Virginia Considers Novel Approach to Campus Sexual Assaults, Reports LawProf John Banzhaf

Because colleges have inherent conflicts of interest in investigating campus sexual assault claims and usually cannot afford to employ their own trained sex crime investigators, the state of Virginia is formally considering using a novel "compromise" approach which would eliminate these biases as well as provide sufficient resources for a proper investigation of reports of sex crimes, reports public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Washington, DC, January 27, 2016 --( Rather than having individual colleges investigating reports of date rapes and other sexual assaults on their own campuses, this new approach, just reported by Inside College Ed, and now awaiting funding by the state legislature, would establish "a regional center for the investigation of incidents of sexual and gender-based violence similar to the multidisciplinary approach used in child advocacy centers.”

Instead of the usual procedure of having such investigations conducted by campus police who typically lack training in the special techniques and sensitivity required to investigate reported sexual assaults, the center would be staffed by experienced sex crime investigators who would not be subject to pressures from the individual colleges whose reports they are investigating, says Banzhaf.

Colleges face inherent conflicts of interest when they investigate reports of date rapes by their own students, notes Banzhaf. On the one hand, there is pressure not to find that a rape has occurred in order to protect its own reputation. No college wants to be known as "Rape U," he suggests.

Likewise, the Chronicle of Higher Education has pointed out the "inherent conflicts" which occur when colleges try to do the job themselves. Have too many guilty findings and a college can be "branded a 'rape haven,'" but being perceived as not having enough can lead to a federal investigation and possible loss of all federal funding.

On the other hand, colleges face increasing pressure from the federal government to crack down on campus rapes to avoid Title IX investigations and even possible loss of federal funds, the Chronicle of Higher Education has reported.

In announcing this new development, Inside Higher Ed said:

"In recent years, several legal experts and advocates have proposed creating a centralized system for investigating cases of campus sexual assault, but many said this week that they believe this is the first time a state has begun to actively explore and fund the idea."

“When discussing the investigation and adjudication of campus sexual assault during a panel discussion at the National Press Club in March, John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, advocated for what he called ‘a third ground’ -- an option that exists outside of institutions and law enforcement, which he said have their own biases, pressures and motivations that can trip up an investigation. ‘But a consortium wouldn't be pushed in any way at all,’ Banzhaf said. ‘They don't have donors, they don't have basketball teams. They are completely and totally impartial.’”

“Banzhaf’s plan, similar to the proposed Virginia center, would be to create a regional consortium, with colleges pooling their resources to fund a team of trained investigators they can call upon when responding to cases of campus sexual assault.”

Banzhaf says that his proposal, which has been featured in the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S. News, Washington Examiner, and National Public Radio, might be seen as a compromise between those who argue that rape, like other serious crimes, should be investigated by police and not universities, and others who suggest that conventional law enforcement does a poor job with these types of cases.

This new development in Virginia follows an earlier report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article entitled Should Colleges Be Judging Rape?, that "Some college leaders are quietly talking about other alternatives. Could they pool their resources and create regional tribunals — staffed by legal experts — to handle rape allegations?"

More information about the proposal can be found at:
George Washington University Law School
Public Interest Law Professor John Banzhaf
202 994-7229 // 703 527-8418