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Sexual assault is a criminal matter. Only self-interest fuels the desire among college and university administrators to have any involvement in investigations. And their refusal to just call the cops is threatening the very foundation of the American judicial system -- due process.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos last week announced a review of Title IX regulations dictating how campuses respond to allegations of sexual assault, implemented in 2011 by President Barack Obama's administration. Skeptics of President Donald Trump's administration have every reason to be wary of such a move as a raft of wholly justified environmental and financial regulations are, too, likely to die. From afar, the ultimate goal looks to be wiping Obama's legacy from history, regardless of the merits of his policy.

But consider specifically the Devos' critique of Title IX and even the most rabid Trump detractor should -- albeit cautiously -- support the review.

Schools throughout the country scrambled to react to pressure from the Obama administration after it started applying the heat over a general lack of seriousness surrounding sexual assault reports on campus. For decades, such allegations were hushed. The reality facing women in college doesn't look good on a promotional pamphlet. It still doesn't. And keeping rape and assault violations under wraps is still about protecting a school's marketing wing more than anything else. 

Schools had every reason to deal with the matters internally and quietly. But, in 2011, Obama's Education Department started releasing previously internal reports on sexual assault reports on campuses throughout the country. Well-known, respected institutions lost a little luster with the information dump, which laid bare just how prevalent campus rape and assault actually are. 

Administrators had to respond, if only to salvage institutional reputations. Investigatory committees were impaneled. New processes were created. Finally, victims were offered the protection they deserved.

But in their haste to do something, too many schools flirted with downright witch hunts. Story after story has been written about a student who had his reputation and college career destroyed by a trumped up allegation. Some of the accused were expelled. Others booted from campus. And some, ultimately, were innocent.

The number's too high even if just a tiny percentage of investigations defame an innocent student or robs him of his presumption of innocence. Universities are not in the business of investigating felonies, nor should they be.

In short, call the cops. Let the professionals handle it. Ditch the inherent conflict of interest that renders any university's quasi-judicial process doomed from the start. 

Due process and the presumption of innocence are fundamental to the American justice system. There can be no justice without it. And conservatives who were leery of Obama's sexual assault regulations have, at least anecdotally, had their initial fears confirmed.

Sex is complicated. So, too, is consent. It's not as if college students are, or should be, walking around with formal consent contracts in their hip pockets. And the entire thing gets incredibly muddy when liquor or drugs are added.

It's imperative that, finally, victims of sexual assault and rape receive the hearing they deserve. Victim blaming or investigatory skepticism infected the system for far too long and incentived victims to remain silent. But, in society's haste to rectify one injustice, a new one was created where the accused are often punished before the facts are known. Due process -- a tenet of American justice -- is sacrificed at the altar of expediency.

Pro-victim advocates have every reason to be dubious about Devos' intentions. The Trump administration has made no bones about its willingness to roll back protections for groups with long histories of being on the receiving end of discrimination. Yet, on Title IX, those suspicions should be tempered -- somewhat -- by a very real desire to protect the constitutional rights of everyone involved.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.


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