Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Opinion

The other side of sex assaults: Men who are scapegoats

It's a familiar story: A student is suing a university over the alleged mishandling of a sexual assault report. But the suit filed in federal court in New York City last week against Columbia University has a different twist: The student is male — and his complaint is that he was denied due process when the university suspended him for a year and a half on a complaint of sexual misconduct.

According to the suit, the student, identified only as John Doe, had a consensual "hookup" with his accuser, a fellow student and his roommate's ex-girlfriend, in the bathroom of her dorm room, shortly before the end of the 2013 spring term. He claims that the young woman invited him to her dorm room for a sexual encounter.

In the next several days, he says, she texted him to express concern about how their encounter would be perceived in their social circle if it became known.

After both students returned to school, in September, Jane Doe filed charges within the university's disciplinary system, accusing the young man of "non-consensual sexual intercourse." After what John Doe claims was an egregiously biased investigation, in an atmosphere of heightened attention to the problem of campus sexual assault, he was found responsible and punished with a suspension until the fall of 2015. Remarkably, the lawsuit states that the accuser unsuccessfully tried to appeal the sentence as too severe.

The lawsuit claims that John Doe was railroaded because Columbia University was anxious to shield itself from criticism for being too lenient with male students accused of sexual assault, particularly student-athletes. (The accused was a member of the crew team.) The complaint also alleges sex discrimination, asserting the student was singled out for unfair treatment because he is male.

Far from being an oddity, this suit is part of a growing trend. Similar complaints are pending against other schools, including the University of Michigan and Vassar College. A Pennsylvania federal judge this month refused to dismiss such a lawsuit against St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. In April, Ohio's Xavier University settled a lawsuit from basketball player Dez Wells, who was expelled in 2012 over what he says — and the county prosecutor agrees — was a false accusation of rape.

Are all of these male plaintiffs innocent of wrongdoing? Nobody knows — just as nobody knows whether all of the female students who are suing schools for not taking their reports of sexual assault seriously were really assaulted. But the lawsuits from men highlight issues that tend to be neglected in the campaign for the worthy cause of preventing and punishing sexual violence.

Among these issues is the tendency in college hearings to presume guilt in he said-she said cases, particularly with strong pressure from the federal government for schools to use the lowest evidentiary standard. This is exacerbated by disciplinary codes which define "non-consensual sex" so broadly that even slight intoxication can negate consent and verbal persuasion can be deemed coercive.

The claims by male plaintiffs are reminders that there is, quite literally, another side to the story. The complaint from Columbia's John Doe says he had to get counseling for suicidal thoughts as a result of the sexual assault accusation, and that his academic and athletic career has been irreparably damaged.

If true, his plight deserves as much sympathy as that of a woman who is ignored and harassed when she brings an accusation against a popular campus athlete.

Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and the website RealClearPolitics. She wrote this for Newsday.

Comments
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18