Opinion: Responses to sexual assault allegations should be sensitive and complex

Victims should be validated, but the principle of innocent until proven guilty must be applied

Movements such as #MeToo and Time's Up have brought national attention to the issue of sexual assault and harassment. 

As seen recently, it is common for victims of sexual assault to come forward in waves, as it can be much easier for victims to share their stories when they are not the only one. 

It is important for victims to feel empowered to share their stories, because without increased reporting of instances of sexual misconduct, the problem won't stop. 

But it's similarly important to let justice run its course rather than persecute someone before they've been proven guilty of a crime. 

ASU's Lawrence Krauss, foundation professor at the School Of Earth and Space Exploration and a founder of ASU's Origins Project, recently received multiple accusations of sexual misconduct from both students and faculty.

Krauss denied the accusations and called the BuzzFeed article "slanderous" and "factually incorrect" in an email to The State Press.

Whether or not Krauss is guilty is currently under investigation, but the news brings to light an important, albeit uncomfortable, conversation regarding the due process of sexual assault allegations. 

While it is incredibly important that victims of sexual assault are heard and taken seriously, those who are accused deserve to garner the benefits that come from the principle of innocent until proven guilty. 

ASU has initiated a review of the situation in order to come to a conclusion, but multiple organizations have already cut ties with Krauss. 

“These things take time," said Phoebe Morgan, professor and department chair who researches sexual harassment at NAU's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. "It would be in everyone's interest not to rush the investigation.”

Until a verdict has been reached, individuals and organizations should not jump to conclusions. It's important for all of us to take a strong stance against reprehensible behavior, but in doing so, we must not forget to be thoughtful with our decisions and acknowledge the fact that the judicial system is based on the principle of being fair in judgment. 

Although it is not remarkably common, it isn't unheard of in sexual assault cases for the accused to be wrongly tried and imprisoned. According to a report published by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, research shows somewhere from 2 to 8 percent of reports are false. 

This is by no means a majority of cases, but like with any other accusation, it proves that being careful and thoughtful is imperative to true justice. 

Each sexual assault case is different, which means that each situation needs to be handled accordingly. 

"What constitutes sexually harassing behavior includes a diverse array of actions and scenarios, Morgan said. "As a result, the seriousness of the harm can vary greatly as well ... Some sexual harassment allegations are best handled informally, while others should be handled more formally. The extent of formality is case specific.”

Krauss's arrival at ASU years ago was much anticipated, and he has made major impacts in the University community, but his legacy has been overshadowed by the recent allegations.

The University's decision to place Krauss on paid leave during the investigation has generated mixed reactions, but it is imperative that all students understand the importance of the principle of innocent until proven guilty. 

"The law and the institution's policies obligate ASU to follow certain protocols to maintain confidentiality of all parties while they investigate claims," Morgan said.

ASU is maintaining its efforts to ensure that students feel safe on campus and encourages anyone who feels like they have been harassed to come forward.

In order to create and foster the safest university environment, it is important to take all allegations seriously, take every account into consideration, and protect every right of those involved while always keeping the principle of innocent until proven guilty in mind.

Reach the columnist at adunn11@asu.edu or follow @adrienne_dunn on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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