DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the University of Michigan today urging its administration to withdraw an interim policy that requires students who file sexual misconduct complaints to undergo cross-examination personally conducted by their alleged abusers.
As explained in the letter, the ACLU is committed to a fair process both for those who allege that they have been harassed or assaulted and for those accused of such conduct. Due process and fundamental fairness require cross-examination in higher education cases where serious discipline is possible. But students accused of sexual abuse should not be permitted to personally conduct a cross-examination of the complainant. Cross-examination should be conducted by trained representatives – not by the students themselves.
“The university should not require those who allege sexual violence to undergo cross-examination conducted by the very individual accused of having committed the assault,” said Bonsitu Kitaba, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Michigan. “The only people conducting cross-examination in these very difficult hearings should be representatives with professional training.”
The ACLU’s letter warns that a policy where those alleged to have engaged in assault or harassment personally question the complainant risks deterring complaints, traumatizing those who come forward with allegations, and creating a hostile campus environment, all in violation of the federal civil rights law known as Title IX. Most universities do not require cross-examination to be conducted by the parties themselves. The letter urges the University to adopt a policy that complies with Title IX and due process, by providing for cross-examination by those trained in the practice.
“The University of Michigan’s policy is unnecessarily traumatizing for those who report sexual assault and could deter survivors from coming forward,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “It would also contribute to a hostile environment on campus in violation of Title IX.”
The ACLU’s letter urges the University to rescind its interim policy and replace it with a policy that complies with both due process and Title IX.