Judge: Male student expelled for sexual assault may have been victim himself

By   /   March 6, 2017  /   News  /   8 Comments

Part 5 of 5 in the series Due Process Wins
Creative Commons / User SteveAlexander

Creative Commons / User SteveAlexander

CAMPUS CULTURE: A school expelled a male student even though evidence suggested he may have been the victim.

In one of the most absurd cases of campus sexual assault to date, a male student was expelled after he “blacked out” and had oral sex performed on him.

The woman who performed the act would, nearly two years later, accuse him of sexual assault, even though the evidence heavily suggested it was the male student who was the victim.

Now a U.S. district court judge in Massachusetts has vindicated this expelled student, an Asian-American student known only as John Doe in court documents. Judge Mark Mastroianni upheld numerous key claims in Doe’s lawsuit against Amherst College in Massachusetts and some of its employees. Most notably, Mastroianni upheld Doe’s claim that the school breached its contract with him by discriminating against him based on sex.

To understand this incredible case, we have to go back to February 2012. Doe and “Sandra Jones,” as she is referred to in court documents, went back to Jones’ dorm room after a night of drinking. John was in a “black out” state and doesn’t remember anything that happened that night, a claim Amherst deemed “credible” during his disciplinary hearing. At some point during the night, Sandra performed oral sex on John, who was in a relationship with Sandra’s roommate.

Nearly two years later, Sandra would accuse John of sexual assault. John alleges in his lawsuit that the deck was stacked against him from the start. His adviser couldn’t speak for him, he could only write down questions for his accuser or witnesses (which means he couldn’t follow up on their claims) and the hearing panel was made up of administrators trained in “social justice education.”

During the hearing, the accuser claimed she texted a friend to come over for help because she had been sexually assaulted. The school never followed up by obtaining her text messages. If they had, they would have seen that she had texted two people immediately after the encounter. First, she texted a male student she had a crush on and asked him to come over. She had been sending flirtatious messages to him all night. Then, while waiting for him to come over, Sandra texted a female friend and indicated she initiated the sexual contact with John.

“Ohmygod I jus did something so f- – -ing stupid,” Sandra texted her friend. She also told her friend that “it’s pretty obvi [sic] I wasn’t an innocent bystander.” In another text, Sandra fretted that John “was too drunk to make a good lie out of s- – -.”

Judge Mastroianni described Sandra’s texts as her “propos[ing] lying to others about what happened” between her and John.

Sandra texted her female friend again early in the morning, complaining that the male student whom she had invited over waited until 5 a.m. to initiate sexual activity with her. “Like, hot girl in a slutty dress. Make. Your. Move. YEAH,” she complained to her friend while the male student was still in her room.

These text messages were not acquired by Amherst. John learned of them during the hearing but was not able to obtain them until after his appeal failed and he had hired an attorney. When John presented the messages to Amherst, they refused to reopen his case.

Mastroianni agreed with John that he may have been discriminated against because of his sex. Because John was blacked out, essentially incapacitated, while Sandra was not, it stands to reason that he might have been a victim of sexual assault, since he could not have consented to Sandra in his state. But since Sandra filed the complaint, such information was disregarded, since Amherst policy states that “[b]eing intoxicated or impaired by drugs or alcohol is never an excuse for sexual misconduct and does not excuse one from the responsibility to obtain consent.”

“The inherent difficulty posed by such situations is magnified when past practices have led to legitimate concerns about victim-blaming because these problems cannot be considered without questioning who occupies the role of victim,” Mastroianni wrote. “Against the existing history of inadequate response to allegations of sexual misconduct, any effort to question whether a self-identified victim is the only victim or is a victim at all is, understandably, a developing area to be approached carefully.”

When Sandra told people she may have been sexually assaulted, Amherst employees encouraged her to make a formal complaint. When she did so, they investigated her complaint (but only to corroborate her story, hence the missing text messages) and expelled John. But during that investigation, Amherst was informed that John may have been the victim, as he was incapacitated and Sandra was not. Amherst employees never encouraged John to file a complaint or proceed to investigate Sandra.

“These are specific factual allegations that the College responded differently to similar reports when the genders of the potential victims and aggressors were different,” Mastroianni wrote. “They provide a foundation from which a court can infer gender-based discrimination may have played a role in the College’s responses.”

It was also revealed during John’s lawsuit that Sandra appears to have had a desired goal to see a male student expelled for sexual assault. Because of her interaction with John (who was dating her roommate), Sandra lost her friends. She began hanging with a group of anti-rape activists and eventually told the Huffington Post that she wanted to see someone expelled for sexual assault, as no one had been in 20 years.

Mastroianni mentioned this activism in his ruling, writing that when Sandra made her complaint “she was involved in a student-led movement to compel the College to change the way it handled sexual assault allegations, including by expelling a male student accused of sexual misconduct.”

“[John] further asserts the College was actively trying to appease the student-led movement and was aware both Jones and [a witness against Doe who edited an essay from Sandra about her encounter with John] were involved with the student-led movement,” Mastroianni continued.

Mastroianni allowed John’s complaint to proceed on multiple grounds, including breach of contract (with regard to sex discrimination) and selective enforcement of the anti-sex discrimination statute known as Title IX. The judge denied, however, John’s claim that he was also discriminated against because of his race, and claims that school employees acted maliciously in railroading him.

Ashe Schow is the Campus Culture reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact her at aschow@watchdog.org and @AsheSchow