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Proposed College Transcript Notations Creates Constitutional Law Dilemma

Updated on July 17, 2015

Scarlet Letter on College Transcripts Could Follow Accused Sexual Offenders

A District of Columbia Council proposal introduced in July 2015 to put a notation on college transcripts of students involved in sexual assaults runs a risk of a constitutional challenge by the accused offenders.

Council member Anita Bonds (D-At-Large) proposed requiring colleges to put the notation on transcripts of students either convicted of sexual assault or who try to withdraw from their colleges while they are being investigated for sexual misconduct.

The notation could be seen by administrators at other colleges, in graduate schools and by potential employers.

The notation appears to create an added layer of criminal penalty, sometimes for persons merely accused of sexual misconduct but never prosecuted. They also would lack a right of 14th Amendment procedural due process to contest the notations.

Nevertheless, Bonds described the proposed transcript notations as an appropriate means of combating college sexual assaults. She cited a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey showing 20 percent of female college students reported an unwanted sexual encounter in the previous four years. Fifty-two percent of current and recent students said harsher punishments for students convicted of sexual assault would be very effective in stopping the problem.

Bonds' proposal won quick praise from at least three of her fellow D.C. Council members. They plan to hold a hearing on the proposal in September, after the Council reconvenes.

For too long, we hear stories of women being raped, and the first question asked is, What were you wearing? or How did you handle that drink? Bonds said as she introduced the proposed legislation. These questions place the blame on the victim, and it redirects our thinking away from the better question: What did anyone do to stop the person from being raped?

Other parts of Bonds' proposal would require D.C. college students to complete sexual assault prevention classes within six weeks of starting at the schools. Sexual assault victims would be given an option of being represented by an advocate during investigations. The schools would need to hire one sexual assault worker for each 2,000 students and face annual reviews of their compliance with the legislation.

The bill does not discuss Sixth Amendment rights of representation by the accused or their due process rights to hearings before notations are placed on their transcripts.

Some local college officials said the proposal would burden them with additional administrative duties and costs, many of which would be passed on to students through higher tuition.

District of Columbia Seeks to Cut Back on College Sexual Assaults

A notation on college transcripts of accused sexual offenders would follow them into the workforce.
A notation on college transcripts of accused sexual offenders would follow them into the workforce.

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