College students accused of sexual assault in Minnesota — most of whom are male — have something new to fear besides false or exaggerated accusations: Anonymous reporting.
A new law taking effect this week requires all colleges and universities in the North Star State to allow students to anonymously report sexual assault. The intentions are noble — many victims of sexual assault are naturally afraid to come forward, so allowing them to do so anonymously through the Internet could be helpful. But as with many good intentions, the consequences (which were probably not even considered) can be awful.
The actual line of the law that permits anonymous reports states: "The system must permit anonymous reports, provided that the institution is not obligated to investigate an anonymous report unless a formal report is submitted through the process established in the institution's sexual harassment and sexual violence policy."
That the institution is "not obligated to investigate" these anonymous reports is a good thing, but that won't last. When a Minnesota school gets investigated by the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, the fact that it didn't investigate the informal, anonymous reports may very well be used against it. "Oh, Ashe, you're just fear-mongering," one might claim. But one would be wrong.
Michigan State University and the University of Virginia were both found to have violated the anti-sex discrimination law known as Title IX (which has been used to force colleges to adjudicate sexual assault) because they didn't investigate informal complaints. Even though the accusers in those cases reported to someone (there were no anonymous channels at either school), they didn't want to move forward with a formal investigation. It's not a stretch to suspect that OCR would threaten to remove funding from a school if it failed to investigate the anonymous reports.
And that's bad for the accused, who already have limited to no due process rights on a college campus. Now they can be accused and have no idea, and potentially be investigated without ever knowing the identity of their accuser, giving them no ability to properly defend themselves or confront their accuser.
Elsewhere in the law, the online reporting system is deemed "private," but it is likely still to be seen by Title IX officers. So what happens when someone anonymously accuses student X, and then months (or years) later another person formally accuses student X? There's no doubt in my mind that the anonymous accusation would magically find its way into the investigation file on student X, who at that point would be totally unaware that he had been previously accused and, again, would not know who accused him or the details of the accusation.
As those advocating for due process in campus sexual assault accusations know, information regarding campus sexual assault accusations is never "private." If student X is anonymously accused and transfers schools (for whatever reason, even geographical reasons), who's to say an anonymous phone call won't be received by the new school informing it of the anonymous online report? That's what happened to former Yale University star quarterback Patrick Witt, who was informally accused but still had his life turned upside down when an anonymous caller contacted the Rhodes scholarship committee to tell them about the accusation against him.
And as with any article about the plight of the accused, one can always dismiss it, because who cares about the accused, right? Except we've seen time and time again that accusations on college campuses look less like rape and more like regretted hookups or retaliation against a boyfriend. Creating a system that makes it easier for false accusations doesn't help real victims, but instead clogs the system with witch hunts.
Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.