By ASHE SCHOW (@ASHESCHOW)
As I wrote in my column yesterday, not all accusations of campus sexual assault are black and white. Yet colleges are treating accusations as if the accused were a potential rapist, even when the accusation involves nothing more than requesting social media connections one too many times.
Kimberly Lau, a lawyer who has defended wrongly accused students in more than 40 cases, released a statement regarding a recent survey purporting to show that one-in-four women will be sexually assaulted while in college.
Lau notes what other critics of the survey, including me, have pointed out: that it relies on an overly broad definition of "sexual assault" in order to inflate its numbers for scary headlines. Lau has specific knowledge of the ways normal interactions, though possibly jerkish, have been elevated to the level of assault, warranting severe punishment.
One of Lau's cases involved a male student who received a deferred suspension, was banned from his graduation and branded a sex offender on his transcript for stealing a kiss and exchanging inappropriate text messages that were later deemed harassment. Another case saw a male student suspended for a year because he sent multiple Instagram follow requests to a female student and once looked at her on campus.
Even if these behaviors were inappropriate, is a one-year suspension justified instead of, say, someone simply telling the kid to stop?
Most college kids who get that kind of warning from an authority figure would be thoroughly frightened enough to stop. But disrupting their life for a year over social media requests and what could have been an errant look?
On today's college campuses, anything deemed offensive can be used as a weapon against college men in accusations of sexual assault and harassment. And colleges, under pressure from the federal government to find students responsible, have created pseudo-court systems that eviscerate due process in order to get those findings.
"Herein lies the problem with campus tribunals determining if a crime of sexual misconduct was committed," Lau said. "[S]tudents can be wrongly accused because the accusation becomes the proof or, simply, because the definitions are too broad and too ambiguous; students can be accused months or even years after the incident; and those wrongly accused are denied due process."
Lau has had some success defending kids from exaggerated or wrongful accusations. Most recently, she helped a student accused of sexual assault (who was suspended for a year and a half) settle with his university. The student was punished despite the accuser admitting to police that she "may have stretched the truth" because she was "pissed off" and wanted "the s--- to be scared out of him." She also lied to police.
As policies continue to expand the definition of sexual assault, more students wrongly accused of terrible crimes will have to sue their universities in order to get their lives back.