Commentary Law and Policy

Trump Judicial Nominee Ryan Bounds Would Be Dangerous for Survivors of Sexual Assault

Fatima Goss Graves

Ryan Bounds' disturbing views on campus sexual assault are not an isolated example of his apparent disdain for civil rights.

When he was a student at Stanford, Ryan Bounds—an assistant U.S. attorney from Oregon—wrote an opinion piece for the Stanford Review, arguing that schools had no duty to address the sexual violence that has long haunted college campuses. Rather than noting the harm that comes from sexual violence, Bounds revived worn-out stereotypes of women making false accusations and seeking “vengeance.” To guard against lying women, he argued that the university’s investigations of sexual assault should have continued to require proof beyond a reasonable doubt: importing criminal procedures into school disciplinary proceedings.

But it gets worse.

Bounds went so far as to claim that “there is nothing that the University can do to objectively ensure that [a] rapist does not strike again,” and that removing a rapist from campus “is probably not going to contribute a great deal toward a rape victim’s recovery.”

Now Bounds has been nominated to a lifetime position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, with a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. Although he apologized for these comments after being nominated, and tried to dismiss them as “overheated” and “overzealous” in his Senate confirmation hearing, he has shown us what he thinks. His statements remain deeply troubling, to say the least, for sexual assault survivors whose cases may end up before his appeals court bench. Not to mention, his apology comes at far too convenient a time to be taken as sincere.

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The fact is that, contrary to Bounds’ assertion, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 requires schools to protect the right of all students to equal access to education. Because Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual assault, the appropriate standard of proof in Title IX investigations—as in all civil rights cases and investigations—is a preponderance of the evidence. Furthermore, under Title IX, schools must take action to ensure that perpetrators of sexual assault do not have an opportunity to strike again—including by removing them from campus if necessary. Even if an assailant is not removed, schools still must implement protective measures, such as no-contact orders, that prevent survivors from being traumatized repeatedly by directly encountering their assailants in their dorms, classrooms, or elsewhere on campus.

Bounds’ basic inability in his column to understand that separating survivors from their rapists can facilitate their recovery is, by itself, deeply troubling. His hostility toward remedies for student survivors is even more concerning, given that the remedies afforded by Title IX are critical for ensuring that student survivors can continue their education in the aftermath of assault.

Bounds’ disturbing views on campus sexual assault are not an isolated example of his apparent disdain for civil rights. When Stanford funded campus organizations for students of color in 1995, Bounds claimed that the school’s “multicultural efforts” were worse than “a Nazi bookburning,” In 1994, when Stanford instituted LGBTQ sensitivity training after athletes vandalized a gay pride statute, Bounds called the training a “pestilence” and claimed that it was the school’s response to homophobia—not the homophobic act of vandalism itself—that “threaten[ed] to corrupt our scholastic experience and tear our student community asunder.”

The National Women’s Law Center has spent more than four decades working to advance the rights of women and girls, including survivors of sexual assault. We’ve seen the sort of shocking conduct that makes it harder for survivors to come forward. We’ve seen brave students report sexual violence, only to be mistreated and dismissed by their schools and subjected to a process that leads to further trauma. And we’ve seen schools that are supposed to protect student survivors instead punish them for reporting their assault.

If confirmed to a lifetime position on the Ninth Circuit, Bounds would undoubtedly hear cases involving critical laws that prohibit discrimination in our schools, workplaces, and communities. Today, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, and these troubling statistics are even higher for students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and gender-nonconforming students. Given Bounds’ history of regressive and extremist views on sexual assault, I have no faith that he would uphold Title IX’s protections for survivors. Nor do I have any reason to believe that Bounds would fairly apply other civil rights laws that protect against discrimination.

Judicial appointments to the federal bench are for life. It is not too much to ask that nominees to these critical roles respect and follow the law. The civil rights of millions of people in the Ninth Circuit states and territories of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are at stake.

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