Men Sue in Campus Sexual Assault Cases

Day 48/365One in five college women are sexually assaulted, and only 12 percent of college rape survivors will report their rape to the police. And yet, some men accused of such assaults are playing the victim.

As covered extensively in the Spring issue of Ms. magazine, rape on college campuses is gaining widespread national attention thanks to a growing, networked anti-rape movement. Students across the country are suing their colleges for mishandling sexual assault cases, and the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights received more Title IX complaints this year than any year before. Even the federal government joined the fight on the side of activists: On April 29, the Obama administration released a 20-page report encouraging colleges to step up efforts against sexual assault, and later published a list of 55 colleges under investigation for possible Title IX violations.

In the face of this rising tide of feminist action, the backlash has begun. A handful of male students are suing their universities, claiming that they were falsely accused of sexual assault and unjustly punished by their college’s judicial system. Cases have been filed against Occidental College, Columbia University, Xavier University, Duke, Vassar and more. Most colleges adjudicate sexual assault cases as they would other serious disciplinary infractions: with a trial conducted by a panel of professors and administrators. This system is meant to protect victims from the time-consuming and potentially traumatizing process of a criminal trial.

According to Professor Caroline Heldman, a professor at Occidental College and lead complainant on the Clery and Title IX suit against the school, recent suits are simply a backlash against the growing anti-rape movement:

These lawsuits are an incredible display of entitlement, the same entitlement that drove them to rape. These are students who were found responsible after an extensive adjudication proceeding that is heavily biased in favor of alleged perpetrators. We don’t have a problem with false rape reporting, we have a problem with rapes not being reported, a problem with adjudications that favor perpetrators when they are reported and a problem with light sanctions when a student has been found responsible for assault/rape.

More often than not, the male complainant in these suits alleges that the sexual encounter was consensual. He claims not to have known that the other party was too intoxicated to consent, or that he stopped when she showed signs of distress.

As more women become empowered to report assaults, an irrational fear of false reports will likely grow as well. But according to the FBI, only eight percent of rape reports are unfounded. And this is most likely an overestimate of false reports: the FBI counts cases as unfounded when deemed so by law enforcement officials, not when they are proven false through a trial. While a false rape claim is undoubtedly detrimental to the accused, those numbers are miniscule in comparison to the number of women raped each year.

To men genuinely concerned about being accused of sexual assault: Learn the definition of consent. Some movies, television and music will teach you that it is your job to be forceful; to aggressively pursue your “target;” to chase after women who deny you because you “know they want it.” They are wrong. Read books and articles about the definition of consent. Talk to women about what sexual consent looks like to them. Most importantly, talk to your sexual partners about what consent means to them. Consent isn’t halting the action when your partner begins to cry to ask them if they are OK; consent is getting an enthusiastic, confident “Yes!” before you start having sex in the first place.

To colleges who want to avoid lawsuits from both survivors and alleged perpetrators in the future: Educate your students. Teach them the definition of enthusiastic consent, show them what it looks like in real-world situations, and remind them, over and over, what is expected of them when engaging in sexual activity with other members of their campus community.

Photo of gavel courtesy of Flickr user Brian Turner.

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Emily Shugerman is a politics major at Occidental College and an intern at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. BlindPelican says:

    “These lawsuits are an incredible display of entitlement…”

    Can’t argue there. All citizens are entitled to whatever legal recourse is available. Would Prof. Heldman prefer that the system not be challenged and examined and that people not be allowed to protect themselves from potential abuses by authority? Perhaps, following her logic, we should scrap the appellate system because lower courts have it handled and are always perfect.

    “These are students who were found responsible after an extensive adjudication proceeding that is heavily biased in favor of alleged perpetrators.”

    A preponderance of evidence standard is heavily biased in favor of the defendant? That is really an absurd notion.

    Anyone who truly believes campus tribunals are both equipped and capable of handling the intricacies of evidence for such crimes, and that these tribunals actually do anything for public safety is sadly naive.

    Even if they succeed in kicking an actual rapist out of school, it doesn’t take her or him off of the streets or reduce the threat that they pose.

    • Jonathan Herjavec says:

      You get it.
      On a side note, I commend Ms. Magazine for approving your comment, at least it shows that allow opposing points of view which I have found many other feminist websites do not, and that’s certainly an admirable thing, even if I disagree with most of the content on your website.

  2. Huck Finn says:

    I’ve been out of school a long time, but if memory serves, it really wasn’t that difficult to determine if a woman wanted to have sex. Believe me, guys know what “no” means, if for no other reason than we’ve probably heard it more often than its opposite. Since sex is an activity that both parties–the last time I checked–are supposed to enjoy, taking advantage of someone too intoxicated to know what’s going on or forcing someone to do something violates the victim, the law, and the ethical foundation of physical pleasure with another human being. Any man who claims he didn’t know she didn’t give her consent is either lying or so obtuse he should never have been admitted as an undergraduate.

    • Susan Shannon says:

      thank you. The police report that only 8 percent of women who report rape do so falsely. The problem isn’t over reporting, the problem is underreporting.

      • It’s not “over-reporting” people are concerned with, it’s blatant, vindictive lying. Eight percent is one in twelve, that’s a lot, and yes, that is a problem.

    • “One in five college women are sexually assaulted, ”

      I’m not particularly impressed with that survey.

      1) There are > 4000 2-year and 4-year colleges in the U.S. Only two were included in this survey – and we are not told how they were selected. It seems rather specious to me that the environment at 2 schools can be considered representative of > 4000.
      2) I seen nothing in the study that differentiates between sexual assault since they started college at college vs. sexual assault since they started college outside of the college environment (e.g., by non-students off campus, or while at home on break or because they commute to the school). If it is there I apologize, but I can’t find it.

      And, to this point in the comments above:
      “Any man who claims he didn’t know she didn’t give her consent is either lying or so obtuse he should never have been admitted as an undergraduate.”
      Or was incapacitated himself. It’s not like women are the only people who drink to excess in college. There seems to be a fallacy that if a guy is too drunk to understand what’s going on he’s too drunk to get an erection. Maybe when you’re 40, but not when you’re 18 or 20.

      • So liquor intoxication is a reasonable excuse for committing a crime? Besides rape, what–robbery? murder?

        • Ärztekammer says:

          So what you’re saying is that, when a man and a women both are so heavily intoxicated that they don’t really know what they’re doing when they’re having sex, he’s a rapist and she’s a victim? How does that work? I’d agree if she actively gave him signals to stop and he didn’t stop because of his intoxication, but in a case where both are so intoxicated that he is not able to understand that she is not able to give consent (which may equal “She’s not able to tell him that she doesn’t want to have sex” or “She enjoyed what he did, because she didn’t have the mental capacity to see that she’s doing something stupid” on a case-to-case basis), then both sides have been equally careless. What happens is a tragedy, but certainly not rape – he didn’t have criminal intend and he is also not guilty for acting irresponsible – because she as his counterpart acted just as irresponsible as he did.

          • Rachel B. Hitch, a Raleigh attorney, asked Dean Wasiolek of Duke University what would happen if two students got drunk to the point of incapacity, and then had sex.

            “They have raped each other and are subject to expulsion?” Hitch asked.

            “Assuming it is a male and female, it is the responsibility in the case of the male to gain consent before proceeding with sex,” said Wasiolek.

            Some people truly believe this is somehow representative of equal treatment of both genders.

          • Gregory Smith says:

            or maybe HE wanted her to stop but SHE ignored him. Hard to believe that Ms magazine would be endorsing a view that sexual encounters consist of a male (who slways wants sex) and a female (who may or may not “consent” to the males wishes. Certainly has not been my experience — I’ve seen few things turn a woman so quickly angry and aggressive as having her sexual advances rebuffed.

    • bheilbrunn says:

      There is a simple solution which avoids the problems of an inappropriate burden of proof. Make the consumption of alcohol by an underaged individual cause for expulsion period. Also bar absolutely opposite sex from visiting in dorm rooms. This is where we are headed.

  3. I am flabbergasted at this article. The same sense of entitlement that drove them to rape? They are suing for being falsely accused, for not being guilty of rape. Of course there may be audacious enough to file a lawsuit despite being guilty, but is it so outlandish to think that, given the enormous pressure we exert for colleges to get serious on these crimes, a few of the accused are treated unfairly? And do we not owe it to them to rectify the situation and take their rights seriously?

    It is fully possible for both underreporting, low conviction rates, and false accusations and even verdicts to co-exist. Sexual assaults are complicated, hard to prove, and intensely politicised crimes. But if we do not acknowledge all sides of the problem, we are doing everyone a disfavor.

  4. I always am confronted with a personal hypocrisy (to use my own words) when it comes to issues like these.

    As a liberal, I sympathize with a biased judicial system where defendants are often on the short end of the stick, stigmatized for life with felon status, and often have their constitutional rights infringed before, during, and after trial. This sentiment and concern I feel is often a “liberal” idea as potentially demonstrated by the “liberal” SCOTUS justices often siding with broader protections for criminal defendants than their conservative counterparts.

    However, as a feminist, I often see in myself and many liberal organizations an irrational position that sex crimes are different. I scream loudly for fair trials, right to confront witnesses, and for an impartial jury and judge. However, I see the exact opposite when it comes to sex crimes. We demonize the defendant before a finding of guilt, we sympathize with the victim to the point where we suggest she shouldn’t have to testify because of trauma (in the face of the Confrontation Clause) and protest when a jury returns a verdict in favor of the defendant that we disagree with.

    I speak for myself but recognize that many organizations of the liberal kind that promise fair trials and demand justice for defendants sentenced to death, long prison sentences, etc. However, we hypocritically dismiss the rights of sexual assault defendants and, in my opinion, ask that we bend the constitutional protections to shield victims at the expense of a fair justice system for defendants who are innocent until proven guilty.

    I’m not saying in the context of college review that the full force of a judicial system needs to be in place, but the pessimistic and negative view that I feel is inherent in this article is a little disconcerting. If college campuses persecuted thieves and drug addicted students under this standard, ruining the lives of many, I think Ms. would be write an article with a different tone than the present one’s.

    • Please let the law enforcement authorities investigate and deal with sexual assault claims. Colleges are inept, unprepared, biased, and NOT capable of investigating sex crimes – they are not forensic scientists NOR do they provide ANY due process protections to the accused. This has been proven over and over in civil lawsuits.
      Adding the provisions to Title IX is an overreach by the government AND schools freak out because the government uses Title IX to withhold federal funding from colleges if they don’t aggressively enforce the provision – this is MILLIONS of dollars to each school.

      It’s Orwellian from start to finish and if you have a son who’s heading to college, BE SURE to send him with waiver forms that he can have any potential sex partners sign so he won’t be liable for any regrets his partner may come up with. Maybe have it notarized too!
      Regret is NOT rape.

  5. In ‘Frozen Kids’, several men talk about their experiences with sexual abuse they suffered during their childhood. Men are often too ashamed to acknowledge their abuse. ‘Frozen Kids’ refers to a state of mind that occurs during the abuse, which many survivors compare to freezing mentally and physically. Because of the amount of testimonies, this film contributes to the processing and process of acceptance of the victims. ‘Frozen Kids’ contributes to the public debate on sexual abuse of boys and men, a yet-underexposed group of victims. Another goal is to make the film an educational aid.


  6. Sandra Orely says:

    I was quite saddened to read this article, once again showing that no matter what men do, even defend themselves against false rape accusations it means they are entitled shits. However, I was pleased to see the comments, universally condemning the post. Things are changing in America. Women are no longer okay with the misandry currently passing as feminism. WE long for the days when feminism was about empowering women, not shitting on men. These powerful media organizations that thrive on victimization will eventually respond to the cries of every day women who recognize men as fellow sufferers, not douchebags who exist in a state of perpetual manic confidence. Women today seem to no longer feel their voices are being spoken for.

  7. “Most colleges adjudicate sexual assault cases as they would other serious disciplinary infractions: with a trial conducted by a panel of professors and administrators.”

    Sexual assault isn’t a ‘serious disciplinary infraction’. It’s a crime. Rape is a felony. Colleges have no business attempting to adjudicate such offenses. They should go to the police. If the schools wish to provide support to the student that alleges he or she has been raped, fine. But allegations of this nature cannot be properly adjudicated by a school.

    “This system is meant to protect victims from the time-consuming and potentially traumatizing process of a criminal trial.”

    But unless a trial is held you cannot determine whether or not the complainant in fact IS a victim. And you “protect” the accused from any real semblance of defending themselves against unfounded allegations. The bias built into this system starts when the accuser is referred to not as such but as a victim – thus establishing that the system presumes that the issue of guilt or innocence is already decided. The fact that someone who may be a victim is offered the protections outlined above does not and cannot override the rights of the accused to not have their scholastic endeavors (for which they likely have gone into considerable debt for) and their reputation destroyed without due process.

    • Roger Wilco says:

      That was a wonderful and eloquent comment, thank you very much.
      A judicial system cannot produce just outcomes when it is so heavily biased in favor of the accusing party that proper proceedings are ignored in order to protect the “victims” (who are at this point merely claimants) against the potential traumas suffered through those proceedings.

      Society must protect the weak and vulnerable, but not to a point where the most basic human rights of other human beings are ignored in order to avoid discomfort. Because at this point, the defendant were in a far more vulnerable position than the claimant, making such a provision self-defeating.

  8. What if the kids are proven innocent .. And still went through the long process of court dates and school hearings? What’s the compensation?

  9. before yall oversimplify the issue. i suggest you read this. it has less to do with innocence or guilt and more to do with the removal of due process following the option of due process and any fair judicial process being removed so that the university can say it is having success in fighting sexual assault, when its really just protecting that title 9 funding and good PR

  10. BornIn1142 says:

    “To men genuinely concerned about being accused of sexual assault: Learn the definition of consent. Some movies, television and music will teach you that it is your job to be forceful; to aggressively pursue your “target;” to chase after women who deny you because you “know they want it.””

    Should I also correct women I know who make those claims, or would that be “mansplaining?”

  11. The problem is the tribunal system is being used as a hammer to hit anything. It is there to increase assault reports at all cost. So, rules of assaults are lowered, remove review from courts, deniy legal council to accused, and deny submission of defence evidence, In general terms the tribunals take constutitional rights away from the accused. To ad insult if the accused is found innocent, the tribunal has the right to retry. This does not sound like the United States . It sounds like a third world dictatorship. All I can say is write your congress men, governor and the President to resestablish due process and access to legal courts where evidence can be fairly reviewed. You can never find justice in closed secretive tribunals.

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