Colleges Establishing Anonymous-Snitch Sexual Assault Reporting by John F. Banzhaf III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Anyone Can Phone in Sexual Assault Complaints Whether Valid or Not
WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 2, 2016): A new Minnesota law requires all of its colleges to have websites where students can report allegations of sexual assault, naming the alleged perpetrators, but do so completely anonymously. According to the Washington Post, “that means survivors no longer will be forced to trek across campus to a Title IX office.”
But that also means that students, or perhaps even non-students, can, just with a few keyboard clicks, trigger a criminal and/or administrative investigation of the student or faculty member named, irreparably smearing his reputation, and perhaps even leading to his expulsion, and to do so with complete anonymity, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
Banzhaf, best known for his many public interest successes, helped demolish an anonymous snitch system at George Washington University [GWU] where Pinkertons would receive and follow up on anonymous telephone complaints about anybody on campus for virtually any grievance.
Banzhaf took action only after he was hauled in for an investigation after someone who had broken into one of his off-campus offices complaining7u that he was “rude” to her when he told her she would have to leave. There is, of course, no university rule dealing with off-campus rudeness.
One of the problems with the GWU system, as well as the Minnesota one, says Banzhaf, is that the person reported about and investigated may never know what went on, and may not be able to defend himself – i.e., provide testimony or other evidence that the event never occurred.
Thus students may find themselves passed up for scholarships, awards, or even admission to popular courses, and faculty members may not get deserved appointments or raises, all because there are several false anonymous complaints in their files they were never made aware of.
More importantly, there is no guarantee that the reports will not be complete fabrications, with students reporting other students because their advances were spurned or they refused to permit their homework to be copied, or that complaints about alleged sexual assault against a faculty member will not be made against a professor who simply gave a low grade or made an unappreciated comment in class.
Indeed, says Banzhaf, the latter is not just a slippery-slope hypothetical, but rather may in fact be coming to his own campus. An article entitled “Watch Out: George Washington University President Likes Anonymous Microaggression Reporting System” reports that “George Washington University is one step closer to adopting a system for students to anonymously report microaggressions.”
Any such system, at GWU or in Minnesota, almost invites abuse. For example, to turn it on its head, male students could file dozens of anonymous complaints of sexual abuse by any female students who are active and outspoken in fighting rape on campus, he notes.
Any system permitting one-sided investigations or anonymous reports may well violate the Due Process clause of the Constitution, says Banzhaf, noting that some of the rape-investigation procedures at colleges have already been struck down on that basis and for other reasons.
Indeed, a federal appeals court has just ruled that male students can file complaints of constitutional violations if the school is allegedly biased against them, even if the so-called bias results from nothing more than a reaction to adverse publicity or a fear of losing federal funding, says Banzhaf.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA
http://banzhaf.net/ [email protected] @profbanzhaf