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October 13, 2017

A student’s call to all universities: the liability of 'probable' sexual assault

According to Webster, the legal definition of the term “preponderance of evidence” is the "standard of proof in most civil cases in which the party bearing the burden of proof must present evidence that is more credible and convincing than that presented by the other party or which shows that the fact to be proven is more probable than not."

In essence, a preponderance is constituted by evidence that is more convincing or probable than not. Therefore, according to the recent Title IX “Dear Colleague” Letter, in which the U.S. Department of Education announced the formal rescission of Obama-era guidance on how schools should handle sexual assaults, due process of law no longer has a place in the judicial system – at least where educational institutions and associated sexual assault allegations are concerned.

In recent years, the government and the public seem to have sought out the “tough on crime” approach on injustice, but what happens when this approach ultimately breeds its own form of injustice for the accused? By allowing the standards of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to be lowered to a “preponderance of evidence” in order to “crack down” on sexual assault within universities, we are in effect brewing a tenacious rise of an injustice all of its own.

By lowering our standard of proof, we are saying that the rights of the accused are already diminished, even without any evidence set forth at all, preponderance or otherwise. Taking away the accused’s right to due process of law and to innocence before being proven guilty does not allow for a fairer and equal justice system, nor does it allow for a fairer and equal learning environment.

To protect the equality and rights of each student, at every university, across the entire country, we need to protect their rights to due process; to protect their rights for a higher standard of proof than the “preponderance of evidence.”

The call for all schools and all universities to increase their standards of proof and protect every student’s right to equality is all that more pressing and crucial now, than ever.

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Kaitlyn Kingman will graduate in 2018 from Arcadia University in Glenside, Montgomery County.