A 2023 article in the Stanford Law Review, Sex Exceptionalism in Criminal Law, looks into why American society views sex-related crimes more seriously than other crimes. While the intimate nature of sexual assault offers a partial explanation, one of the downsides of this view occurs on university campuses.
Students accused of sexual assault face an uphill battle when fighting allegations. They may find it more difficult to find support from faculty or other students, or they may not receive a fair investigation and hearing. Well-meaning as the mantra “believe the victim” is, such a view makes it more difficult for falsely accused students to clear their names.
While the article focuses on criminal law, some of its conclusions show why students accused of sexual assault are in a worse position than those accused of other policy violations.
A History of Sexual Assault
The different treatment of sexual assault from nonsexual assault stems from the idea that the latter is more damaging to the individual. As the article points out, someone who commits an assault against another person may be labeled a hothead. If that assault is sexual, the same person is labeled a rapist.
The reasons behind sex exceptionalism have shifted in recent years. While anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, that view is more modern, and sexual assault was once viewed as a crime that men committed against women. When women were viewed as property, a sexual assault was less a crime against a woman and more a misuse of her father or husband's property.
With the rise of the feminist movement, sexual assault became an attack on a person's bodily autonomy. This was also when sexual assault was viewed as a crime that could be committed by anyone on anyone.
College Campuses and Sexual Assault
In recent years, studies on the underreporting of sexual assaults on campuses have made colleges and universities more vigilant when enforcing these policies.
The problem is that, in an effort to make all students feel safe, current sexual assault investigations may be more about proving a school is taking a hard line on the issue rather than on an individual case. A school may be more focused on proving they respond to accusations and punish the accused and ignore an accused student's rights, including due process.
American society views sex crimes as worse than other misconduct. This viewpoint extends to college campuses, which after years of ignoring legitimate sexual assault claims, are now swinging in the other direction. In trying to make students safe, colleges and universities risk ignoring an accused student's due process rights and the possibility of false accusations.
If you're a student who has been accused of sexual assault, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.