As some schools experience difficulty in adapting to the Department of Education’s new sexual assault mandate, BYU welcomes the legislation that echoes a policy they truly believe in.
In the spring of 2011, a “Dear Colleague” letter was released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that changed the current assault proceedings and the very definition of sexual assault as it pertains to collegiate settings.
In typical litigation, it is expected that “reasonable doubt” and “innocence until proven guilty” standards will be the foundations of the trial. According to Stop Abusive and Violent Environment’s (SAVE) press release, under the new code, institutions of higher education are required to abide by the 50.1 percent “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
The little-known aspect of this standard is that it is a main component of civil, not criminal, cases. The 50.1 percent preponderance of the evidence gives university authorities the right to resolve an issue after determining that one party’s version of events is the truth.
Lieutenant Arnold Lemmon of the University Police Department discussed his views and BYU’s treatment of sexual assault cases.
“At BYU we work every sexual assault as if it happened; we believe you 100 percent,” Lemmon said.
BYU’s 2011 Clery Act Campus Security Report, Fire Safety Report & Federal Legal Disclosure Document echoes Lemmon’s supportive sentiments.
“The department’s primary objective is to provide victims of sexual assault with immediate professional and compassionate attention. All sexual assault cases are aggressively and professionally investigated.”
SAVE is working to get the 50.1 percent preponderance rule repealed by the Department of Education. It is their belief that this legislation infringes on the civil rights of students, and they are not without proof.
Since the new standard was enforced, there have been several universities involved in legal scandals resulting from quick disciplinary action.
A student accused of rape at the University of Virginia was denied legal representation. A quarterback at Yale University lost a scholarship opportunity because secret deliberations were conducted without any forum for him to respond to the allegations.
SAVE is worried that proceedings like these will cause a rise in false accusations that eventually overshadow the true reports.
“Bottom line is, I can see where if someone was accused and the case was handled civilly in the university, I can see where that 50.1 percent preponderance of evidence rule could lead to someone being falsely accused, but I’m not aware of any incidence of that here,” Lemmon said. “I really like the way our policy is set up.”
BYU abides by the Clery act but also goes above and beyond the legal requirements. Not only do they address sexual harassment but they also monitor dating and domestic violence statistics, which they include in the annual report.
“Unfortunately, the reality of it is, no one reads it,” Lemmon said.
Students are aware of University Police and the emergency texting systems in place but are not as versed in legislation, like Clery, that govern their rights.
When asked if they thought this information was important, students showed interest in forums that would teach them what they needed to know.
Josh Powers, a sophomore from Virginia, thought a mandatory presentation in a setting like a devotional would serve the BYU student body well.
“If something ever did happen to a student, I think that there would generally be an outreaching of love, but providing a setting to become informed would be a good resource,” Powers said.
BYU students do feel physically and emotionally safe on campus, despite some not being fully aware of what gives them that security.
Addison Davis, a junior from California, acknowledged that while she wasn’t aware of the statistics and legal rights regarding sexual assault, she did feel physically safe and confident that her peers are considerate and caring individuals.