Men punished in sexual misconduct cases on colleges campuses are fighting back
The current and former college students describe themselves as victims of false accusations amid a national campaign — led by the White House — to stamp out sexual violence on campuses. While the federal push to increase awareness of sexual assault is aimed at keeping students safe and holding the nation’s colleges and universities accountable, some of the accused say the pressure on their schools has led to an unfair tipping of the scales against them.
(Related: Behind a sexual misconduct case at Brandeis University: questions on all sides)
They fiercely dispute the validity of internal investigations that rely on a lower standard of proof for determining misconduct than what is required for a conviction of a sex crime. They also contest accounts circulating on campuses and the Internet that label them as sexual assailants or rapists.
Joshua Strange, 23, of Spartanburg, S.C., said he was stunned that Auburn University expelled him in 2012 for sexual misconduct even though an Alabama grand jury found insufficient evidence to prosecute him for a sex crime. The internal disciplinary proceeding began, he said, after an ex-girlfriend falsely accused him of sex assault.
Strange, who graduated this year from the University of South Carolina Upstate, said he is speaking out in the hope of preventing future injustice.
“I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” he said.
An Auburn spokesman declined to comment on Strange’s case, citing privacy laws. Bobby Woodard, Auburn’s associate provost and vice president for student affairs, said federal requirements from the U.S. Department of Education mandate that all public universities follow a process that differs from the judicial and law enforcement systems in many ways.
“Those requirements are very clear and come with severe penalties for noncompliance,” Woodard said. “We at Auburn take these requirements very seriously, and that is reflected in our Code of Student Discipline.”
A student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who was found responsible this year for sexual misconduct after an internal investigation he called biased, said: “I wasn’t given a fair trial or anything. It’s sad that this process can be abused and that the university can totally change somebody’s life, with very little evidence. . . . In the real world, rape and sexual assault are crimes punishable by going to jail — and rightfully so. Why is this left up to schools?”
Debate over campus sex assault has exploded as college students and officials nationwide confront questions about what constitutes consent for sex and what behavior fuels a culture that tolerates or trivializes rape. The issues play out in an arena of young people living on their own for the first time and learning to make choices when alcohol and drugs are often in the mix. When details of disputed sexual encounters are injected into that debate, especially those that identify the accused, the situation intensifies. Individual reputations can be torched.
accounts of students who have stepped forward in growing numbers to report sexual violence, most of them women. From 2009 to 2012, federal data show reports of forcible sex offenses on campuses rose from about 2,600 to more than 3,900, up 50 percent. The victims often say that campus judicial processes are skewed in favor of the accused, allowing sex crimes to be hidden, victims’ voices silenced and campus reputations protected.
Often, those who file reports are seeking not to press criminal charges, but simply to push schools to enforce rules that guarantee an educational environment free from threat and intimidation. The federal government, citing a 1972 law called Title IX that bans gender discrimination, requires schools to resolve these reports promptly and equitably regardless of whether police become involved.
In June, attorneys for a former Brown University student wrote the federal government to rebut “unsupported allegations of strangulation and violent rape” that they said had “forever tarnished” the name of their 21-year-old client. The man, who had been suspended for a year after the university found him responsible for sexual misconduct in connection with a 2013 encounter with a female student, was not charged with a crime. But he was identified in April in a student newspaper article about the controversy over whether his punishment was too lenient.
Soon afterward, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) weighed in on a cable television program, saying the woman in the case had been “brutally raped” and “nearly choked to death.” The man’s attorneys say he denies any violent behavior or sexual misconduct toward the woman. He ultimately withdrew from the Ivy League university in Rhode Island.
Under President Obama, the issue has drawn increased scrutiny. This year, Obama named a White House task force to study how to combat campus sex assault. His administration published a list of dozens of colleges under federal investigation for potentially mishandling sexual violence reports in violation of Title IX. The number listed, 55 on May 1, has grown to 76 as of Wednesday, August 20, 2014. The administration also told schools in 2011 that they should rely on a standard known as “preponderance of the evidence” to decide their sexual violence cases.
For a student to be found in violation of school rules under that standard, which is regularly used in civil litigation, the school essentially must determine that it is more likely than not that wrongdoing occurred. Previously, some schools had used a more demanding threshold of “clear and convincing evidence.” In criminal trials, the burden of proof for a guilty verdict is even higher — “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Which leads both sides to the same question: Are college investigations fair to accusers and accused?
Some lawmakers say survivors of sex assault too often face institutions that are indifferent or even hostile to their plight. They cite schools that report no sex offenses in a given year, an improbable statistic, they say, given studies showing that the issue touches huge numbers of undergraduate women.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is teaming with Gillibrand and others on a bipartisan bill that would require colleges to provide more support for students who report sex offenses.
McCaskill, a former prosecutor, said she wants as many cases as possible to be handled in criminal courts. The bill would require schools to coordinate with law enforcement agencies in solving sex crimes. But she said it is important to remember that college disciplinary inquiries do not put accused students in jeopardy of going to jail.
“I don’t think we are anywhere near a tipping point where the people accused of this are somehow being treated unfairly,” McCaskill said.
Many who have faced disciplinary sanctions disagree. They question the fairness of closed-door, internal proceedings that don’t follow the same rules of evidence and procedure as criminal courts. Usually, accused students must speak for themselves, with little or no help from an attorney. Some are filing lawsuits against schools.
Charles B. Wayne, a Washington attorney for a plaintiff in such a case in a 2011 trial in federal court involving Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee, said colleges are not equipped to adjudicate sex assault allegations.
“The people involved in the process are not properly trained and don’t have the necessary expertise,” Wayne said. “In addition, the assumption that a 19-year-old can defend himself without counsel against rape charges is absurd.”
In June, debate flared over resolution of the Brandeis case, which involved two male students. One accused the other of various nonconsensual sexual acts during a relationship of nearly two years. The student found responsible for sexual misconduct and other offenses received a disciplinary warning and was ordered to complete an educational program on sex assault prevention. He was not charged with a crime.
His ex-boyfriend called the sanctions “laughable and ridiculous.” He posted on Facebook a May 30 university letter reporting the case’s outcome, arguing that the university was protecting an attacker.
“With this letter, they are telling our campus community: ‘Go ahead, rape somebody,’ ” he wrote. “ ‘Sexually harass them. Physically harm them. Ruin their life. We’ll give you a freebie.’ ”
The disciplined student denied any wrongdoing and said he worries that the episode could hurt his career prospects. He disputed the university’s investigation, which he said sought to weigh the credibility of differing accounts from the two men of situations that had no eyewitnesses.
Many students and graduates — mostly women, some men — have come forward recently to provide public accounts as survivors of sexual violence. These advocates for victim rights have become influential on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
In July, three mothers announced an organization that will stand for due process in sexual misconduct cases on college campuses. Among the founders of Families Advocating for Campus Equality is Allison Strange, mother of the former Auburn student accused of misconduct, and Sherry Warner-Seefeld, mother of a man kicked out of the University of North Dakota in 2010 after what he called a false allegation of sex assault. The man was never charged with a crime. A year later, the university reversed its sanctions against him after an appeal pointed out that authorities had issued a warrant for the arrest of his accuser on suspicion of making a false report to police.
“We hope to reach out to people in positions of power to get their ear, to have them hear our stories, to convince them there is another aspect to the situation that needs to be considered,” Warner-Seefeld said.( )
The problem was a rogue prosecutor, who was subsequently disbarred. In other words, it went to the cops and the legal system.
Ironically, it was handled the way some wingers want it to be handled, being handed off to the government.
A recent case in New Mexico at UNM is an example of the potential problems you advocate for. 3 students accused by a female student of rape that cannot pass the smell test for a lady DA are still in jeopardy of losing their athletic scholarships, have already had their reputations dragged thru the muck of false claims. They are not from families of means. They cannot afford the legal help to protect themselves.
Both of these false claims diminish the tragedy of rape, the harm to those who are raped because they create the situations where people will see through the false claims and apply them to rape. Women deserve better.
You can get tossed out of college for breaking laws that aren't crimes just like you can get tossed out of country club for breaking rules. Sheesh, this guys need to grow up!
Just how untrustworthy college people are in such a matter is the Duke Rugby Team members who were brutalized by the 80+ professors who demanded their male parts on a platter in their published petition, the students who joined the lynch mob, the school that demanded those men leave to protect females. It was ALL A LIE concocted by a woman who is and was a known liar.
"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," spoken by Zara in Act III, Scene VIII of The Mourning Bride by Congreve is a spot on description of the ability of women to destroy a man for reasons that are not attached to reality. Such people cannot have unwitting accomplices which is what this approach provides.
Rape is too serious to be treated so casually. Rapist's need jail time. Innocent people need the protection of the law.
Lots of parents, especially the parent of minor males, would probably much rather deal with the school than with the cops.
But I definitely am talking about an institution being able to pass rules that are different from governmental laws. You can be kicked out of an institution for infractions that don't involve crimes. Or you can remain a member even if you HAVE committed crimes.
If a crime is alleged, the college victim of a sex crime - like all other victims - may pick up a phone, or borrow one, and dial 911. College campuses are within the jurisdiction of the courts.
The police will come and initiate an investigation. The College can then consider if their Code of Conduct had been violated.
The burden of proof is not satisfied in the form of media exploits or campus procedures.
Ok, one may argue that the stress of prosecuting a sex crime in public (court) is overly stressful for a student. Yet, these stories wind up even MORE public as prosecuted over the airwaves and internet. If a student is raped, why wouldn't he go to court rather than have his story published far and why. Perhaps in the case of a gay couple, one wants to really smear the other party.
The fools voted for Obama. His many actions clearly show what kind of person he is.
Seriously, did you have a point?
When someone reports a "rape" that happened two weeks ago in a dorm room with 200 other students within shouting distance - that is another matter altogether.
The issue here is force or duress. Consent. The real argument in these cases deals with consent, but certainly some of them involve physical force.
There is not a statute of limitations of two weeks on reporting a crime. Many victims are either in fear or shame and decline to move forward immediately. That has nothing to do with the determination of whether a crime occurred.
Yet another reason why judicial boards should completely stay any proceedings pending adjudications by criminal courts. If the authorities decline to charge, then I am fine with an open process, in a disciplinary setting that also includes discovery rights/cross examination rights and the right to counsel.
Let's face it, being expelled on an honor code or code of conduct charge, in this day and age is very damning. Proof of it should not be left to a inexperienced and under-informed decision makers.
That's why the most fair process needs to be devised, if we are going to have such cases to go forward in those settings.
Jews who lived through the Holocaust, are SURVIVORS. People who have lived through attempted murder, are SURVIVORS.
People who are victims of sexual assault, are VICTIMS of sexual assault.