The 2016 Republican Party Platform pays special attention to the ways in which Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting gender discrimination in schools, has been used to protect transgender students and victims of sexual assault. The platform deems both uses unacceptable. It frames the protections for sexual assault victims as an extraordinary overreach when, in fact, it simply closes a historical loophole by making explicit an expectation that sexual assault must be treated just like any of the other bad acts that might happen on a college campus.
Sexual assault is a unique type of crime in that engaging in sex acts is normal, frequent, and rarely criminal — it’s only the context and circumstances that tell us whether a criminal assault was committed. The singular thing that distinguishes sex from sexual assault is consent. And consent isn’t just about what one person knew, believed, felt, or chose, it’s also about how those things are communicated to someone else. Consent is explicit, but proving consent (or an absence of it) isn’t always straightforward, and conducting an investigation that is necessarily deeply intrusive can be frustrated by the poor recollections that can follow alcohol and drug use by perpetrators, victims, and witnesses.
It’s one thing to argue that universities need specialized training or staff to conduct investigations and impose consequences well; it’s a very different thing to take the position (like the one on page 35 of the Republican party platform) that they shouldn’t be held accountable for doing it at all:
“The Administration’s distortion of Title IX to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse contravenes our country’s legal traditions and must be halted before it further muddles this complex issue and prevents the proper authorities from investigating and prosecuting sexual assault effectively with due process.”