Tag Archives: rape on campus

Montague and Yale’s Poisoned Campus Culture

Jack Montague, captain of Yale’s basketball team, has been expelled from the university on some sort of sex charge and the story continues to get uglier. Since his family has basically declined to comment (for understandable reasons) and because Yale chooses (for incomprehensible reasons) to employ “a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than state or local authorities, there’s no way to know even what he allegedly did wrong.

That said: there’s no reason to trust that Yale’s deeply unfair process got the decision right.

Since 2011, I’ve often written about sexual assault cases at Yale—which, thanks (ironically) to an agreement with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has been required to release biannual reports about its cases. Though opaque, these reports give a sense of the current witch-hunt atmosphere on campus. The most recent report, for instance, brings news of an investigation into a report of sexual assault from a third party—who claimed that an unidentified person had sexually assaulted another unidentified person.

Yale’s Imaginary Crime Wave

Beyond the question of campus culture, Yale’s procedures deny an accused student a meaningful attempt to prove his innocence. Given the combination of the preponderance-of-evidence threshold (those judging guilt need only be 50.01 percent sure they are right) and the guilt-presuming “training” that most panels receive—which, to date, Yale has not made public— students accused of sexual assault effectively have to prove their innocence.

At Yale, the critical procedural obstacles for an accused student include a denial of direct cross-examination of the accuser; the lack of any meaningful right to legal representation in the disciplinary process; and severe restrictions on the amount of evidence he can possess, due both to the OCR-mandated haste with which sexual assault campus cases must proceed and to Yale’s inability (like all schools) to subpoena evidence. Even with these restrictions, Yale doesn’t promise to share all the evidence from its “investigation”—even all the exculpatory evidence—with the accused student or his lawyer.

Montague, a two-year captain of the team, vanished from the squad, without explanation, in early February. In an interview at the time, he cited personal reasons; then, as we now know, Yale expelled him.

His accuser never went to the police—a critical decision in interpreting the subsequent campus and media reaction.

In a campus environment in which enormous social, media, and (at least indirectly) administration pressure exists to oppose fair treatment of accused students, Montague’s teammates then did an extraordinary thing. In the first game after Yale reached its decision (again: at this stage, there’s no way of knowing whether the decision was factually correct, but it’s clear it was procedurally unfair), the teammates all wore cover shirts with Montague’s number and nickname on the back, and “Yale” spelled backward on the front..

In the midst of the lacrosse case, the members of the Duke women’s team took the field with wristbands containing the numbers of the three falsely accused men’s lacrosse players. They attracted some angry comments from the usual suspects (New York Times sports columnists) but in general enjoyed strong support from the student body.

Fast forward ten years. The basketball team’s comparable action triggered blind rage on campus. Unknown parties—presumably Yale students who were briefed on the allegations against Montague, which at this point were not public—blanketed the campus with posters demanding that the team “stop supporting a rapist.”

Yet the fiction of the college disciplinary process is that it doesn’t make determinations of criminal offenses. A judgment by Yale can’t deem anyone a “rapist” any more than it can deem someone an “armed robber” or a “drug dealer”—two other crimes that powerful advocates of the campus status quo, Sen. Claire McCaskill and Catherine Lhamon of OCR, have bizarrely claimed that colleges currently investigate.

But, as the Montague case reveals, that fiction is just that—a fiction—with both students and the public at large interpreting any university action as a determination that the accused party has committed a serious felony. This reality makes it all the more important that Yale have a fair process.

Reflections on the Duke Lacrosse Case

The posters triggered a frenzied reaction on campus. The Yale Women’s Center—an entity with an official Yale website and a Yale faculty advisor—issued a statement that all but identified Montague as expelled for sexual assault. After the New Haven Register reported on the statement, the item disappeared from the Women’s Center website, replaced by a new statement that acknowledged Montague’s (utterly ignored) protections under FERPA. An article by Sue Svrluga in the Washington Post perceptively captured the witch-hunt atmosphere on campus.

The combination of sensational, now-public, but wholly non-specific allegations and the basketball team’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1962 has attracted national media attention. The quality of the coverage, however, has left something to be desired.

Kyle Ringo Yahoo! Sports, for instance, informed readers that “it remains unclear . . . if there are ongoing investigations by the school or law enforcement.” Really? The New Haven Register’s Chip Malafronte wrote: “There is no record of an arrest or court hearing involving Montague on file with the Connecticut judicial branch.”

CBS News, meanwhile, featured a nearly two-minute story on its national news broadcast. The piece concluded with a paraphrase of an e-mail to students from Yale Dean Jonathan Holloway, who said he was “committed to providing a safe campus for all of you.” Ending the report in this fashion was a damning frame, leaving the viewer with the impression that Montague was a threat to the safety of campus. Yet, once again, we currently have no idea what Montague even was alleged to have done.

Holloway’s email was notable, and troubling, for another reason. To date, the dean has not seen fit to publicly condemn either the students who distributed the “rapist” posters or the Women’s Center figures who posted the statement ignoring FERPA obligations. But the email did criticize the basketball players, asserting that their wearing Montague’s number in warmups left many “upset and angry.” Holloway’s document offered no explanation of why he chose to criticize only one group of students on the issue.

Holloway, ironically, is also Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies. Here’s a Morgan quote on which both Yale students and administrators could do well to reflect: “When any group of people become sufficiently intent on attacking a particular evil, they are likely to discard as obsolete and ineffective any ground rules that society has developed for the peaceful or fair achievement of social objectives.”

The Team’s “Official” Statement

Anyone who has followed the issue of due process and campus sexual assault knew that the subject would prove too tempting for the New York Times to resist. After badly botching its last foray into events at Yale (the Patrick Witt case), The Times avoided sending error-prone Richard PérezPeña back to New Haven; the lead byline on its coverage of Montague was Joe Drape, the only Times beat reporter who covered the lacrosse case fairly.

Drape’s piece was the best the Times has produced on any sexual assault case since 2011. But, critically, it offered a bland description of Yale’s disciplinary process that didn’t mention any of its due process-unfriendly components.

Drape’s article broke news, by including a statement from the team. It read, as presented by the Times, that the team “supports a healthy, safe and respectful campus climate where all students can flourish.”

“Our recent actions to show our support for one of our former teammates were not intended to suggest otherwise, but we understand that to many students they did. We apologize for the hurt we have caused, and we look forward to learning and growing from these recent incidents. As student representatives of Yale, we hope to use our positions on and off the court in a way that can make everyone proud.”

While I’ve taught at Harvard and Williams, I never taught at Yale. So maybe Yale students actually write in the exact same tone and style as student life and Title IX bureaucrats. But, somehow, I doubt it. Obtaining the background of this strange, almost hostage-like, statement would seem like the kind of news a good campus newspaper could break. In 2012, the Yale Daily News was up to the task, and played a key role in exposing the Times’ errors in the Patrick Witt case. But the paper’s current group of editors and reporters has shown little inclination to speak truth to power on questions of campus due process, and I don’t anticipate any exploration of whether there was inappropriate pressure on these Yale students to issue this statement.

Looking Ahead

At this stage, Montague’s reputation has been ruined. (Take a look at his twitter mentions for a clue of the effects.) Even if he sues Yale, a possibility that his father raised in a statement, his good name has been severely damaged.

Although important, protecting the rights of the accused is not the primary reason for due process in campus sexual assault allegations. Rather, due process provides the best guarantee that the university reaches the correct results—since the decision, as we have seen in the Montague case, is a life-altering one.

Based on Yale’s unfair procedures, the university’s one-sided response, and what seems like a deeply poisoned campus culture, no one should have any confidence that the university got this decision right.

Judge Ends Mockery at Chattanooga

Earlier this week, Tennessee Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy overturned the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s decision to brand one of its students, Corey Mock, a rapist. The case attracted an unusual amount of attention.

Mock had been a star wrestler for the UTC program. His accuser, Molly Morris, had gone public with her version of events at a left-of-center publication. And Mock’s father was fired from his position as University of North Carolina wrestling coach after starting a blog defending his son. UTC claimed that performance issues dictated the decision; the former coach plausibly contended that the university, center of some of the most extreme victims’ rights activism of any campus, retaliated for his position on his son’s allegations. The case is illustrative of three important trends in the contemporary debate: the significance of the “Dear Colleague” letter; the dangers of the “affirmative consent” standard; and the role of athletes.

You can read the decision here.

The specifics of the case are typical; the two students met through Tinder, a social media site, attended a party together, and had intercourse. Both had been drinking. Morris subsequently claimed that she had been drugged—with the implication that Mock had drugged her—but had no medical evidence to corroborate the claim. Six weeks later, Morris filed a sexual assault complaint through UTC’s system. But the administrative law judge who heard the case, Joanie Sompayrac, sided with Mock.

Before 2011, that would have been the end of the case. But the “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil rights required colleges to institute a de facto double jeopardy principle, and allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings. Morris took advantage of this shift, and appealed to UTC chancellor Steven Angle. Angle made no decision, and instead asked the administrative law judge to reconsider the ruling. Sompayrac got the message, and on the basis of the same facts that led her to find Mock not guilty, she then branded him a rapist.

Mock appealed the new guilty finding to Chancellor Angle, but in December 2014, Angle denied the appeal. He did so, however, on a slightly different basis than had Sompayrac—perhaps because he recognized the weakness of a ruling that deemed a student guilty on the basis of the same 49 findings of fact that the same administrative law judge previously had used to find the student not guilty. Angle, for his part, argued that Mock had failed to prove that he had obtained affirmative consent—that is, that Mock, not UTC, had the burden of proof in the initial hearing. UTC hadn’t adopted a “yes means yes” policy, but Angle inferred it through various provisions in the school’s code, and in other writings.

In what appears to be the first decision by a judge confronting affirmative consent head-on, Judge McCoy expressed strong doubts that such a standard ever could be constitutional. UTC’s policy, she noted, “erroneously shifted the burden of proof” to Mock to prove his innocence. As a general rule, McCoy continued, “The ability of an accused to prove the complaining party’s consent strains credulity and is illusory.” How, she wondered, could Mock have defended himself? Through a secret video of the encounter? Such a policy, McCoy concluded, “is flawed and untenable if due process is to be afforded to the accused.”

Finally, one of the general claims about college disciplinary debates is that athletes receive special treatment. That’s undoubtedly true—for men’s basketball players and football players, in some circumstances, if they play for one of the top teams in the ACC, SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, or Pac-12, and if they’re good players. But the vast majority of college athletes are like Mock—participants in non-revenue producing sports. The idea that they receive favored treatment given the current ideological climate on campus, to borrow a phrase, strains credulity.

Amherst: No Pretense of Fairness

Amherst is being sued –and rightly so–in one of the most egregious of the many campus sex cases. In brief, this is what happened.

  • After heavy drinking, two Amherst students had sex.
  • The male involved was the boyfriend of the female’s roommate. Her friends made nasty comments about her or abandoned her for cheating on her roommate.
  • Months later, joining a group of victim’s rights advocates, the accusing student (AS) concluded that the drunken sexual encounter had been rape and brought charges.
  • In a  lightning-fast investigation,  Amherst  did not discover that AS had sent two  crucial text messages to fellow students: one admitting she had seduced the male in question, regretted it and worried that the male had been  too drunk to lie about it; the other inviting a second male to her room for sex immediately after the alleged rape.
  • In a kangaroo court hearing (no lawyer, no discovery no direct cross-examination), the male was found culpable and expelled.
  • Having learned about the exculpatory emails, Amherst refused to re-open the case, and blamed the accused male.

In a defiant response to a lawsuit filed by the accused student, Amherst claimed that the process worked as it should have in this case. Or if it didn’t, it was the accuser’s roommate’s fault—he should have found out about the text messages and forwarded them before the investigator’s investigation ended. Or if it wasn’t the accuser’s fault, it was the accused student’s own fault for (in a hearing with no lawyer) not developing clever supplemental cross-examination questions about the text messages. But Amherst, according to Amherst, did everything right, according to both college policy and federal law, producing a hearing “conducted with fundamental fairness, in good faith.”

Amherst: The Process Worked

Amherst’s response comes in three levels. First, it suggests that the college did everything right: the investigation worked as it should, even though the investigator did almost all of her campus interviews in just one day; and the panel made the correct judgment, even as the college denied the accused student any right to meaningful cross-examination or legal representation. After all, AS claimed (more than a year after the fact) that at some point she had withdrawn consent, and the accused student was too drunk to recall the incident.

It’s possible, as Reason’s Robby Soave has noted, that despite this damning contextual evidence, AS’s months-after-the-fact story about nonconsensual sex is correct. But in a case that relied solely on AS’s credibility, in which AS denied to Amherst’s investigator that she had relevant text messages, such material effectively destroys her claim—as Soave also, correctly, observed.

Desperately Defending the Accuser

In its filing, Amherst tries to rehabilitate AS in two ways. First, the college suggests that—even if they had been produced by the school—the text messages would have had “no bearing” on the case, since they were simply discussions about irrelevant aspects of AS’s sex life. But the intercourse is almost certainly relevant (since AS misrepresented to the panel and the investigator why the male student came to her room), and the messages contain several items discussing her intercourse with the accused, not with the second male.

Second, Amherst portrays AS as courageously forthcoming, and therefore wholly credible. It denies that she changed any significant aspect of her story—though even the school’s own investigator couldn’t “say it was clear to me” when AS actually claimed that she withdrew consent. It’s also true, the college’s outside attorneys concede, that AS told the school’s investigator that she didn’t have relevant text messages about the incident. But that answer was truthful, according to Amherst, because AS could have understood that the investigator was only asking her “whether she had communicated or recorded in writing that the Incident had been ‘non-consensual,’ which she did not.”

In other words, Amherst has implied that its investigator was only interested in obtaining from AS contemporaneous documentation that would confirm, rather than undermine, AS’s story. And this is how the college’s system was supposed to work? On this point, Amherst had two unpalatable options: (1) concede that AS lied to the investigator, and therefore is of dubious credibility, or (2) hint that its investigator wasn’t interested in obtaining exculpatory information. I suppose, given those two options, and given the ideological climate at the college, the lawyers had little choice but to implicitly rebuke the investigator.

Amherst’s Fallback Position: Blame Its Students

In a federal judiciary that includes such opponents of campus due process as Ronnie Abrams (Vassar case) and Jesse Furman (Columbia case), perhaps this argument might carry the day. But even Amherst seems doubtful. And so the school offers a second line of defense–to the extent the result was unjust and the school failed to consider exculpatory evidence, it was because Amherst students (either AS’s roommate, or the accused student himself) failed to do their jobs.

On this point, Amherst begins with AS’s roommate, the former girlfriend of the accused. (The roommate seems to me to have been badly treated by all parties in this case—including, now, Amherst.) While the college goes out of its way to defend the unreliable AS, its outside counsel choose to cast aspersions on the roommate—one of Amherst’s own students—by suggesting that she wasn’t entirely forthcoming about the existence of the text messages in her one and only interview with the investigator. Why? Because the roommate answered, “I don’t think so” to the following question from the investigator: “Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about that you think would be important for me to know?”

In other words: the roommate—a college student, not represented by counsel—was supposed to: (1) assume that AS hadn’t turned over clearly relevant messages (and understand why they were relevant); (2) recognize that the text messages (for which she was neither a sender nor a recipient) represented “anything else” in the investigator’s question; and (3) not wonder why this supposedly experienced investigator wouldn’t simply ask about text messages. Moreover, if the investigator had taken a more professional route—that is, scheduling follow-up meetings with relevant witnesses rather than interviewing all the witnesses in the case in a one-day whirlwind through campus—she might have realized the importance of the text messages and asked about them in a follow-up interview with the roommate.

Nonetheless, AS made a mistake. As even Amherst admits that AS “did not provide text messages to Attorney Kurker [the investigator],” she referenced them indirectly in the hearing: “I texted a friend to come over to talk to me and spend the night.” Amherst’s attorneys now argue that this sentence of testimony, buried within a longer discussion of what AS did after the alleged attack, shows the accused student had all the chances he needed. Although he “had the opportunity to do so,” Amherst’s outside counsel maintains, “he never asked [AS] to identify ‘the friend’ whom [AS] texted.”

In other words: the accused student—representing himself in a proceeding whose outcome would alter the rest of his life—was supposed to: (1) have had a clear enough understanding of the case to have recognized that AS made a key admission in her testimony; (2) have composed (in writing) a follow-up set of questions on the text messages as AS’s testimony was occurring; and (3) have submitted these questions to the panel chair and hope that the chair (who wasn’t required to do so) asked them of AS. And since the accused student failed at playing Perry Mason, Amherst now contends he’s out of luck.

Amherst and Its Officials

While the accused student couldn’t have a lawyer with him, he did have an Amherst-approved “advocate,” Torin Moore, who had come to Amherst after obtaining a graduate degree in social justice education from UMass. What was Moore doing as AS made her potentially damning admission? Amherst doesn’t even bother to defend his performance during the hearing. And what about the panelists? The college obliquely concedes their failures: AS “was not asked that question [about the text messages] by anyone else.” Why were they disinterested in this relevant information? Amherst doesn’t say.

Finally, a striking element of the original complaint was a realistic portrayal of the deeply unhealthy campus climate at Amherst on issues of due process—a task that the accused student’s attorneys, Max Stern and Hillary Lehmann, accomplished by liberally quoting from Amherst officials’ statements and documents. The Amherst filing ineffectively tries to rebut this portrayal by accusing Stern and Lehmann of producing a complaint that “mischaracterizes and selectively quotes out of context” Amherst materials. Yet in 39 pages, the college can’t identify a single specific mischaracterization.

WAPO’s Faulty Rape Poll Muddies the Issue

Rape is a serious matter. That is why it is unfortunate that a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, using a small student sample that does not distinguish between unwanted touching and rape, has concluded that 25 percent of college women are sexually assaulted every year.

On Sunday the Washington Post devoted half its front page and three full inside pages to this poll and sexual assault on campuses.

Yet if parents really thought that their daughters had a 25 percent chance of being assaulted when they went off to college, they would not place them in such danger.  Living at home during university years would be more prevalent and single-sex colleges such as Bryn Mawr or Smith would be more popular than Yale or Harvard.  Instead, women flock to coed universities, where they are awarded 58 percent of BA and MA degrees.

The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll sampled 1,053 students aged between 17 and 26 at 500 colleges and universities across the country. This is a tiny fraction of the 21 million students enrolled in post-secondary education, not enough to be a representative sample.

As with a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control, which concluded that 18 percent of women have been raped at some time in their lives, the definition of sexual assault is overly broad and leads to misleading conclusions.  As well as traditional definitions of rape, it includes “forced touching of a sexual nature.”

Of course, this kind of behavior is unwanted and unpleasant, but defining it as sexual assault confuses the issue.

Perhaps the loose definition of sexual assault is why the Post stated that “students do not put sexual assault atop a list of possible concerns about their school” and “more than two-thirds gave their schools an A or a B in their handling of complaints.” According to the poll, only 37 percent of students thought that sexual assault was a serious issue on the campus.

In most of the cases described by the reporters, women are assaulted while under the influence of alcohol. They wake up not knowing whether they were raped or not. That’s probably why well over half the students polled thought that alcohol and drug abuse were problems.

The 2010 CDC survey whittled an original list of 201,881 phone numbers down to 16,507, only 8 percent of the original sample, and then asked ambiguous questions to gauge whether the respondents were victims of sexual assault.

For example, the survey asks, “When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people have had vaginal sex with you?” To a typical respondent, it is not clear whether the condition of “unable to consent” applies to “drunk, high, drugged,” or if “unable to consent” is a separate condition.

After the questions are answered, it was the surveyors, rather than the respondents, who determined whether the respondent had been raped.

Both the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation and the CDC results clash with the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, which publishes an annual Criminal Victimization survey.  The latest data for 2013, released in September 2014, show rape/sexual assault rates of 1.1 per 1,000 people in 2013, down from 1.3 per 1,000 people in 2012, both reported and unreported rapes.

The popular view is that colleges are not doing an adequate job of protecting women on campus. The Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is requiring colleges to hire more administrators to investigate and stop sexual assault, adding to university bureaucracy and tuition costs. The Post calls for additional student training to encourage bystanders to step in when they perceive a problem.

In order to address the problem of rape it is important to have the right numbers. That’s why including unwanted touching and rape in the same category as sexual assault confuses the issue and prevents the development of real solutions.

The long Washington Post story included many interviews with women who had drunk too much and had sexual encounters that they regretted afterwards.  Some others who were not drunk were attacked by unknown men. These are different problems calling for different solutions.

It is clear that excessive drinking is contributing to cases of sexual assault.  The drinking age of 21 prevents open campus pubs or bars where students can drink together socially.  Instead, students binge in their rooms before parties. Binge drinking is more of a problem in the United States than in Europe, where the drinking age is lower. Perhaps the drinking age needs to be reconsidered so drinking can come out of the closet.

Traditional feminists used to say that women are strong and intelligent, that they can look after themselves, and that they can move into male-dominated professions and aim for the CEO’s corner office.  Curbing excessive drinking for both men and women is a good way to show strength and to avoid tragic occurrences.

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation no doubt mean well with their survey.  But their alarming results clash with reality. Young American women are neither naive nor foolish nor merely passive victims. They do not go to college to face a 25 percent likelihood of being raped. Nor do their parents place them in such situations.

Far fewer but still all too many women actually are raped each year. Some are on college campuses. Many are not. Their trauma and suffering are trivialized by reporting that conflates unwanted touching with rape.  It is time the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation focused on the real victims of criminal rape.