College assault policies must stop coverups

August 25, 2018

Texas A&M University finally did something this week that all colleges — frankly, all educational institutions — should: Make sure that its policies on sexual assault or domestic violence are focused on helping the victims and finding justice.

A&M went through an extensive process to revamp its policies after the growing realization that it wasn’t doing enough to fight this menace and punish violators. The Houston Chronicle recently reviewed A&M student conduct hearings from 2003 through early 2017 and found a tendency to suspend rather than expel students convicted of serious offenses. The university’s vice president and associate provost for diversity even posed as a graduate student filing a complaint. She found the process to be confusing and cumbersome, the sort of thing that would discourage a victim to simply give up in frustration. In turn, that leaves a violator unpunished for one offense and more likely to commit another.

A&M’s new policy is designed to prevent outcomes like that. It streamlines the reporting process, makes counselors available and sets firm sanctions for various levels of offenses. Every college in Texas should study what A&M has done to see if their campus can be made safer.

This is not just a good idea; it’s federal law. Under Title IX guidelines, colleges are supposed to report cases of sexual assault, harassment or domestic violence to make sure that these crimes are dealt with properly. Sex crimes are more prevalent at colleges. As the earlier scandal at Baylor University showed, too often these cases are covered up or ignored, especially if scholarship athletes are involved.

That sounds like something from another time in our history, but this week’s events at Ohio State University showed that it’s still happening today. A successful coach and athletic director got mild punishment even though they clearly didn’t do enough to pursue charges of domestic violence by an assistant coach. The university seemed more determined to preserve their chances for a national football title than help the victim and make sure others weren’t harmed.

The real test for schools like A&M, Baylor and certainly Lamar University is to make sure that all the firm talk about changing the culture and doing the right thing are backed up when violations are uncovered. Even Ohio State had the bold slogan “Respect women” emblazoned on the wall of its football training facilities. Strong policies and inspiring messages might help, but they mean nothing if they don’t help a woman who has been beaten or assaulted.

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