Editorial: On the Title IX investigation
According to New York University’s Student Health Center, one in every four college-aged women report experiences of rape or attempted rape, and one in every five is actually raped during her college years. At Princeton, however, the Committee on Discipline has reported that only four students have been found guilty of sexual assault in the past four years. Admittedly, the NYU statistics might be inflated, but even if they are, and even if the occurrence of rape at Princeton is substantially lower than the national average — something we certainly hope is true — it seems clear from the statistics that almost all occurrences of sexual assault on campus go unpunished. A system of rules is obviously less effective if there is little likelihood that penalties will be imposed on those who violate the rules. To discourage plagiarism, for example, we punish those caught doing it — nine students have been expelled for repeated acts of plagiarism over the past four years. Nobody has been expelled for sexual assault over the same period. While those considering plagiarizing can be confident that they are risking punishment, people have less reason to think they will actually get in trouble for committing sexual assault. Sexual assault is not a trivial matter, and the University ought reduce its incidence on campus. It is hard to see how this objective can be accomplished with regulations that routinely fail to be enforced.
The Title IX complaint against Princeton focuses on the standard of evidence required for the Committee on Discipline to find that a student has committed sexual assault. Given that the Committee hears only one or two cases of sexual assault every year, however, it seems that changing the standard of review would not be wholly effective in solving the problem. Attempts to improve the disciplinary process must also focus on reforming campus culture so that more victims of sexual assault feel comfortable reporting it to appropriate campus authorities. While the University does currently make some effort to create a public climate that supports victims and encourages them to not remain silent, those efforts have not been enough. We encourage the University to take both public and private steps to make the sexual culture on campus safer by establishing a firm stance of intolerance towards sexual assault and encouraging those who have been assaulted to come forward.
We do not mean to suggest that the University does not already regard sexual assault as a problem. But statistics reveal that the current system almost certainly fails to respond to the vast majority of sexual assaults committed on campus. We should do better than that.