Rape and sexual assault are very serious crimes, and we applaud efforts to protect both male and female students on California campuses. However, SB 976 introduced by State Senators Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) would initiate harmful changes with disastrous consequences for California’s sons.
The bill adopts the “preponderance of evidence” standard. That is a lower bar than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard used in the criminal courts or the middle-ground “clear and convincing evidence” standard typically used in matters with serious consequences to the accused. In the college setting, the accused will be saddled with a lifetime “sex offender” stigma because of an ambiguous social interaction, not a forcible rape.
The U.S. Department of Justice data reveals that rape on college campuses has declined precipitously from 1995 to a historic low today. Rather than celebrate this achievement, SB 967 radically redefines “sexual assault” to include almost any touching of one person by another without prior “affirmative consent.”
To avoid being accused of sexual assault, consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter and can be revoked at any time — including months later. Regardless of whether an existing dating relationship between the people involved existed, or past sexual encounters with each other happened, it can’t be assumed to be an indicator of consent.
SB 967 moved to the Assembly after a report, authored by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, stated that one in five women are sexually assaulted while at college. This statistic is utterly false and scores of articles point this out.
Tragically, SB 967 would dramatically increase the number of he said/she said sexual assault allegations. When bill co-author Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) was asked how an innocent person is to prove he or she indeed received consent, Lowenthal said, “Your guess is as good as mine. I think it’s a legal issue. Like any legal issue, that goes to court.”
The problem is that under SB 967, allegations of sexual assault do not go to court but rather to a university administrative committee comprised of faculty, students, and administrators. Such committees deny California’s accused sons of the kinds of basic evidentiary, due process, and cross-examination rights found in criminal courts. Sexual assault charges should be handled by those trained to do so — the police and the criminal justice system.
While being a victim is devastating, so too is being falsely accused. In 2002, Wanetta Gibson falsely accused fellow California high school student Brian Banks of rape. Luckily, Brian was exonerated in 2012 after Wanetta was later caught on tape admitting that he was innocent.
Critically, a growing number of the students who have been disciplined or expelled for false allegations of sexual assault are filing lawsuits against their schools. The number of publically reported lawsuits filed by sons whose lives have been ruined by campus tribunals now exceed 30 and are growing daily.
As Californians, do you want your educational tax dollars spent to pay off totally unnecessary lawsuits?
Reduced Male Attendance
Today’s educational gender gap is the opposite of what it was in the 1960s. Then, about 60 percent of advanced degrees were awarded to men. Today it is about 40 percent. California’s sons already are in the minority, and their number would be further reduced by the hostile and dangerous work environment SB 967 would create on campus.
Parents and sons will run a very high risk of losing their education dollars while the son would be permanently banned from further higher education because of his “conviction.” Why would any parent want to support SB 967 and expose their sons to the prospects of lifelong losses in finances, education, employment, marriage, family formation, and home buying?
Attenuating sexual misconduct on the part of both male and female perpetrators is without question a worthy cause. However, seeking that goal by denying due process, evidentiary, and cross-examination protections of the accused is unfair to the accused and fails to meet the U.S. Supreme Court standard of “Equal Justice Under Law.”
We urge the sons and the parents of sons in California to band together to defeat SB 967.
Dianna Thompson is director of Stop Abuse for Everyone. Gordon E. Finley is professor emeritus of psychology at Florida International University.