Alert the authorities

The issue of rape on college campuses — and how it is handled — has received a lot of publicity the last couple of years.

Whether the charges involve a star athlete (as at Florida State University) or a fraternity (as alleged in the Rolling Stone story “A Rape on Campus”), it seems to us that one central theme is that colleges try to investigate such claims before alerting authorities.

The last we looked, rape is a crime. The role of college administrators should be to alert the police as soon as a student claims a crime occurred, that she was raped. Let the professionals who are trained to investigate such cases take it from there.

Critics of the way some cases have been handled accuse the colleges of trying to cover-up the incidents. In short, the perception of an environment where rapes occur is bad for a college’s image.

Well, rapes occur everywhere. And the disturbing part of the college stories is that they are not treated on campus the way they are elsewhere in society. Apologists say that treatment is to assure that the accused’s reputation is not unfairly tarnished.

Well, in our criminal justice system, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And alleged victims are entitled to an investigation of their claims by police.

Several of the high publicity stories like the University of Virginia incident reported in Rolling Stone have fallen apart under closer scrutiny. In fact, Rolling Stone ended up retracting the story it published. Police said the victim wouldn’t cooperate with them, and they could not corroborate many of her allegations.

And that sometimes (oftentimes) happens in rape cases. But it doesn’t alter the way such accusations coming from a campus should be handled. The college’s role is to alert authorities. Police investigate.

In any other setting, failure to alert authorities would be viewed as obstruction of justice. College campuses shouldn’t be any different.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.