The Shadow Legal System on College Campuses, and What It Means for Reporting Sexual Assault

"Patrick Henry College is not alone in internally adjudicating sexual assault. Every college and university maintains its own shadow legal system—and many secular colleges have a terrible track record of investigating and punishing sexual assault. But Patrick Henry College is one of only four private colleges in the United States that eschews federal funds in order to avoid complying with government regulations. This poses financial hardships for students and their families—PHC students are prohibited from accessing FAFSA loans, Pell Grants, state funds, scholarships, or the G.I. Bill—and it makes the institution particularly dependent on its conservative evangelical donor base. Homeschoolers see this as a worthwhile price to pay for freedom from government intrusion. The financial-aid page on PHC’s website notes, “In order to safeguard our distinctly Christian worldview, we do not accept or participate in government funding.”

This also means PHC isn’t subject to the Clery Act, Title IX, or the more recent Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. The Clery Act requires schools to issue campus crime reports. Title IX says schools must hold an investigation independent of a criminal investigation and ensure that victims can change dorms and class arrangements, get campus restraining orders, and receive help filing a police report if they choose to do so. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act mandates that schools have prompt disciplinary proceedings and inform victims of their rights and options under Title IX. These regulations are no guarantee that sexual-assault accusations will be handled properly, and students at dozens of schools have recently filed Title IX and Clery Act complaints with the Department of Education that document widespread victim-blaming, mishandling of reports, and impunity for perpetrators. Yet, PHC students lack even that legal recourse. (The school says it tries to “generally follow the principles of those laws,” but it is not legally bound to comply with them.)

“As a private campus, it’s outside of federal influence. They can do whatever they want,” says Brett Sokolow, an attorney and president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management. “If you’re a female student, and you elect to enroll at a campus that does not provide any of the federal protections that attach to other colleges and universities, you need to know that going in.”

Kiera Feldman, in The New Republic, on Patrick Henry College, an evangelical school in Virginia accused by former students of victim-blaming and covering up reports of sexual assault. Read more from Feldman.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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