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Balancing Rights In College Sex Assault Cases

Balancing Rights In College Sex Assault Cases

As colleges scramble to do a better job dealing with assaults on campus, are they trampling on the rights of the accused?

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College campuses around the country have been slammed recently for their handling of sexual assault cases. Some rape victims say the campus judicial process is not transparent and leaves them feeling vulnerable.

But the suspects in some of these cases also have complaints with the college judicial process. They say they can be punished by their school, suspended or expelled, even if no criminal charges are filed against them.

As campuses scramble to do a better job dealing with assaults on campus, are they trampling on the rights of the accused?

San Diego County sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Patrick said part of the problem is the murkiness of the laws. For example, the “yes means yes” law, which the Legislature approved last year, requires "an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision" by each party to engage in sexual activity. But the law only applies to college campuses and doesn’t mean much in the courts.

“There have been a lot of misconceptions on this ‘yes means yes,’” Patrick told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday.

The differences in how campuses and courts treat sexual assault claims prompted a lawsuit by Francisco Sousa, a 20-year-old student who was accused of sexual misconduct at San Diego State University. Sousa was arrested in December, but the charges against him were later dropped. Still, he was suspended from the university.

“He’s not facing criminal charges. The case was rejected,” said Sousa’s defense attorney, Domenic Lombardo. “What’s at stake is far more important to Francisco than returning to the university. What’s at stake is expulsion — something that will follow him and his career forever.”


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