policy, told the Huffington Post that students found responsible should be expelled.
"If someone, through a fair and equitable process that we are creating, is found responsible for sexual assault, there should be one response; and that response should be expulsion," Woodson said.
Woodson is right that if someone went through a fair process and was found responsible, they should be held accountable. After all, rape and sexual assault are serious crimes and should be treated as such. The problem is that accused students are not facing a fair process.
Students on college campuses have already discovered in recent years that they have few, if any, due process rights (absolutely none at private institutions unless the school allows). Attaching minimums without adding any due process rights will surely increase the number of lawsuits filed by suspended students. California is currently facing seven such lawsuits.
The claims made by the suing students are that the schools ignored evidence of consent in order to adhere to federal pressure to look tough on sexual assault. The pressure is very real — the Department of Education, which is investigating over 100 schools for inadequately addressing claims of sexual assault, tends to drop investigations when schools fire or expel someone.
This latest attempt by California to crack down on sexual assault provides no due process rights for accused students to ensure their mandatory suspension was justified.