College Rape Trials Are Unfair to Men and Women. Here's Why.

University officials expected a student with no legal background or training in court customs to play prosecutor at a trial.


Sarah Tubbs

I frequently deride the campus sexual assault adjudication process for abridging the due process rights of accused male students. But it's worth keeping in mind that colleges' extrajudicial rape trials are also frequently unfair to the accusers as well.

Take, for example, this story out of Stony Brook University in New York. A female student, 22-year-old Sarah Tubbs, accused a fellow student of rape and trusted in the college to do something about it. But there was no prosecutor at her trial, no attorneys, and no police. She was barred from even bringing along her therapist. Instead, Tubbs was obligated to personally cross-examine the man she had accused of rape.

Think about that for a minute. University officials expected a student with no legal background or training in court customs to play prosecutor at a trial—the outcome of which would seriously impact two people's lives. According to lohud.com:

University officials interviewed the alleged attacker, talked to witnesses and reviewed surveillance video, according to Tubbs. But she said she was told a week before the hearing that she would have to prosecute the alleged attacker herself. Tubbs had to create exhibits, write an opening statement and pursue witness testimony, preparation that she said took 60 hours.

"I would say the hardest part was hearing his voice because it's the voice I hear in my flashbacks," said Tubbs, who was separated from her alleged attacker by a paper screen during the five-hour disciplinary hearing last May. She said there were no police or security officers present, adding to her anxiety. "One of my biggest concerns … was that he would get aggressive and retaliate," she said. She also was forbidden to bring her therapist to the hearing.

I often complain that university administrators are ill-equipped to participate in these matters, but they're legal experts compared to random college students. It's insane that a college would host such a farcical proceeding at all, let alone decide to expel (or not expel) a student based on the outcome.

Tubbs' first instinct, by the way, was a much better one: She informed the campus police two days after her alleged attack. She agreed to take a rape examination, waited the stipulated period of two weeks, and then filed a formal complaint. The officer with whom she spoke told her the case was too weak, however, and advised her not to press the matter further. This persuaded Tubbs to seek university sanctions against her alleged rapist instead.

He was found innocent by Stony Brook; now she is suing the school for making her prosecute her own rape case. According to an interview with lohud.com, what she really wants is for Stony Brook to revise its policies so that victims of rape can obtain justice.

But Tubbs' experience shows precisely why it's impossible for university tribunals to arrive at just verdicts, no matter how thoroughly their policies are revised. Advocates should give up on that front; their efforts would be much better spent reforming the criminal justice system to make it more accommodating to rape victims—so that the next Tubbs is not turned away by police and shown through a door that leads only to undue misery.

Related: "The Other Side Speaks: Defending the Accused at Campus Rape Trials."