She was a college junior. He was a freshman. They became friends even before he started school. She acted like a “big sister” but teased him about his lack of sexual experience. She told him via social media how she was going to help him get “laid.”
Late one evening, she invited him to her dorm room. She told him that if he brought a bottle of wine, he would have to help her drink it. They agreed he would spend the night, but there was no sex. Early in the morning she woke him up and told him to leave. She later told an investigator that he had “groped” her, but she had pretended to be asleep for fear he would “rape” her. He denied it. Five days later, he was served with a university no-contact order, and told to expect a complaint for sexual assault.
The concept of sexual assault is rapidly evolving. The idea that rape or sexual assault is limited solely to physically violent or abusive attacks has long been debunked. In the 21st century, the term “date rape” is commonly accepted. Criminal investigators have access to forensic tools that can test for DNA and for drugs that render unsuspecting victims helpless. Prosecutors aggressively pursue suspected sex offenders. The concept of “consent” between adults has a heightened awareness. All of these developments, in my opinion, provide significant benefits to modern, civilized society.
By their very nature, sexual assault offenses frequently occur in private. Many times the only eyewitnesses to the offense are the accuser and the accused. That means investigators, prosecutors and defense attorneys rely on circumstantial evidence, including scientific evidence and social media, in evaluating the strength and weaknesses of any particular case.
What to know if falsely accused of sexual assault
But these changes in societal attitudes can also carry great risk to individual rights. Since the days of the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama, and perhaps long before then, defendants have found themselves falsely accused of sexual assault and rape. Even when criminal charges are not filed, significant consequences can follow as the result of a mere accusation.
Colleges and universities have developed disciplinary systems and procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual assault. Students who are confronted with sexual assault accusations in a collegiate setting have important considerations:
- Universities and colleges are motivated to preserve their institutions, their endowments, and their reputations. Fairness to an accused person is usually a secondary consideration.
- Faced with increasing pressure from victims’ rights and advocacy groups, school officials tend to believe accusations, no matter how outrageous or ridiculous. School officials sometimes overlook problems with credibility of the “victim,” citing “trauma.” Defendants are presumed to be guilty.
- Level of proof necessary to establish a violation of a campus sexual assault policy is lower than in a criminal court.
- Fewer procedural protections are available to the accused.
- Many universities discourage, limit and sometimes attempt to prevent the accused from having access to a lawyer. They view attorneys as an impediment.
- Risk is enormous: a finding against an accused can mean suspension or expulsion and a permanent record of misconduct that affects the student’s ability to pursue additional studies or employment.
Whether the police or campus officials conduct the investigation, one thing is certain: an accused student needs the benefit of an experienced criminal defense attorney. My office deals with these cases on a regular basis, with outstanding results. Case in point: the young man accused in the anecdote described above had his case dismissed with no disciplinary action. School authorities did not know the social media posts of the accuser when she filed her complaint. Her words and attitude toward the accused played a critical role in getting the case resolved on favorable terms.
We are ready and able to assist. Contact us today for a consultation.
Image courtesy of Sander van der Wel