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As the debate over campus sexual assaults continues to shadow universities throughout the Carolinas and beyond, more accused male students have started taking their female accusers to court.
In the past three years, male students accused of sexual misconduct have filed hundreds of lawsuits, charging that they were the victims of both false allegations and school procedures that failed to properly vet the claims.
“Nothing about due process says to a rape survivor, ‘I believe you.’ How can we best support her when a district attorney declines to prosecute?
How can we assure each survivor that we believe her while also insisting on an impartial investigative process?
The directives also carried the threat that the government would withhold millions of dollars from colleges that did not comply.
While the new protocols make it easier for women to report sexual offenses, critics say the procedures often omit necessary protections for male students facing expulsion, lessened job prospects and other consequences from having the accusations on their records.
“In all of these matters, there are the futures of students at stake,” says Gresham, who has also represented male students accused of sexual misconduct at Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill, Queens University and Davidson College.
Gresham and other critics say they recognize the seriousness of campus assaults and the responsibility schools have for keeping students safe.
Ultimately, no criminal charges were filed in the case and the university decided the incident did not warrant a hearing, Sutton says.
“When a woman tells you she’s been assaulted, believe her,” Davidson College President Carol Quillen wrote in an Observer guest column earlier this year.
“Although the unicorn exception gets a lot of press, the overwhelming majority of women do not make up rape.” However, Charlotte attorney John Gresham, who is representing the suspended ASU student, says he sued the school and his client’s accuser only after his investigation showed that the allegations were false and that the university blatantly mishandled the case.
They are also limited by federal privacy rules from defending themselves against attacks from all sides.
Raleigh attorney Sarah Ford, who advises colleges on assault cases, says the schools’ handling of the incidents traditionally has pleased no one.