Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Stanford grad students want men accused of rape kicked off campus altogether while the school's investigation drags on for months

The chorus of voices across America that are hostile to the due process rights of college men accused of sexual assault keeps growing.

We've written extensively about this hostility lately. Perhaps the most egregious manifestation of it was the comment by Amanda Childress, Sexual Assault Awareness Program coordinator at Dartmouth College, who declared that campus policies aren't going far enough to protect students. She asked: "Why could we not expel a student based on an allegation?"

Stanford grad students Anna Ninan, MBA ’15, and Jonny Dorsey ’09 MBA ’14 have added their voices to the chorus. "While an alleged sexual assault is under investigation, the principle of innocence until proven guilty and the right of all students to pursue their education free from fear or intimidation may be in conflict," they write. "Stanford needs a process for considering the balance of harms in adjudicating such conflicts."

How do Ninan and Dorsey propose that the "balance" be struck? By "tak[ing] the survivor's perspective," of course. Specifically: "Stanford should . . . consider the option of removing accused students from campus on a case-by-case basis, as is legally permitted under Title IX."

Ninan and Dorsey concede that the the process to determine culpubility "can take months," and they do not even hint at, much less explore, the burdens such a de facto suspension might have on the accused. It is a price worth paying, they suggest, because otherwise the accuser will "suffer the psychological burden of close proximity to his or her attacker."

Ninan and Dorsey blithely ignore the fact that the interim measure they advocate -- a potentially life-altering removal of the presumptively innocent man from campus -- would work a far greater hardship on him than the "psychological burden of close proximity" that his accuser might suffer if he isn't removed. No matter. His rights are not only trumped, they are eviscerated, by virtue of a rape accusation. Nice "balance," wouldn't you say?

The fact is, schools can, and do, impose interim measures that reasonably insure that the accuser and the accused do not come into contact while the investigation is underway. What Ninan and Dorsey advocate goes beyond that -- they seem to want the accused to be punished (on a "case-by-case basis") because of an accusation.

Ninan and Dorsey urge that Stanford speed up the process -- but not because of the burdens to the accused student who might just be innocent. The delay is deleterious because it results in "further traumatizing the survivor." (The assumption that an accuser is a "survivor" means, of course, that the accused student must be a rapist.)

Ironically, even if the accused is guilty, the interim measures Ninan and Dorsey advocate can scarcely be counted on to accomplish the benefits they tout. In a country where the majority of college students are commuters -- even Stanford has a significant commuter base -- booting a rapist off campus isn't going to stop him from legally frequenting the same off-campus hangouts where he might have committed his misdeeds as a student. If we were really serious about protecting women from rape, we would insist that every report be turned over to the professionals in law enforcement who can actually remove the accused from society, instead of relying on unqualified college officials to figure out if a rape occurred and who can't remove the accused from society if he's guilty.

Then again, Stanford is the school that trained its panels deciding sexual assault cases to be "very, very cautious" about accepting a man's word that he is innocent and that taking a neutral stance between the accuser and the accused is to actually side with the accuser.

Stanford should think twice about kowtowing to this draconian suggestion. Kevin Parisi has sued Drew University for the harm he suffered from precisely the same kinds of  "interim measures." Although Drew ultimately found Mr. Parisi not culpable, he plowed ahead with his suit. It is a cautionary tale for colleges that fail to strike the right balance between the rights of the accuser and accused. Here is how one news outlet described Mr. Parisi's case:
In the lawsuit, Parisi claims that he and his accuser had "what was clearly consensual sexual activity on or about September 24, 2013" — toward the beginning of their junior year. The two had been friends, had lived in the same dormitory previously and had sexual intercourse during their freshman year, he says.

The lawsuit describes a night that begins with the two agreeing to be "cuddle buddies" after the accuser and her boyfriend broke up — and then a progressing to more intimate acts, each with specific permission.

But Parisi says his accuser was adamant he never tell anyone — because her boyfriend wouldn't take her back if she knew.

The lawsuit says once Parisi's accuser confessed to her boyfriend about the sex, together they made a false claim to the university that Parisi and the accuser had sex without her consent.

It blames Drew for barring Parisi from all university buildings except the cafeteria and his classrooms while an investigation was ongoing — forcing him to sleep on the "on the filthy floor" of a nearby apartment's kitchen, aggravating his anxiety and digestive disorders. That led to his grades slipping, and his eventual academic suspension, the lawsuit alleges.
And it says Drew's investigation went on too long, as it was suspended while the school waited to hear back from police on their own investigation — started after the accuser and her boyfriend contacted police. Detective Lt. Dennis Lam of the Madison Police Department told NJ.com Tuesday the accuser never came to police headquarters to discuss her initial claim, and the case has since been closed with no charges.

The lawsuit points to a university policy saying investigations and hearings about alleged sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should be concluded within 15 days — though the policy does allow for extensions.

The "human rights policy" in Drew's student handbook — one of the policies the lawsuit references — also includes statement that "fact-finding may be placed on hold at the request of law enforcement." However, Lam told NJ.com he couldn't speak to any steps the school might take in response to a law enforcement inquiry.

Parisi further blames the school for not investigating his own allegations that his accuser made a false claim about the sexual assault — confiding in a close friend and trying to convince her to lie about it. He also says the school never looked into his allegation the accuser broke a no-contact order to call him from a blocked number, and apologize for "ruining" his life.

It says the investigation — which ended Dec. 17, when Parisi was deemed not responsible by the school — not only interrupted his academic career, but threw into chaos his prospects for a future as a college-educated member of the workforce. It wasted the money his parents spend on his college education as well, the lawsuit alleges.

As the majority of those accused in sex assaults are men, Parisi argues in the lawsuit, "male respondents in sexual misconduct cases at defendant Drew are discriminated against solely on the basis of sex. They are invariably subjected to discipline without the benefit of due process."
If Mr. Parisi's allegations are true, we hope he wins a lot of money. That would send a message to colleges that ignore the rights of presumptively innocent men accused of sex offenses.