Required Reading For Inbound College Freshmen
As high school graduation season comes to a close and students look forward to heading off to college in the fall, parents and incoming freshmen need to be aware of the current culture surrounding sexual assault on college campuses. Students – especially male students – are increasingly in danger of becoming falsely accused of sexual assault and having their lives derailed by overzealous campus bureaucrats intent on proving they take seriously “rape culture.”
Parents of young men about to enter college – and the students themselves – should seriously consider reading “The Campus Rape Frenzy” (Encounter Books, 2017) before moving away from home in order to become aware of what life on campus currently entails.
This book, from K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor (who have previously written about the Duke lacrosse rape hoax) should be required reading for the families of anyone in or about to head to college. Though the book focuses largely on the unfair campus policies that lack basic due process and tilt the scales in favor of accusers – even if their stories are proven false – it makes multiple references to situations in which college administrators failed victims of sexual assault.
In an early chapter of the book, the two authors list a handful of cases where it was the police, not campus administrators, who provided the best remedies for victims. The problem, the two write, is that college campuses can only expel accused students, leaving them free to roam the streets. The criminal justice system, on the other hand, can put rapists in jail.
The most damning example of this comes from Vanderbilt University, where Brandon Vandenburg and three of his friends carried his passed-out girlfriend into a dorm room. One of the other men, Cory Batey, raped the young women while Vandenburg cheered him on and videotaped the encounter. Campus authorities saw surveillance video of the men carrying the woman, and turned it over to police.
Even though the men deleted from their phones evidence of the rape, police were able to subpoena and recover the footage – something college administrators wouldn’t have the power to do. Had the school refused to contact law enforcement, as many of today’s campus activists argue against – the worst that could have happened to these young men was expulsion. Instead, they were arrested and charged with crimes. Batey is serving 15 years for his crime; Vandenburg is serving 17. The cases against two other men, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie are still pending.
Yet more often than not, college bureaucrats are handling accusations of sexual assault through a disciplinary hearing, putting sexual assault on par with plagiarism or petty theft, instead of the serious crime it is. In order to combat campus sexual assault, we’re told, we must ignore due process, lest we “re-traumatize” the accusers.
How did we get to a point in our society where due process is seen as an impediment to justice? Johnson and Taylor write that it was a combination of things: Bad statistics, media malpractice and a witch-hunt mentality.
Activists, legislators and the media continually claim that 1-in-5, or 20 percent, of college women have been or will be sexually assaulted while an undergraduate. The Education Department says there are 10 million part-time or full-time female undergraduates.
“That’s 400,000 to 500,000 sexual assaults per year, depending on how many schools are classified as four-year and how many are classified as five-year” Johnson and Taylor wrote. “For comparison’s sake, under the expanded definition of rape used in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, in 2014 there were 116,645 rapes in the entire United States…” (Emphasis original.)
If the 1-in-5 number were indeed true, the authors indicate, then schools should be hiring scores of police to patrol the campuses. Instead, university presidents have devoted more money to Title IX bureaucrats or urged students to lay off the alcohol. Further, Johnson said in an email to Real Clear Investigations, that if the epidemic were as widespread and ongoing as former Vice President Joe Biden claimed, then it should have been the first thing the Obama administration did in office. “Instead, without explanation, he waited more than 27 months to act--conveniently, on the same day he announced his re-election bid, and amidst a broader move to embrace an array of social positions to rally the Democratic base,” Johnson wrote in an email.
Those Title IX bureaucrats have been emboldened to take any accusation and run with it, eschewing exculpatory evidence in order to find for accusers. They do this, the authors insist, because the federal government issued guidance that threatens to take away federal funding if schools don’t comply. And compliance means ignoring due process. In one 2014 guidance document, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights wrote that schools should “ensure that steps to accord any due process rights do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX to the complainant.” In other words, the accuser comes first.
Colleges absolutely should be sympathetic to accusers, Johnson and Taylor wrote, but this often comes at an expense to finding the truth. The author’s note how Title IX officials at numerous universities are taught to believe the accusation and do whatever it takes to find the accused responsible.
For example, Stanford teaches disciplinary panelists that “act[ing] persuasive and logical” is a sign of guilt, and that they should be “very, very cautious in accepting a man’s claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence.” Middlebury College teaches campus investigators to “start by believing” the accuser, who must be referred to as a “victim” or “survivor” before any fact-finding commences. They’re also taught that investigations are not about “just the facts.”
Time and time again, these training materials insist that false accusations are so rare that administrators should always assume the guilt of the accused. Many schools include slides that state just 2 percent to 10 percent of accusations are false, without explaining the context of those numbers or the fact that adjudicators can’t know which side of the statistic any particular cases falls under.
The University of Texas system adopted one of the most damaging “blueprints” to handle campus sexual, which required campus police officers “to structure their investigations so as to anticipate defense strategies,” Johnson and Taylor wrote. “This kind of investigation, the guidelines maintained, would make it harder for defense lawyers to impeach the accuser in cases that went to trial.”
These attitudes toward due process exhibited by schools, legislators and activists result in cases like that of Michael Cheng (not his real name) of Amherst College. Johnston and Taylor open their book by retelling Cheng’s case, in which he was accused nearly two years after the alleged incident and after the accuser lost her group of friends and joined a new one that consisted of activists.
Amherst even acknowledged that Cheng was blacked out during the encounter, meaning that in reality, it was he who was the victim of sexual assault. After Cheng was expelled, his attorney discovered text messages that proved his accuser had made up the accusation to protect herself and lied in her testimony. Amherst’s response was to say, incredibly, that the discovery of new, exculpatory evidence proved their process worked and to stand by their decision by not reopening Cheng’s case. This process, Johnson and Taylor wrote, is typical of most colleges today.
In a response to questions from Real Clear Investigations, Johnson said the Amherst case is still the most egregious case he has seen, and explained why he and Taylor led the book with it. For starters, it is one of the few cases with evidence and a clear picture of what happened. Cheng’s attorney, Max Stern, provided Johnson and Taylor with the “entire case file,” including “the investigator’s report, the transcript of the hearing and the accuser’s text messages.”
The pair also used the case because, despite the way Cheng was treated, Amherst’s policies weren’t as extreme as at other schools. Some school, Johnson noted, don’t even allow a hearing. Finally, Amherst exemplified the disconnect between what college activists claim is happening and what is actually happening.
“[T]he general atmosphere on campus – a belief, among accusers' rights activists, that this politically correct campus was somehow so hostile to rape victims as to require the school to cancel a day's worth of classes to discuss the issue – typifies the frenzied atmosphere that exists on most elite campuses,” Johnson wrote in an email.
One of the most important revelations scattered throughout the book is the amount of money some schools have had to pay accused students over unfair processes. Until this book, most settlements went undisclosed and the few that were revealed seemed to suggest accused students settle for almost no damages and simply want their disciplinary record wiped clean. In one example, Brown University reportedly paid an accused student $1.05 million to drop their lawsuit.
What’s missing from this book is what’s missing from nearly every article about false accusations: The personal impact. At one point, Johnson and Taylor include testimony from the mother of an accused student, who said he was “severely depressed,” “couldn’t eat or sleep,” and “had horrible screaming nightmares” that lasted for four months. She said he attempted suicide once.
This is what’s missing from the due process conversation. Recounting story after story about how an accused student was mistreated – how evidence that should have exonerated him was fair and how disciplinary processes are designed to find guilt no matter what – are necessary, but the accused students need to be humanized. They are not simply John Does or names in lawsuits; they’re real people who are suffering after being falsely accused and railroaded by a system set up against them. Many of these students contemplate or attempt suicide – at least one student that we know of, Thomas Klocke, has followed through – and the dangers of overzealous campus administrators need to be realized.
In the end, campus kangaroo courts benefit no one, not even the accusers who get the men accused thrown off campus. The real victims of campus sexual assault are perhaps the most hurt in these procedures, because they are taught that going to the police is useless, maybe even traumatizing, which leads them to become satisfied with simply having the accused kicked off campus. This shouldn’t be seen as a victory, because it only means that a dangerous person – as activists and administrators contend these men are – is out walking the streets.
All parents need to be aware of what their children will face in college, and this book goes a long way toward informing about the real dangers at our nation’s schools: false accusations, the turning of young women into PTSD-suffering victims when they would otherwise not be, and the potential that schools are releasing violent offenders onto the streets.
In the end, Johnson said in an email, there are two ways in which this moral panic will end.
“Best-case scenario: far, far more aggressive action from the courts,” he wrote. “The likelier scenario: like all witch hunts in American history, this one burns itself out, though only after harming hundreds and likely thousands of innocent people.”
This moral panic is entering its seventh year. One can only hope it burns out soon.