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This series started in an effort to bring awareness to the issue of colleges attempting to adjudicate accusations of sexual assault on their campuses. Part 1 discussed two separate cases: Both men were clearly not responsible for what they were accused of; however, both had life-altering consequences. Part 2 discussed a case in which both the male and the female said it was not rape, and both parties filed their own Title IX lawsuits after the school refused to drop the case. Part 3 not only outlined an additional innocent man, but also brought the effects of a few of the “lucky” young men who were accused and found not responsible and the lingering effects of the accusation. In Part 4, a young man who was actually a victim of sexual assault was later held responsible regardless of the facts presented.
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments is one of the resources available to those who find themselves accused. SAVE recently released a detailed report on this topic. The 261 lawsuits reviewed included 207 separate universities. If that is not considered a systematic failure, I don’t know what is.
One judge involved in the case of Dez Wells v. Xavier University said:
“Moreover, it appears to the Court that the [University Conduct Board] here, a body well-equipped to adjudicate questions of cheating, may have been in over its head with relation to an alleged false accusation of sexual assault. Such conclusion is strongly bolstered by the fact that the County Prosecutor allegedly investigated, found nothing, and encouraged Defendant Father [Michael] Graham to drop the matter.”
Another judge, this one involved in John Doe v. Brandeis, said on page 12 of his ruling:
“Whether someone is a ‘victim’ is a conclusion to be reached at the end of a fair process, not an assumption to be made at the beginning. Each case must be decided on its own merits, according to its own facts.”
Case after case in this analysis shows the repeated lack of due process, shifted burdens of proof, presumption of guilt, negligence, breach of contract and erroneous outcomes that cause major damage to people’s lives. These cases continue to be filed, not only by the accused but many times by the accusers because their cases were mishandled so badly.
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So how do we change it? I have written story after story in this series that has now gone on for nearly two months, along with hundreds of hours of research before I started writing. What good is describing a problem if you don’t also propose a solution?
I am not involved in politics and can only offer my suggested changes that extend across the board.
First and foremost is dismantling the “one in five” theory — the oft-repeated claim that one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted. President Obama and other politicians have repeated this statistic, which has been thoroughly debunked.
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Having your butt grabbed on the dance floor is unwanted sexual contact. It is NOT the same thing as sexual assault or rape. There is a difference. By denying that fact, all we are doing is lessening the value of respect given to an actual rape victim. There is a difference between someone who had their butt grabbed at a party and someone who was thrown to the grown, held down and penetrated against her will. While the black and white definition of such shows that both are sexual assault, we all know it is simply not the same thing. Having someone yell “Hey sexy thing” is not equivalent to sexual assault or rape.
National standardized definitions need to be put in to place that clarify where the lines are crossed from sexual harassment to sexual assault to rape. By lumping “any unwanted sexual contact” into the same group, yes, one in five women will have experienced something under that broad definition. That does not mean one in five women was raped. Standardized definitions are needed so that punishments can fit the crime in a similar fashion to how criminal homicide is handled, with Murder 1, Murder 2, Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, etc.
One of the first things I did in this process was email a survey to more than 50 attorneys who have been named in Title IX cases that originate from sexual assault. Twenty of them responded that they agreed 100 percent with national standard definitions, along with a new study to be done based on those definitions to determine exactly how many women are truly raped on campus.
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The other thing I found interesting is that 20 attorneys also told me these cases should NOT all be turned over to local police. Many rape victims will not go to local police, and forcing legal and criminal action would deter many victims from stepping forward.
I trust their opinions. They are the ones in the trenches dealing with this every day. My suggestion would be if these cases have to be adjudicated at the college level, there needs to be someone who specializes in law overseeing them. If a legal and criminal justice department is available on campus, that would be the first place to go — attorneys, retired investigators, etc., not the dean of students, who has no idea how to handle an accusation of rape.
There should be a national standard of practice imposed in addition to the “Dear Colleague” letter outlining what the procedure will be, based on the definitions as stated above. This outline should also outline what acceptable investigation is, as well as require that all of these investigations and administrative hearings be reported from start to finish. All students’ constitutional and due process rights should be upheld. There should not be an allowance for any student to be punished prior to the determination at the end hearing. If any student feels threatened by any other student, he or she should look into a restraining order or a no contact order. An accused student should never be punished or have temporary sanctions simply for being accused. If any of these are not followed, the college should be sanctioned immediately. Someone needs to hold universities accountable, and if that requires a specific department within the government, then it needs to happen.
I also spoke with Dr. Warren Farrell, the author of The Myth of Male Power and formerly on the board of the National Organization for Women in New York. I asked what his solution would be for college students falsely accused of rape. His response:
First, since the university’s primary role is to educate, its first step should be to sponsor confidential communication counseling to help the young man and woman hear each other’s perspectives. Only if that fails should the University then hand it over to the non-university police with their guarantee of due process. Why? The university has too much of an incentive to support only the girl as victim, and deny due process to the boy, for fear of undermining public relations, angering donors, and being punished by the federal government.
In the meantime, the best the young man can do is:
- Do everything possible to hear the woman’s perspective ASAP by doing nine things: listen, listen, listen; empathize, empathize, empathize; and apologize, apologize, apologize. Once he’s empathized and taken responsibility, he can let her know his best intent without subtracting from his empathy and apology. His attitude: he must care about her, not just about saving his ass. His goal: for him and her to both be on the same team.
- If he cannot access the woman, get to the university president. Explain that the most important way of reducing the girl’s psychological damage is for her to be empathized with and apologized to. Ask the president to sponsor a private, confidential meeting, with the best interests of the girl in mind.The system makes these efforts very challenging, which is why the system needs changing. In the meantime, the best defense is an alliance.
I would like to add that if you are a male or female who has been wrongly accused of sexual assault, you are not alone. I cannot say that enough. There are resources available to you and hundreds of people who have stood where you are standing. Here are a few resources you might not know are available:
I want to thank all of the John Does and their families who were willing to talk to me, their attorneys for putting me in contact and FACE for helping to spread the word about this series.
The second-most-common question I have been asked is, “Why are they John Doe?” The answer to that is simple. They or their family members asked me not to publish their names. In many cases, the simple accusation means automatic guilt. Moving forward becomes difficult when your name has been dragged through the mud over and over again, especially in our world of social media. They just wanted to tell their stories. I gladly let them have their anonymity.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.