Author Jon Krakauer’s newest book came out this week, diving into the culture of sexual assault in Missoula, Montana, which saw 230 rape cases in four years and is home to the University of Montana.
In an interview with Chronicle of Higher Education’s Eric Kelderman, Krakauer said the university actually handled sexual assault well because it removed offenders from campus after it found them responsible for rape.
As colleges like the University of Montana face more pressure to adjudicate sexual misconduct complaints on campus, a debate has emerged about how they should treat accused rapists — especially if police are also investigating the case.
Here’s how Krakauer answers when asked “Is it really possible for colleges to handle these situations without having the same investigative powers as law enforcement?”:
I really have a problem with people who say “universities have no business adjudicating rape cases; you have to turn them over to the criminal-justice system.” And my problem is that the criminal-justice system is simply not up to the task. It will not remove very many rapists.
The criminal-justice system is so careful to protect the rights of the accused … But [when a college expels a student for sexual assault,] you’re not incarcerating anyone, you’re not putting anyone on a list that will haunt them for the rest of their life as a sexual offender.
Criminal cases and university investigations arguably serve different purposes. In criminal cases, a defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But the Education Department says colleges must use a lower burden of proof when determining whether somebody is responsible for rape: the “more likely than not” standard.
While critics say the standard of proof is too low, the counterargument is that the most devastating punishment a college can dole out — expulsion — is still much less severe than jail time.
In a recent interview with NPR, Krakauer noted that “the best statistics show that about 97% of rapes, you know, the rapist walks away, is never held accountable.”
“That is, to me, really disturbing,” he said.
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