Male Student Sues College Over Sexual Assault Proceedings


A young man known in court documents as John Doe is suing the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee for $3 million, claiming the school didn’t follow its own federally mandated due process rules in trying another student’s rape claim against him. “Doe” was expelled; the alleged victim, who chose not to pursue criminal charges, has since left the school to seek substance abuse treatment.

A trial is under way. Interestingly, one of the witnesses appearing on behalf of the student is Brett Sokolow, president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, who according to the Times Free Press “testified this was the first time he has worked as a witness on behalf of someone accused in a sexual assault. In all other instances, he has testified on behalf of the university or the victim of a sexual assault.”

Sokolow also happens to be portrayed as the embodiment of a “rape industrial” complex bogeyman in a long piece in Philadelphia magazine. It essentially argues that the federal government is forcing colleges, by means of regulations and dangled funds, to flout the rights of young men and convince young women that they’ve been sexually assaulted instead of just having bad sex. (Yes, it has been almost twenty years since this; still going.) Here’s the renewed hook: The government now using Title IX and the threat of a similar claim as the one filed against Yale to regular campus response to sexual assaults. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has also shifted its requirements from “beyond a reasonable doubt” to a more expansive standard of “preponderance of the evidence.”

The University of the South student isn’t seeking to change those regulations; he argues that in 2008, they weren’t even followed after a disciplinary board sided with a student that she was too incapacitated to consent to sex with him. But the story is exactly the kind that gets thrown around in these contexts as proof of the allegedly hysterical response to sexual assaults on campus. Per the AP:

Records show the female student at one point during the night together answered “yes” when the plaintiff asked “if that felt good” and remained until 7 a.m. the next morning. She then left and called university police saying she had been raped. She was taken to a hospital and investigators prepared a report but there was never a criminal case.

They don’t specify upon whose account these entirely objective “records” are drawn. In any case, the plaintiff’s attorney has been arguing, by way of damages, that “his client is an Eagle Scout and athlete whose reputation has been harmed and whose goals, including becoming a Marine officer, have possibly been damaged by the university having ‘branded him a rapist.'” Ironically, this has meant that attorneys for the university have been bringing up his past infractions, such as drinking beer in high school. (Of course, unlike in sexual assault claims where a victim’s past history gets dragged out, this is a case about whether his reputation was damaged or, as the college is arguing, he was already damaging it himself.)

The author of the Philadelphia piece, Sandy Hingston, describes herself as the mother of a female college student and discloses that “one of my relatives has been a victim of rape; another was once sanctioned by a college for sexual misconduct.” (Randomly, she also moonlights as a romance novelist.) She interviews Sokolow, some libertarian critics of campus sexual assault policies, and throws out a few egregious-sounding examples, one hypothetical, of overreach. But it’s not clear if she’s more upset about “fundamental questions of fairness” in college judicial proceedings and federal guidelines, or by the worldview implicit in a consent-based model of sexual assault. She writes,

[The Secretary of Education’s] guidelines impose a paralyzing “nanny state” on college campuses here in Philadelphia and across the country. At precisely the time in their lives when young men and women should be exploring what sexuality means, the new rules choke off their freedom, limit their choices, and encourage the canard that all males are unrepentant predators. What’s more, they position women as helpless victims who require bureaucratic protection from those males—victims with no responsibility for their own behavior.

Hingston claims that colleges don’t turn sexual assault cases over the police to prosecute “because there’s rarely enough evidence to convict in a real court of law,” but then glosses over any reasons why a victim would shy from the justice system (why would anyone avoid the police or the legal system in a sexual assault claim?) but would still want an attacker off campus.

But actual victims appear almost nowhere in this piece. Instead, there are hapless but borderline greedy administrators, and self-interested advocates trying to convince women that they’ve been raped when they haven’t been. And then there are the women who “get it”: Hingston throws in a quote from a “female colleague” who says “if drunken hookups are defined as sexual assaults, then I’ve been sexually assaulted 177 times.” There’s a curious nostalgia for the good old days before the uptight crowd ruined everything:

When I was in college, back in the heady ’70s-when we battled hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, when Ms. magazine was still new-I and the women I knew got drunk a lot, and woke up in bed with guys we didn’t always like or know. They never asked us, “Can I put my finger inside you?” We never accused them of sexual assault. We were, all of us, learning about limits and needs and wants. There were a lot of teachable moments along the way.

For the sake of the women that Hingston is broadly speaking for, I hope she’s right that none of them ever felt that they’d been sexually assaulted by those guys they didn’t always like or know. It’s bizarre to say that all potentially ambiguous hookups are automatically fun and games exploration, just as it makes no sense to say that all sexual contact involving alcohol is rape. It’s easy to mock verbal consent guidelines, but the actual culture is so far from implementing that approach to sexuality that it hardly seems like our biggest problem.

The New Rules Of College Sex [Philly Mag]
Ex-Student Says Sewanee Rape Ruling Taints Him [Chron]
University Begins Their Defense In $3 Million Lawsuit [Times Free Press]
Sewanee Lawsuit Trial Begins [Times Free Press]

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