Over the past few years, a new trend has arisen at American colleges: more men who are being accused of sexual assault on campus are taking their accusers to court.
The Charlotte Observer reports that “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.”
In “dozens” of those cases, reports the Observer, “male students also have sued the women who lodged the original allegations.”
The rise of such lawsuits come in the wake of changed rules and procedures at many American colleges over the past five years or so. These changes have made it “easier for women to report sexual offenses,” but critics charge that they have also “omit necessary protections for male students facing expulsion, lessened job prospects and other consequences from having the accusations on their records.”
Colleges do not operate courtrooms and do not have the resources, or legal authority, to conduct police-style investigations or trial-like proceedings, experts say. Raleigh attorney Sarah Ford, who advises colleges on assault cases, says the schools’ handling of the incidents traditionally has pleased no one.
“In years past, there really was a failure on the part of colleges and universities to take complaints of sexual assault seriously and many victims were ignored, at best,” Ford says. “There is some concern that schools have been so anxious to correct their past sins … that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far.”
In the past two years alone, according to the publication Inside Higher Ed, colleges have lost at least a dozen lawsuits filed by men accused of sexual misconduct who say they were treated unfairly by their schools.
“In over 20 years of reviewing higher education law cases, I’ve never seen such a string of legal setbacks for universities,” Gary Pavela, an expert on student conduct issues, told the publication. “Something is going seriously wrong.”
Defamation lawsuits against the accusers is the latest wrinkle in these cases.
Most campus cases, notes the Observer, go unreported to the police, leaving colleges to pick up the investigative and punitive slack.