Brown University is being sued by a former student, William McCormick III, over its handling of a charge of rape on campus. Because of McCormick’s allegations, the case is bound to attract major publicity. In court papers, he argues that the female student was reluctant to name him, and that Brown officials yelled at her, pressing her to escalate her initial complaint (that he was following her) into a rape complaint, written by her with the help of her resident coordinator. The court papers also argue that the father of the alleged victim, a Brown alumnus and donor, made phone calls to top university officials, which led to a private settlement: if he withdrew from Brown, she would not file criminal charges.
Neither the accuser nor the university reported the alleged crime to Providence police or campus police. McCormick, who later rejected the deal with the university, says Brown failed to follow its own disciplinary policies. The lawsuit claims that Brown interfered with his access to potential witnesses and refused to provide documents that might exonerate him.
Colleges are often reluctant to hold due-process hearings on sexual complaints, partly because vigorous cross examination opens them to charges of abusing the victim.
Feminist theory holds that there is no need to hear from the accused, because rape victims do not lie and because confrontation with the accused or his lawyer or even any close analysis of what happened can amount to a “second rape.” As a result, on some campuses, the “he-said she-said” in cases of alleged rape tends to be reduced to a simple “she said.”
The Columbia University sexual misconduct policy does not allow the accused to confront his accuser, have a lawyer present, or even to sit silently at the hearing, unless the accuser agrees. Nor can the accused line up witnesses or investigate the charges himself. Nat Hentoff called it the most repressive sexual misconduct policy he had ever seen.
Duke University recently introduced a bizarre misconduct policy. Under it, a great many males who could have sworn they were having consensual sex were actually committing rape in the eyes of their university. The policy contains a broad definition of coercion, and warns that “real or perceived power differentials…may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion.” So a sexually active varsity athlete at Duke might be accused of rape because his status as a campus star is inherently coercive to women he dates.
Columnist Cathy Young, writing about the new Duke policy, recalled an example of a counselor advising a student to consider an apparently harmless act of intercourse as rape:
“About 15 years ago, as an undergraduate, a friend of mine was talked into a one-night stand in a situation some would call coercive: the man was a graduate student, and she felt somewhat intimidated by his intellectual brilliance. She went to a campus counselor hoping for advice on developing her assertiveness skills—only to be told that she had been assaulted and should not blame herself. My friend was frustrated and angry: in her view, the counselor was not only being unhelpful but telling her how to interpret her own experience. Imagine how much more betrayed she would have felt if the counselor had been compelled to initiate proceedings on her behalf.”