Men Sue in Campus Sexual Assault Cases

One 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.


Emily Shugerman is a politics major at Occidental College and editor in chief of The Occidental Weekly. Follow her on Twitter.