“Here is the down and dirty bottom line regarding 90 percent-plus of reported adult sexual assaults: It’s the alcohol. Period”… The current orthodoxy is to presume the guilt of the accused —usually the man— There are numerous stories of young men who innocently, albeit foolishly, believed they were engaged in a consensual sex act, only to find a day, a week or a month later, that they have been accused of rape, often by a young woman who is confused or racked by guilt and regret over her own behavior.
star-telegram.com By Cynthia M. Allen
Even now, the process of ‘moving on’ after our son endured a false accusation of sexual misconduct in college traps our family standing in raw emotional tracks.
One night as the clock read 3:30 a.m., my mobile phone lit up and I sat up in bed. “Honey, what’s wrong?” my husband asked. “Nothing, babe, it’s okay, go back to sleep,” I replied, knowing he had a stressful day at work ahead of him.
On the phone I could hear quiet sobbing. I knew in an instant who it was. “It’s okay, I’m here,” I told the voice on the other end.
“I’m sorry mom, I just can’t do this anymore…”
And my heart broke yet again for my son, who is struggling to rebuild a promising life derailed by a false accusation.
I’m learning with our son that life doesn’t just go on after an allegation of rape on campus. Even after clearing his name, even years later, the pain returns, staggeringly fresh.
Our son isn’t weak, he is strong; our son isn’t unstable, he is a good person with a kind heart. This experience has knocked us all to our knees, and the long fight has left us reeling and raw.
I’m learning that the healing process isn’t a straight path for survivors of trauma. I’m learning that it offends some to even equate our experience with trauma. I’m learning that the message is clear to the American people, that on campus the innocent do not matter, that their lives aren’t as important, that we should be happy and celebrate clearing his name. I’m learning it doesn’t work that way. The damage to him, our family, his reputation, has been done. Moving on is not as easy as it seems.
Later that morning, I reached out to some of my new friends, other parents who have lived through campus adjudication with their innocent student. Finding this group has been a lifeline for our family. It’s hard being a parent of someone accused on campus, you feel that instant mark of abomination. The looks of pity and utter contempt you receive when on campus. Looks of horror including from campus employees afraid to meet your gaze is something, which with I’m familiar. They know who you are: you’re the rapist’s mom, and for an instant you know exactly how your innocent child feels.
I find myself brought back to those moments, years ago but so fresh in my mind. So real, even now, that I remember feeling the warmth of the sun, the smell of fresh cut grass on the campus lawn as I leaned over to pick up my son who was in a crumble, vomiting after a meeting with the Dean of Students. I remember students walking by and they seemed to be moving in slow motion. I remember their faces, stacks of books, laughing and smiling on their way to class. I remember seeing the Dean look out the glass door window, turning and walking the other way. It was in that moment that I knew we couldn’t trust the school. It was in that moment that I knew my son would never be the same.
I think what is hardest for me now is the silencing.
The bizarre feeling in the pit of my stomach I get watching Senators, Vice Presidents, Celebrities, and Activists all shouting for a cause, and I want to speak… I want to say “yes, yes I understand, we want survivors to feel supported, we want our girls to be safe… but what you’re preaching isn’t the truth of the story, it isn’t the reality for many innocent students on campus, there is another side.” I want to beg Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand to see the destruction of an innocent life, to feel his pain, to see his trauma, to know what it’s like to pick up your child who is in a crumble on the campus lawn, to ask them why his life doesn’t matter… but the silencing continues, and the war wages on.
But one day, hopefully the tide will turn toward a reasonable fusion of compassion and common sense. And until that day arrives and changes are permanently made in law and policy toward due process and fairness, my family and I will live on to fight another day. And one day when my son’s invisible wounds are healed, he will have been stronger for the journey.
-Mother of a falsely accused son
Since I was completely innocent, what did I have to fear? I assumed the police would conduct an unbiased investigation of the matter. That was before I heard about “victim-centered” investigations. By Victor Zheng dailycaller.com
One cannot truly understand the question, “If God is so loving, why do evil people flourish and innocent people perish?”, until you stand in the shoes of an accused student at a university. My name is Joseph Roberts, and this is my story.
I was accused of sexual assault (and cleared after an extensive investigation). There is a myriad of ways a rape investigation can go wrong. There are several factors that can adversely affect alleged perpetrators, alleged victims and the integrity of the investigation… in academics, skepticism is the defining trait of a good learner. We are taught to inquire and doubt everything that surrounds us. And so it is striking when we are prevented from doing so in cases involving sexual violence.
Recently I met the founder of this website, Alice True, and over dinner and drinks I talked with her a little about my private struggle around Title IX issues. She told me about Save Our Sons, and asked me whether I would write a piece about my situation. I agreed to do so, though I have not until now been comfortable telling this story to any but my closest friends.
Our norms of consent, and of what constitutes good or acceptable sex, have been changing rapidly, as demonstrated, for example, by the affirmative consent codes metastasizing within our education system. We devote a lot of attention to how outsiders view and punish young people who run afoul of these codes, innocent boys being labeled rapists, and so on. But we don’t spend enough time wondering about how these accused students see themselves, and what effects these may have on their own sense of self-worth.
Here is what happened to me. One night during my junior year of college, a friend with whom I’d been hooking up regularly (call her “Corinne”) came to my dorm room and we kissed, and touched, and I performed oral sex. It was not a healthy sexual experience. I was needy, a little boorish, and anxious, and had, without telling Corinne or anyone else, abruptly and foolishly stopped taking the antidepressants that were regulating my mood, since they were also affecting my libido; Corinne, for her part, was struggling to understand and articulate her own needs, rather than merely being there for others all the time.
The result was a sexual experience that was explicitly and verbally consensual, not marred by excess intoxication, but was also clearly much more about pleasing me than mutual pleasure. Over the next few weeks I began to experience regret over how I had treated her; I had heard a lot of conversation about sexual assault on campus (even in 2009, the discourse was simmering on our small, extremely progressive campus) and began to wonder to myself wait a minute – I didn’t rape Corinne, did I? I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my concerns with professors or friends or anyone else on campus; I was worried that if I told anyone, I’d be thrown out of school for sexual assault. So I stayed silent and did not process my fears, though in truth the experience helped me understand what good sex meant to me, and understand the kind of person I wanted to be around those with whom I was intimate. It helped me grow. As for Corinne, she and I remained relatively friendly but never had a sexual experience again.
A year or two later, I was a mess, having experienced a number of emotional shocks of various sorts in quick succession. This included one stemming from having been treated badly by someone with whom I was close. I was having frequent panic attacks and issues with severe dissociation and anger that I had never had before. I was disturbed. And at that point, I became convinced that I must have raped Corinne on that night in 2009, and that that was why I was suddenly experiencing so much grief and incomprehensible pain.
It seemed like cosmic justice, and made a certain amount of sense in my head: because I had felt occluded and guilty about how I had treated Corinne, I had let this other person too far into my life and allowed her to seriously hurt me. (There was some truth to this kind of thinking — not having anyone to confide in about my concerns regarding Corinne left me conflicted and vulnerable to bad treatment by others — but it involved an immense exaggeration of what actually transpired between Corinne and myself.) I became convinced I was a rapist, and began to tell my close friends that that was the case. From my distorted perspective, it felt good to say that; it allowed others to view me as negatively as I viewed myself, allowed them a window through which to understand my misery.
I continued believing that I had sexually assaulted Corinne right up to the moment, three years later, when I actually talked to her about it. By this point, I was a little healthier, and she was a little healthier; we were able to be friends, and I apologized to her for what I felt I had done to her. Her response was clear and emphatic. She told me I had nothing for which to apologize. She told me that nothing had happened that night for which I should feel ashamed. And slowly I began to understand the way I’d been needlessly punishing myself, and began to see myself through a slightly more gracious lens.
I think this story is relevant to the larger conversation about campus issues for two reasons. First, having lobbed a false accusation of sexual assault at myself in this way, I think I have unusual insight into where false accusations come from including the psychological dynamic at play. I do not think most false accusers are manipulative or conniving bitches who are looking to screw men, as some believe; I haven’t got much stomach for that kind of cynicism, honestly. I believe, rather, that in most cases they are just hurt people. As most psychologists can tell you, when you’re really, really hurting, maintaining a tolerance for the ambiguity of life can be extremely hard – and the question of what constitutes consensual or healthy sex is teeming with ambiguity right now. It can feel good and even psychologically necessary to turn that endless complicatedness into a certainty: “Yes, I was raped. Yes, he’s a bad person.”
Recently, I was privy to a fascinating conversation between several incredibly bright lawyers who take cases involving false accusations of sexual assault. They were discussing the possibility of filing defamation suits against accusers, and one of the lawyers opined that winning a defamation case is hard in this context, since his experience was that most false accusers really do believe that they were raped. I agree with him. I think false accusations tend to originate in a feeling of disturbance and pain, rather than malice. When it became clear that the Rolling Stone UVA story was a sham, my immediate reaction was not to feel hatred toward Jackie, but to wonder what on earth she actually had been through in her life that made her feel comfortable weaving a story like that.
The second reason I think this story is germane is that I really wonder about the frequency of students falsely confessing to committing assaults when pressed by Title IX investigators. I know that, if I’d been approached by an investigator in the weeks or months following my encounter with Corinne, I would have been very suggestible, open to the idea that I had done something wrong. I know that, had I been approached in the years following this episode, when I was really hurting, I would have readily volunteered information about my “rape” and what a bad person I was. We are used to thinking about false confessions as something that primarily happen under intense, prolonged, and perhaps violent police interrogation, but research strongly suggests that in many cases it doesn’t take that much haranguing to get someone to admit to something they didn’t do.
A couple of studies by Saul Kassin and Jennifer Perillo have tested this notion in an ingenious way. Participants were asked to complete a task on a computer keyboard but warned them that the system would crash and all study data would be disastrously lost if the participant hit a specific malfunctioning key. The researchers then made the system crash a minute into the task, though the participant had not hit the malfunctioning key, and asked the participant if they had hit the key against orders and caused the data failure. In the first study, 26% of confused and guilt-ridden participants confessed to having done so; in the second study, which added a “witness” who “saw” the participant press the key, the confession rate jumped to 80%. Other studies of this issue have found similar results: people are remarkably willing to confess misdeeds to authority figures, even if they haven’t done anything wrong.
Let’s examine this idea in the context of sexual assault cases. The accused students are typically young (young people are more apt to falsely confess than older people), may be anxious and/or eager to please (a mental health condition is a significant predictive factor in false confessions, as is a tendency toward being conciliatory) and, especially in the case of those at elite schools, may have very little experience being interrogated, or being suspected of wrongdoing. Furthermore, and maybe most relevantly, no one has much idea what constitutes criminal behavior when it comes to bad hookups. Is it rape if one party is intoxicated? What if both parties are intoxicated? Is it necessary to have affirmative consent? Does regret = rape?
It seems to me very, very naive to expect a 19-year-old kid, under investigatory pressure for the first time in his life, to state clearly to a Title IX administrator, “No, I didn’t rape her,” especially when neither that kid nor anyone else on campus has a clear idea what constitutes rape right now. Can you see the wheels turning in the student’s head? God, this is really scary but this person seems nice and they said they’d only suspend me and not expel me if I say I did it. And I want to be a good feminist and I really think it was a bad idea to sleep with her, neither of us were ready for that, and didn’t they say at orientation that if we’d had a couple of beers it could easily be sexual assault? Doesn’t that seem like a completely understandable thought process for the young person in that situation to be having?
I advocate on behalf of the accused through FACE, and have met a number of students and families who have gone through this process. I have noticed that in a disproportionate number of FACE families, one or both parents is a lawyer – in other words, the student has an immediate resource to help him navigate an unfair adjudicatory process while maintaining his innocence. What becomes of the accused students who don’t have lawyer-parents? There are a lot of them out there, after all. For example, in 2013, as you may know, Occidental College reported 60 sexual assault, after only having around ten the year before. Mindful that a single student might be accused multiple times, one might guess that 50 or so students were accused that year. Who are these students? How many were punished? How many admitted to doing something wrong? How many actually did something wrong? Are these students doing OK? Do they feel shame, and is that shame well-founded?
We have to understand that we have created a situation that’s extremely conducive to false confessions, and that, given the low evidentiary standard used to adjudicate these cases, the often-hostile disciplinary procedure, and the frequent lack of access to an attorney for the accused, we don’t have a mechanism in place to separate the true confessions from the false ones. What to do about that?
All we can do is to continue to shine a light on the problem, and to keep trying to love, to seek justice and a healthy community. In my case, the shame and self-hatred I felt began to dissipate when I realized that I hadn’t raped Corinne. I felt a little more empowered and a little less dark. The mark of having held for so long that negative sense of self is still there, though; while I know cognitively that I am a decent person, my heart still resists that notion from time to time. As we all must, I continue the process of learning to love myself, and to see myself as competent. It’s a struggle, but it’s an incredibly worthwhile task to undertake and has allowed me to meet great people and to do something worthwhile.
Bad sex is not rape. Sex that you regret post facto is not rape. Much of this fight has focused on making sure administrators, legislators, and would-be accusers understand this; we need to make sure the accused understand their innocence too.
Signed, Anonymous student
“At first I thought they didn’t want me to participate in campus activities. Then I thought they didn’t want me to graduate,” he said. “Now they don’t want me to have a job or be part of society. Do they want me to commit suicide? Is that what they want me to do? What is the endgame?”
washingtonexaminer.com By Ashe Schow
Despite the school’s subsequent clearing of his name, the accused was so distraught from the experience that he could not return to school until another year had passed. He became chronically ill, lost 25 pounds, and could only handle a few classes a semester…False accusations don’t just roll off the backs of their targets because they’re supposed to be emotionless men. False accusations hurt…
washingtonexaminer.com By Ashe Schow
Speaking broadly on the topic of campus sexual assault, the student called the current approach — of treating accused students as guilty from the outset — to be “backwards and counter-intuitive,” which resulted in “detrimental unforeseen effects” against accused young men, who are seen by activists as “collateral damage.”
washingtonexaminer.com Buy Ashe Schow
A federal judge ruled .. when a college promotes the idea that a woman’s post-intercourse regret is tantamount to rape, it manufactures a climate of gender discrimination against male students that can “railroad” (the court’s word, not mine) the innocent who are wrongly accused of sex offenses.