Guilty Until Proven Innocent

How the government encourages kangaroo courts for sex crimes on campus

One evening in February 2012, Vassar College students Xialou "Peter" Yu and Mary Claire Walker, both members of the school's rowing team, had a few drinks at a team gathering and left together as the party wound down. After a make-out session at a campus nightspot, they went to Yu's dorm room, where, by his account, they had sex that was not only consensual but mainly initiated by Walker, who reassured her inexperienced partner that she knew what to do. At some point, Yu's roommate walked in on them; after he was gone, Yu says, Walker decided she wanted to stop, telling him it was too soon after her breakup with her previous boyfriend. She got dressed and left.

The next day, according to documents in an unusual complaint that Yu filed against Vassar last June, Yu's resident adviser told him some students had seen him and the young woman on their way to the dorm. They had been so concerned by Walker's apparently inebriated state that they called campus security. Alarmed, Yu contacted Walker on Facebook to make sure everything was all right. She replied that she had had a "wonderful time" and that he had done "nothing wrong"-indeed, that she was sorry for having "led [him] on" when she wasn't ready for a relationship. A month later Walker messaged Yu herself, again apologizing for the incident and expressing hope that it would not affect their friendship. There were more exchanges during the next months, with Walker at one point inviting Yu to dinner at her place. (In a response to Yu's complaint in October, attorneys for Vassar acknowledged most of these facts but asserted that Walker had been too intoxicated to consent to sex and had been "in denial," scared, and in shock when she wrote the messages.)

Last February, one year after the encounter, the other shoe dropped: Yu was informed that Walker had filed charges of "nonconsensual sexual contact" against him through the college disciplinary system. Two and a half weeks later, a hearing was held before a panel of three faculty members. Yu was not allowed an attorney; his request to call his roommate and Walker's roommate as witnesses was denied after the campus "gender equity compliance investigator" said that the roommates had emailed him but had "nothing useful" to offer. While the records from the hearing are sealed, Yu claims his attempts to cross-examine his accuser were repeatedly stymied. Many of his questions (including ones about Walker's friendly messages, which she had earlier told the investigator she sent out of "fear") were barred as "irrelevant"; he says that when he was allowed to question Walker, she would start crying and give evasive or nonresponsive answers. Yu was found guilty and summarily expelled from Vassar.

New Rules for Campus Sex

Yu, a U.S.-educated Chinese citizen, is now going after the Poughkeepsie, New York, school in federal court, claiming not only wrongful expulsion and irreparable personal damage but sex discrimination. His complaint argues that he was the victim of a campus judicial system that in practice presumes males accused of sexual misconduct are guilty. His is one of three such lawsuits filed last summer. St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia is being sued by an expelled student, New York state resident Brian Harris, who likewise claims he was railroaded by a gender-biased campus kangaroo court. And in August college basketball player Dez Wells sued Ohio's Xavier University for expelling him in the summer of 2012 based on a rape charge that the county prosecutor publicly denounced as false.

While the lawsuits target private colleges, they also implicate public policy. That was especially true in Wells' case: When he was accused, Xavier was under scrutiny by the federal government for its allegedly poor response to three prior sexual assault complaints, and his attorney says he was the "sacrificial lamb" to appease the U.S. Department of Education. In the other two cases, there was no such direct pressure, but the charges were adjudicated under a complainant-friendly standard that the Obama administration has been aggressively pushing on academic institutions.

In April 2011, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to college and university presidents laying out guidelines for handling reports of sexual assault and harassment. One key recommendation was that such complaints should be evaluated based on a "preponderance of the evidence"-the lowest standard of proof used in civil claims. (In lay terms, it means that the total weight of the believable evidence tips at least slightly in the claimant's favor.) Traditionally, the standard for finding a student guilty of misconduct of any kind has been "clear and convincing evidence"-less stringent than "beyond a reasonable doubt," but still a very strong probability of guilt.

Last May the government reiterated its commitment to the "preponderance" standard in a joint Department of Justice/Department of Education letter to the University of Montana following a review of that school's response to sexual offenses. The letter was explicitly intended as a "blueprint" for all colleges and universities; noncompliant schools risk losing federal funds, including student aid eligibility. Meanwhile, the Department of Education also has launched civil rights investigations into complaints by several college women who say they were sexually assaulted by fellow students, then revictimized by school authorities when their assailants either went unpunished or received a slap on the wrist. The schools under scrutiny include the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

'Rape Culture'

The federal war on campus rape is unfolding amid a revival of what Katie Roiphe, in her landmark 1994 book The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, dubbed "rape-crisis feminism"-a loosely defined ideology that views sexual violence as the cornerstone of male oppression of women, expands the definition of rape to include a wide range of sexual acts involving no physical force or threat, and elevates the truth of women's claims of sexual victimization to nearly untouchable status. This brand of feminism seemed in retreat a few years ago, particularly after a hoax at Duke University drew attention to the danger of presuming guilt. (In 2007, the alleged rape of a stripper by three Duke lacrosse players sparked local and national outrage-until the case was dismissed and the young men declared innocent.) Yet in 2013, the concept made a strong comeback with a sexual assault case that gained national visibility in January and went to trial in March. This one was in Steubenville, Ohio.

The facts in Steubenville were ugly enough. A 16-year-old girl who got very drunk at an end-of-the-summer high school party was repeatedly sexually assaulted while unconscious or barely conscious. One boy, 17-year-old Trent Mays, penetrated her with his fingers, tried to get her to perform oral sex, and essentially used her as a masturbation aid; another, Ma'lik Richmond, briefly participated in the abuse. Three other teenagers witnessed at least some of these acts (which took place in a car and in the basement of a home after the girl left the party with the boys), taking photos and a video. The next day, Mays bragged about his exploits and mocked the girl in text messages to friends, to whom he also sent her nude photo. When Mays and Richmond, both star players on the Steubenville High School football team, were arrested and charged with rape a few days later, many residents in the football-worshiping small town sympathized with the boys and were inclined to assume that the girl-an out-of-town private school student-was lying to cover up her misbehavior.

This sordid saga arguably shone a spotlight on the dark underside of small-town "football culture," which can breed a sense of entitlement and impunity in popular athletes. Yet the national press coverage, fueled by wild rumors of unspeakable brutalities (the girl was said to have been drugged, kidnapped, urinated on, and gang-raped for hours) and of an official cover-up, turned into a far more sweeping indictment of America's "rape culture"-a term that suddenly migrated from the fringes of feminist rhetoric into mainstream discourse.

Like many radical theories, the idea of rape culture contains plausible elements of truth: Some traditional gender arrangements have indeed encouraged cavalier or even tacitly accepting attitudes toward certain kinds of sexual violence. For much of history women have been treated to varying degrees as men's sexual property, with rape condoned if not legitimized in some circumstances: for example, in marriage (including forced marriage), or toward women who transgressed norms of feminine propriety. Even in the United States, as recently as 40 years ago, juries could be instructed to consider "unchaste character"-such as being single and on birth control-as a strike against an accuser's credibility, and courts often treated submission to overt physical intimidation as consent (at least in acquaintance-rape situations). And there is some basis for the argument that the conventional script of male pursuit and feminine coyness-with "no" routinely taken to mean "try harder"-can sometimes blur the lines between consent and coercion.

But this history is only one part of a complex mix of cultural attitudes-a mix that has long included genuine societal abhorrence of rape as a violation of female personhood. It is a measure of this abhorrence that when feminists in the 1970s challenged the unjust treatment of rape victims, the reforms they advocated-such as dropping resistance requirements that did not apply to other violent crimes, or barring the use of a woman's sexual history to discredit her-were soon enacted with overwhelming support. Moreover, the social response to sex offenses has been complicated by many factors besides sexism, from a general human tendency to sweep sordid matters under the rug to the difficulty of proving crimes that occur in intimate settings; these factors have affected male victims, too. Feminist theory offers no convincing explanation for why a homophobic patriarchy would also fail to protect boys from adult male sexual predators.

And yet the "rape culture" trope has gained such sway that even a New Yorker writer highly critical of activist zealotry over Steubenville offered a disclaimer to defend the term. In an article in the magazine's August issue, Ariel Levy cited a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report stating that one in five American women are victims of rape or attempted rape and a recent Pentagon survey finding that one in four active-duty service members have been sexually assaulted. The problem, she concluded, could not be so pervasive unless there was a rape-enabling culture treating sex as "something men get-and take" from women.

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  • RishJoMo||

    Sounds like a whole lot of crazy smack to me dude.

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  • Live Free or Diet||

    Except Paula Jones, of course.

  • WTF||

    Only Republican politicians can commit sexual harassment.

  • John C. Randolph||

    ..and Kathleen Willey.

    Also, according to current feminist orthodoxy, Lewinsky was raped because Clinton had all the power.


  • ||

    Lewinsky was raped because Clinton had all the power

    The narrative then was: "it's just sex!". And "consenting adults!"

  • Raudskeggr||

    Things have changed; due to the increased political polarization, the feminist establishment, particularly in academia, has become increasingly radicalized in recent years. Furthermore, they have been emboldened recently by public sympathy due to a number of high profile rape cases, and the fact that the Obama Administration needs their political support and money.

  • Res ipsa loquitur||

    The Constitution isn't a death pact you know !!!!!!!11

  • Agammamon||

    I'm still unclear why any crime, other than the most miniscule of misdemeanors, would require *any* sort of hearing by the college. Why isn't a rape accusation being handled by the local police force and prosecutor? At the very least, it should require agreement from *both* parties to accept binding arbitration from a (non-government) third-party.

  • WTF||

    Because police and the courts need actual evidence, and the accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence, so they wouldn't even handle most of these college 'rape' cases, since they're not really rape, or any crime at all. The college on the other hand can destroy a man's life with little or no evidence, and will happily do so to promote the feminist agenda.

  • Ted S.||

    FedGov demands it, using the fact that these schools accept federally subsidized student loans as the camel's nose under the tent. (I think it's part of Title Ix, the same law that more or less mandates genital quotas in the athletic department.)

    What always baffles me is why this reasoning is considered absolutely normal when it comes to denying due process, but if you were that private schools that accept any federal aid have to be held to the same free speech standards as truly public unive3rsities, academia will treat you as though you're some sort of freak.

    (Not that I'm saying the feds are going to do a good job of maintaining 1A rights in this way; it's just that the difference in treatment of what sort fo federal control is allowed is striking.)

  • Joe Clave||

    That's what makes Hillsdale so great, they are not beholden to silly rules because they don't accept federal $. They rely on tuition and private donation.

  • ||

    "Well, they're on double secret probation"

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Feminism is a jaundiced and corrupt style of thinking along the lines of fundamentalist religious zealotry that seeks to institute morality through law. It's one thing to work toward dissolving inequality where it actually exists but it's an entirely different matter to turn the basic ethical principles of respect and equality into a dictatorial principle that codifies misinterpretation, histrionics, and compulsive rigidity.

  • Raudskeggr||

    "Feminism is a jaundiced and corrupt style of thinking along the lines of fundamentalist religious zealotry that seeks to institute morality through law."

    *arbitrary* moral values motivated by the highest self-interest of the moralizer. Just as with fundamentalist movements.

  • MaleMatters||

    I fully agree except that the problem isn't "feminism" if we agree it means equal rights and responsibilities. The problem is radicalized and politicized feminists.

    See "For Feminist Writers: Distinguish Between Feminism and Feminists!"

  • wareagle||

    and here is part of the residue of a particularly noxious strain of feminism - the pretense that all men are rapists in waiting. Can't imagine anything that could go wrong with that.

    Inculcate a bunch of young women, most of whom expect to one day marry and have kids, that all men are predators and then act surprised when shit like this happens and when societal problems manifest.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Ultimately the best thing to do is to train young men to be more self confident and far less reliant on female attention to the point where women are required to be the aggressor or 'predator' in feminist parlance.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Pretty soon, women will so outnumber men on college campuses that this will happen by default.

  • MSimon||

    Pretty soon, women will so outnumber men on college campuses that this will happen by default.


  • Kyfho Myoba||

  • John C. Randolph||

    So, I'm guessing that Cathy Young is on the left-wing feminist hate list now?


  • Tamfang||

    What you mean "now"?

  • mnarayan||

    On one hand this seems like a good article. On the other, I think Reason must be showing the wrong author.

  • ||

  • Benjamin||

    The irony is that feminists may be accomplishing something churches have been trying and failing at for years: successfully promoting abstinence!

  • some guy||

    I assure you there is still plenty of sex happening on college campuses.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Go Cathy! Her last few posts have been winners. This is easily the best treatment of this subject I have read. Reason needs to find out which brand of vodka Cathy is drinking and send a case to Tim Cavenaugh.

  • some guy||

    So, if an inebriated person cannot consent, what happens when both are inebriated? Did they both rape each other or does the first one to declare "rape" win?

    (I know, I know. Men are alwasy capable of consent.)

  • VicRattlehead||

    First to cry rape wins in schools, as far as legally the DA wont even touch it unless physical evidence is present

  • Carolynp||

    I was thinking the same thing. Additionally, I was thinking what we need is a large number of college men willing to walk into rape counseling centers and ask about whether or not they were raped at the last frat party as they had a great amount to drink and feel they were taken advantage of.

  • OneOut||

    It never fails to make me scratch my head in disbelief when a story like this admits that BOTH the students were drunk, but only the male is guilty of rape.

    These "morning after" rapes are destroying too many young men and they also empower women with the threat of "next day regret" rape.

  • freeAgent||

    What bothers me is that in so many of these cases it seems that the woman decided after the fact that she would have preferred to not have sex and they're encouraged to project those current feelings about the experience onto their memory of the experience itself. The results of this are obviously incredibly scary for and unjust toward young men.

  • Acosmist||


    "Don't stick it in crazy" is a good thing to keep in mind to try to avoid some of these situations, but it's not completely reliable. Still, if a woman seems like an attention whore, don't ever be alone with her.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Young men need to be just as aware of the sexual environs as they are hunting deer, seeking a career, or managing money.

  • MSimon||

    The obvious answer is to always invite a sober woman to watch.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Any thoughts that just a bit of thinly concealed racism might be involved here?

    As for a "rape culture", Americans have no idea what these words and that terms means. There is some writer over at "The Nation" who keeps yapping about this, but she (JV) really has no idea what it means either. Of course the fact that she is a rabid feminist might have something to do with her views.

    A "rape culture" is more on the level of what is going on now in the Congo. Also try the war in Bosnia in the 1990s and the Serbian policy of mass rape of Bosnian Muslim women and young girls. And then do a little reading about the Rape of Nanking in 1937 by the Japanese Army in China, by the late (and lamented) Chinese-American writer Iris Chang. Then compare a real "rape culture" to incidents of rape (real and imagined) by a bunch of drunken horny morons in our own stupid, degenerate culture.

  • Black Liberty Unchained||

    I wonder if the stigma of sleeping with a nerdy chinese kid influenced Ms. Walker's decision to change her story. Maybe she got teased about it? Racist!

  • VicRattlehead||

    a girl got me kicked out of college with a fucking 3.75 Avg for having sex while we were both drunk, i declined to jump into a relationship with her because she gave it up on the first night meeting me so she filed assault charges, police dropped it when my lawyer sent the email records outlining how i declined to date her and how she threatened me with reporting me because i refused. school didnt even allow me to admit the absolving evidence in my defense and convicted me on he said she said.

  • Tamfang||

    Except for the "he said" part, eh?

  • Hunthjof||

    Coming to a military base near you. Recent proposed legislation will take prosecutions of sexual assualt out of the hands of the normal military justice system and instead have it taken care of be a separate military justice group. No doubt this unaccountable group will be filled with the same "rape culture" types prevailing on campuses. Guilt will be assumed. You might as well dress this group up in scarlet robes and name the head Tomás de Torquemada.

  • c5c5||

    The feminists among the military are very exited over this. The new rules take the chain of command out of the picture and give the accuser full control of how to prosecute.

    This was based upon the fear that too many commanders would "protect" those accused.

    My feminist military friend excitedly told me this (I'm also in) and said I could "thank so-and-so feminist activist group" for this new change.

    The military has gone completely insane over sexual assault this last year and it will only get worse.

    I am a female in the army and I am not seeing all this sexual assault towards women. Instead I see 90% of females ready to have sex with the guys. I don't see much regret either.

    It is not so much the females in the military - it is the activist civilian groups that have pushed this.

  • Anomalous||

    The solution is simple: eliminate the Department of Education.

  • Volren||

    I keep expecting some group to start setting up booths on campuses handing out pamphlets, tape recorders and sex consent affidavit templates to young men. One of the men's rights groups? It would be rather entertaining.

  • Raudskeggr||

    But don'y you see? The young man in this article *did* document the consent. He has multiple communications from his accuser explicitly stating that it was mutually consented (and even mutually enjoyed).

    But college officials said that since she was drunk, she was *incapable* of consent, because apparently women aren't responsible for their choices when inebriated.

    And then, with regards to here saying that she had a good time later on, College officials say that she was "Confused" and "in shock"...again implying that her mental state left her incapable of deciding these things for herself.

    It's a perfect system of twisted logic: The accused is always guilty; even when the accuser says they're not they're just "confused".

  • SuperOBD SKP-100||


  • Raudskeggr||

    The real kicker here is that campus officials are the ones who pushed this. First, she was drunk at the time and so according to their twisted logic that means she couldn't consent to sex (even though he was also drunk, somehow he still could). Then she text him multiple times saying it was all good, over a period of months, even inviting him for dinner. But school officials play this off as her being "confused" and "in shock". So they set up some kangarette court and railroad this guy out of the school.

    This is exactly what we expected to happen from the latest reforms enacted by the Obama administration about how colleges should handle rape claims. It rests squarely on the shoulders of the president throwing innocent people under the bus so that he can solicit a few more political favors and campaign contributions from the feminist lobby, that will be ever so important when Hillary Clinton runs in a couple of years.

    Yes, I would bloody well sue too.

    These people who are motivated by bigotry and bloody-mindedness must not be allowed to have the power to ruin lives like this. The male college student is already a threatened species; and the far-left "social justice" activists wouldn't really shed tears if they became extinct.

  • OneOut||

    Their actions are pretty much understandable when you read the paragraph about the Federal funding being tied to meeting the administrations guidelines.

    Understandable, not defensible.

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  • Obbop||

    Though it is not a perfect defense against a lying female or a female with an axe to grind for whatever reason I urge all males to demand a signed consent to engage in fornication before engaging in any type of intimate activity with a female.

    Never ever do anything with any gal in any way under the influence of any intoxicant...even one beer due to the immense power of a female to destroy your life with but a mere grievance against you.

    I urge all males to peruse the Web for information found at the several MGTOW sites. Men Going Their Own Way. Read the shared experiences at those sites. Read the gathered news stories. Learn of the multitude of horrors confronted by decent, law-abiding, moral gents caught up in the voracious machinery of females and various institutions, organizations and other actively engaged in a growing pro-female anti-male agenda.

    Intelligent, learned men are declaring that there is an actual ongoing War Against Males within the USA and I believe that claim is true.

    Beware, men. The danger is real. Do not rely upon luck alone to protect you from destruction. Being a decent moral person is not enough to protect you.

    You have been warned!!!!

  • ibcbet||

    Irony.. eliminate the Department of Education

  • thom77||

    Well, if anyone was curious about what the legal system in this country would look like if leftists had as much control over the constitution as they do college campuses, here you go.

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  • OneOut||

    In my younger days there were a couple of times when I was ashamed of who I had woken up with in the morning. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't have the power of RAPE!!! to allow me to relieve myself of the embarrassment and shame I felt upon sobriety.

    I could have ruined the lives of several fat girls that didn't deserve to suffer because of my ability to reinvent my actions of the night before.

  • MamaLiberty||

    Two very obvious requirements to resolve this. First, a charge of rape is a criminal matter and needs to be resolved in a court of law. ALL of the evidence, witnesses and circumstances need to be available to a jury and figure into the deliberations. The witch hunt tribunals at the college need to follow the same rules, if they exist at all.

    Even more important, however, is the serious requirement of both men and women to be completely responsible for themselves and safeguard their own lives and health. No person has any right to coerce or force another to perform unwanted acts of any kind, of course, but there are many ways to protect oneself from getting into that position in the first place.

    The sane advice for both men and women, any age, is not to go stupid places and get drunk/high and naked with strangers. That's a bare minimum.

  • Dimitri Cavalli||

    As I understand, rape is a crime. So why isn't the Department of Education telling colleges and universities to report all allegations to the police to investigate them. Didn't the Catholic Church get in trouble for trying to handle sex abuse allegations in house?

    If school expels a student for sexual abuse, wouldn't he be free to enroll at a another school and sexually abuse female students there or at a job or on the street? How is this different than a bishop transferring an abusive priest to another parish? Shouldn't schools issue a press release to inform the public that student X abused someone? If an expelled student rapes someone else, wouldn't the college be neglient because it failed notify the public?

    Watch for the coming clash of identity politics. If too many students who turn out to be black or members of other minority groups get hauled into these campus courts, I'm sure it will be blamed on racism even though the schools did only what the government and feminists wanted them to do.

  • TheMule||

    Viewing the "rape culture" dogma in the macro, the long term effect of it as it becomes more entrenched in government policy is to make it impossible for cautious and sensible men and women to find each other and mate and easy for brutes to reproduce as long as they can get away with it. The long term consequences will be that future generations in the US be more greatly populated by men prone to sexual aggression and women more likely to kowtow to it as the state will efficiently harass any man who pursues sex in a careless and clumsy manner.

    Control freaks on the left can never figure out that morality isn't imposed by concentrating arbitrary power into the hands of a few but grown by allowing the average person to learn real life, make mistakes, and grow wiser. Everything else is just a divide and conquer agenda hatched up by political psychopaths.

  • ucky||

    insane radical feminists, craven old hags that view all sex as rape, rule the campus. so why be surprised that feckless administrators, the kind of weak cowering people that reduce us daily, embrace the ugly fascism of these rabid old thugs. this is the kind of society that "progressives" want; us vs. them, all white males are evil and corrupt, "tolerance" means "agree with us or be publicly vilified", etc. if i were a kid, i'd be looking at tech/trade school in high demand areas. Vassar? they can go ____ themselves.....

  • ||

    As the husband of a Vassar grad, I'm embarrassed on her behalf at Vassar's witch-hunt tactics.

  • Floyd R Turbo (American)||

    Bring on the Femmebots !!!

  • JackB1||

    I think you misspelled the guy's name in your first sentence. Looks like it's "Xiaolu."

  • Response||

    When I was going to school some 25 years ago there already was a procedure for ensuring that the male student was prohibited from having sex with female students - it was to major in computer science.

  • Agreenweed||

    Guilty until proven innocent is a great precedent to set for our law students in our universities.

  • Rapier Half-Witt||

    I'm curious to know if "normal" women will turn feral on the feminists when men are forced to stop talking to them entirely (much less touching them). Yes, feminists, actions have consequences just as your "win" may blow up in your ugly face.

    I also wonder if they are feminists because no man would have them. Sour grapes and all that.

  • Agreenweed||

    This article is one of my all time favorites. Thanks Cathy.

  • CN_Foundation||

    This should soon resolve in the federal civil circuit after a jury punishes a University enough to cause clear loss of income by the University for an entire decade and should occur very soon.


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