In light of Michigan State University physician Larry Nassar's sexual abuse scandal, California Western School of Law Professor Hannah Brenner recently published an op-ed asserting that changes to the process of addressing sexual violence by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may pave the way for more cases like Nassar's to emerge.
In the Detroit Free Press piece, Brenner explains that the new guidelines provide schools the option of adopting a higher standard of proof in Title IX cases, allow schools to create appeals processes only for those accused of perpetrating sexual violence, and give significant autonomy to educational institutions to create their own response protocols. “Given what we have learned about the decades of abuse perpetrated at the hands of an employee at Michigan State,” asks Brenner, “does it really make sense to give schools even more power and discretion to control the internal mechanisms of reporting and investigation of sexual violence?
Brenner, who served as a faculty member at Michigan State University College of Law, was a co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation grant that examined the reporting of sexual violence in the context of prisons, using the groundbreaking Michigan class action lawsuit, Neal v. Michigan Department of Corrections, as a case study. Her interdisciplinary work on this project inspired subsequent research into how sexual violence is perpetrated (and consequently minimized and ignored) within other closed and quasi-closed institutional systems like the military, immigration detention facilities, and institutions of higher education.
She goes on to elaborate on how the quasi-closed nature of a system like higher education creates an environment in which sexual victimization proliferates, often without knowledge of or intervention by those within or on the outside, and illuminates reasons why individuals may choose not to come forward.
What can be done? “At a time when the Trump administration is rescinding protections for victims of sexual violence on college campuses, we must continue to push back against these changes, create innovative mechanisms of reporting, investigation, and adjudication within systems like higher education, and develop powerful mechanisms of external oversight to ultimately prevent the perpetuation of sexual violence like that which occurred at Michigan State,” Brenner suggests.
To read the full op-ed piece, visit: https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2018/01/26/msu-title-9/1065913001/.