Op-Ed: USC case reveals the travesty of justice under today's Title IX
It is not often that the veil of university Title IX procedures is lifted, but when it is, as described in Zoe Katz's heartfelt letter regarding her Orwellian experience at the University of Southern California, the public captures a glimpse of the dystopian inner workings of a system designed to "help" victims of sexual assault.
Unbeknownst to most outside academia, the Obama administration radically changed how sexual assault investigations and adjudications are handled by colleges and universities. The shameful story of how Zoe Katz and Matt Boermeester were treated by USC is but one example of the troubling repercussions produced by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' current guidance. In this case, a third-party accusation was given greater weight than the word of Katz, the supposed victim. As she put it, when she insisted that Boermeester was innocent, she was "stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered' woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled."
In the past, we often heard about stories where a (usually female) student's report of a sexual assault was swept under the rug by a callous university trying to ease tensions and protect its reputation. Change certainly was needed. Although Obama-era Title IX mandates attempted to correct this wrong, they have instead swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, creating a new class of student victims wrongfully found responsible for sexual assaults they did not commit.
These days we more often hear that a student (typically male) is accused of sexual assault and found responsible through a disciplinary proceeding referred to as a "kangaroo court."As a consequence of a campus process designed to protect victims, the presumption of innocence commonly is discarded and guilt presumed before the investigation even begins.
Accused students frequently complain of being interrogated concerning allegations about which they've been told nothing and then having their words twisted and taken out of context. Universally, these students are prohibited from directly confronting their accusers and their questions restricted by hearing panels with the unmitigated authority to decree which questions are acceptable.
Many times, such students are not given the opportunity to view evidence that might exonerate them or view the evidence that is to be used against them. They are denied the presence of an attorney, or one with whom he may consult or who may speak on his behalf, nor are their parents permitted to accompany or support them during what is often a frightening and complicated process.
Yet, with their hands tied, they will be judged responsible based on a mere preponderance of evidence: 50 percent plus a feather likelihood the allegations are true. They lack the protection of due process procedures he would be entitled to in a court of law. If found responsible and expelled, it is unlikely they can transfer to another school or complete their education. Their futures are thus compromised, their reputation ruined, and their faith in the justice system destroyed.
The stories of innocent students found responsible by ill-trained and biased tribunals are often absent or lightly dismissed from the discussion of how schools should address allegations of sexual assault on their campuses.
"He must have done something wrong to be expelled" is something some of us would have said before we came to know these students and the circumstances which brought them to us. Terrified to tell his side "publicly" lest the mob of social justice devour him and devastated by having lost nearly everything, an innocent young man becomes a social outcast without a future. That is, unless he is one of the very fortunate few who can afford an attorney who capable of demonstrating the student was a victim of a severely skewed system.
Zoe Katz's letter is powerful in its defense and exoneration of Matt Boermeester and also for the glaring light it shines on university Title IX processes. Not only are many schools' processes stacked against accused students, but for young women such as Zoe Katz they can also be a condescending and belittling experience in which even those they are supposed to be protecting are admonished for denying their victimhood.