American parents fighting back

Last week I had a live chat on thinkspot with lawyer Cynthia Garrett, co-president of  Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), which is a wonderful organization run by parents who are fighting for fair treatment for students facing sexual misconduct investigations on American campuses. You can watch the recorded version here.

FACE was started in 2013 by two mothers whose sons were involved in campus disciplinary processes following false allegations. Since then they have been contacted by over 2000 parents dealing with these unfair tribunals. FACE has become one of the main players working for change to the Title IX processes, lobbying legislators, meeting with education and justice bureaucrats and using the media to expose what’s going on.

Take a look at the chilling advice on the FACE website from parents who have been through this ordeal with their sons (or rarely daughters). Here are some of the topic headings:

Expect that your student may be suspended or expelled.
Get an experienced lawyer – right away – if you can afford one.
Do not allow your student to speak to anyone on campus about the allegations unless accompanied by an advocate.
Have your student close all social media accounts.
Expect an adversarial and unsympathetic campus environment.
Expect that your student will be given few rights.
Expect your student to become depressed, despondent, and possibly suicidal.

FACE gives very detailed advice on all these issues, much of which applies also to students being investigated for sexual assault here. There’s also good advice from students which is well worth reading.

Sadly, most of this also applies to students accused of sexual assault on Australian campuses. Over recent weeks I have talked to the parents of a final year student who had his degree withheld for over a year after a sexual assault allegation. Despite no proper investigation, his accuser’s degree was promptly awarded while his life was in limbo.

Another student was excluded from all university premises after being caught with a drunken girl who’d partially undressed him. Then there was the mother whose student son now faces criminal charges even though his accuser admits she thought she was having sex with another student. At a fourth university, a young man is being humiliated by accusations of sexual assault and harassment being circulated on social media by his ex-girlfriend. This is the same university which has suspended male students for singing bawdy songs at a college event.

Across the board our universities have regulations in place for investigating and adjudicating these crimes, without any of the legal safeguards which protect the accused in the criminal law system.

With the lawyers and researchers helping with this project, I’m putting together documentation to show how few of our universities allow access to lawyers to protect the accused during the secretive investigations being conducted on our campuses. How very few allow proper examination of the evidence, let alone opportunity for cross-examination. Unlike our criminal courts, none of this secretive decision-making has proper oversight. The decisions to steal these young men’s degrees, derail their careers, shame and humiliate them are made by unnamed people, behind closed doors, with no public scrutiny.

What’s happened to the presumption of innocence in Australia?

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