“A Majority Agreed She Was Raped by a Stanford Football Player. That Wasn’t Enough,” screamed the headline in the New York Times. The story involves a case of alleged sexual assault by a Stanford University football player.
Times journalists Joe Drape and Marc Tracy have written a deep dive into the university’s handling of the case, but without discussing any of the facts surrounding the alleged assault.
The report is focused entirely on the panels of university administrators, students, and faculty who are convened to determine guilt or innocence in lieu of a law enforcement investigation—basically juries without any legal authority.
“The majority in 2 panels agreed a student was raped by a Stanford football player. That wasn’t enough to expel him,” the Times wrote on its official Twitter account.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 29, 2016
The story opens:
The case involved a woman, a sophomore, who had met a player on Stanford’s powerhouse football team at a fraternity party one Saturday night. They went back to her room where, she said, he raped her. He said they had consensual sex.
Seeking to avoid the trauma of a police investigation, the accuser turned to the university’s in-house disciplinary board, one of many on college campuses that adjudicate sexual assault cases, and it would decide whom to believe. If the panel had found that sexual assault had taken place, the man could have been expelled.
The alleged victim, who spoke to the Times anonymously, did not file a police report due to what the story describes as the “trauma” of pursuing her attacker, an alleged sexual predator.
This same student gave written statements to the university, attempted to obtain a restraining order (which was denied due to lack of proof of imminent threat), and demanded a “No Contact Order” from the university, but refused to file a police report at the time and as of yet, has refused to do so.
Three of the five members of the university’s panel in the case agreed that a sexual assault had occurred. The Times laments that Stanford requires a 4-1 majority decision from a university panel to expel or revoke scholarships from students in sexual assault investigations, citing Duke University as one of the only other Universities to have such stringent requirements. The Times, however, declines to mention why Duke University might have such measures in place.
In 2006, Duke administrators suspended the entire lacrosse team in light of allegations of sexual assault, which also resulted in the resignation of the team’s coach, Mike Pressler. Months later, the case was dropped, the players exonerated, and prosecutor Mike Nifong disbarred. Nifong was also held in criminal contempt of court.
As the Times’ story states regarding Title IX procedures on campus:
At Stanford, the cases rely heavily on written statements from all parties, rather than on interviews by investigators or forensic evidence, as in a police investigation, which some legal experts assert makes for a less proficient investigation. The accused and accuser appear separately before the panel. Each can submit follow-up questions, for the panel to ask the other, but it does not have to use them.
As the Times story also states, universities are not legal investigators with the tools of forensic collection at their fingertips. And nor should they be. Universities are not empowered with the same legal authority as police or courts, nor do they possess the tools and manpower needed for such investigations.
The Times story appears in the middle of a heated public discussion over the Minnesota Gophers football team, in which case involves a female student alleging sexual assault by members of the team, who have since been suspended due to both a pending legal case and a University of Minnesota investigation. Other member of the team organized a brief boycott in support of the accused and players, who have since been named in the assault.
Other media outlets are running with campus assault narrative in real time, thanks to the election of Donald Trump. On the same day of the Times story, the Chicago Tribune warned: “Future campus sex assault investigations uncertain under Trump”—again citing a case that was never reported to or investigated by law enforcement.
Bad or regrettable sexual experiences are not rape, nor are they, on their face, evidence of such acts. Demanding universities act as legal governing bodies minus legal protections and rights of the accused becomes a slippery slope, as was evidenced in the Duke lacrosse case. Universities have a duty to their students to act with prudence in such cases, and in the cases of real victims of sexual assault, so does our media.
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