More on Sean Lanigan and False Accusations

Yesterday I posted about Fairfax County teacher Sean Lanigan, falsely accused of child molestation. Here’s a bit more:

(1) Lanigan answers Post readers’ questions here. He opines that the accuser’s name should not be published, as she is a troubled 13 year old girl. I was already reconsidering my view on this, and I suppose I ultimately agree with Lanigan that her name shouldn’t be published–in part because I’ve learned that the Post also doesn’t publish the names of minors accused of crimes. [Apparently, however, the accuser hasn’t faced even any internal discipline from the county school system. Good thing for her she decided to make a false allegation of sexual abuse instead of, say, bringing a Tylenol from home.]

(2) I have two extended family members (who are part of completely different branches of the family and are unknown to each other) who were falsely accused of molesting their own children and arrested, just so their wives could get an advantage in custody/divorce proceedings (neither was prosecuted, but much damage was done to both men and their children as their wives pursued their respective vendettas). I also know people who suffered serious abuse that was consistently ignored by authority figures. It seems like somehow a lot of energy gets expended on pursuing false accusations, and not enough on getting the bad guys (and gals). I wish there was an obvious solution, but I don’t have one.

(3) Speaking of false accusations against teachers, Hans Bader has been all over a story that hasn’t received nearly attention:

If the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has its way, more teachers like [Lanigan] will end up being fired even if they are acquitted by a jury of any wrongdoing, and may very well be innocent. It sent a letter to school officials on April 4 ordering them to lower the burden of proof they use when determining whether students or staff are guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault. According to the Department of Education’s demands, schools must find people guilty if there is a mere 51% chance that they are guilty – a so-called preponderance of the evidence standard. So if an accused is found not guilty under a higher burden of proof – like the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that applies in criminal cases – the accused will still be subject to disciplinary action under the lower burden of proof dictated by the Education Department.

Most colleges have historically required “clear and convincing” evidence of guilt. This sensible standard requires less absolute certainty about guilt than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal prosecutions, but more certainty than the mere 51% chance (preponderance) standard demanded by the Education Department. But under pressure from the Education Department, colleges across the country have now abandoned this safeguard against false accusations.

I admit to less certainty than Bader about what the appropriate standard is for accusations of misconduct in the academic context, especially for sexual assault as opposed to “harassment,” the latter of which universities (in part under pressure from DOE) often interpret way too broadly (see relevant discussion in my book, You Can’t Say That!). But I do know that the Department of Education has no business dictating a preponderance of the evidence standard to universities nationwide. Bader provides many links to legal and policy objections to DOE’s new policy.