Friday, December 6, 2013

If you think your son is treated fairly in college sex hearings, you need to read this

In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto has written one of the most stinging indictments we've come across about the gross deficiencies in college justice when it comes to accusations of sex offenses lodged against male students. Mr. Taranto chronicles the blatantly unjust hearing that student Joshua Strange was subjected to Auburn University. The article is a cornucopia of unfairness, a treasure trove of injustice, and must-reading for anyone who gives a damn about young men in college.

We're not going to repeat it, and we certainly can write anything as compelling. You need to read Mr. Taranto's piece carefully.

We do want to expand on one point, however, to illustrate the injustice. If you think that your sons are getting anything approaching justice in these sorts of hearings, consider the fact that in the case Mr. Taranto talked about, the accuser was permitted to call two Auburn administrators as witnesses who vouched for the credibility of the accuser in a way that real courts would not allow.

First, Susan McCallister, an associate director with the campus police who doubles as a "safe-harbor advocate," a concierge for purported sex-crime victims. "Any kind of services that they need access to, we provide a doorway," she explained. Such services include counseling, "academic accommodations" and help in filing police reports.At the hearing, Ms. McCallister proclaimed the accuser "very credible" and attested to the belief that Mr. Strange was "a potential threat to [the accuser's] safety." Ms. McCallister made that assertion despite disavowing knowledge even of the accuser's version of events. "As a safe-harbor advocate, I really don't need to know a lot of details, and so I didn't ask her to go into great detail," Ms. McCallister said.

The accuser's second witness was Kelley Taylor, the university's sex-discrimination enforcer. Ms. Taylor also described the accuser as "credible" and added that she found the allegation "very compelling."

What's the problem with allowing these two as witnesses?

Last year, the Court of Appeals of Texas threw out the conviction when a trial court allowed the same sort of testimony and held that an expert cannot "give an opinion as to whether a person—or a class of persons to which the complainant belongs—is truthful."  Shortly after that, in Connecticut, another mistrial was declared in another sexual assault case after another expert witness improperly testified that the accuser was credible. And in an unrelated case, another court said that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing an expert witness to indirectly testify about the truthfulness of a complaint's allegations in a sexual abuse case. The expert witness testified to the effect that the complainant exhibited certain behaviors that were consistent with those of sexual abuse victims. The court said that's not allowed because the statements impermissibly vouched for and bolstered the credibility of the complainant.

Yet, Auburn happily listened to two sexual assault "experts" tell the tribunal that the accuser is truthful and that the accused is a threat to her.

Tim Dodge, presiding over the kangaroo court, wanted reassurance that Taylor's opinions were authoritative. He asked: "Are typical alleged victims' reactions present in the available literature?"

Ms. Taylor: "Yes. Yes. In fact, there's, um—I mean, I don't have it here to distribute, but—"

Mr. Dodge: "Right."

Ms. Taylor: "—um, there's a whole, um, host of information on victimology, um—particularly sociology. People with specialties in sociology, psychology, have written tomes about how to assess credibility, the victimology behind this kind of thing, why victims don't always report right away—the whole gamut. I haven't read them all, of course, but I've read some of them, and I've been exposed to a number of them in my training."

Mr. Dodge: "So in other words, there is professional literature out there."

Ms. Taylor: "Absolutely."

Mr. Dodge: "OK."

Good for you, Mr. Dodge. Great job.

In courts, we do not allow even the most heinous criminal to be subjected to expert testimony that vouches for their accusers' story. But in college sexual assault proceedings, we allow our sons to be subjected to life-altering hearings where the same sort of damning testimony is not just allowed but is happily credited, and hardly anyone gives a damn.