Friday, January 18, 2013

Newspaper writer takes it as a given that a campus sexual assault occurred on the basis of an accusation

Katie Rogers, writing in The Guardian, takes issue with Notre Dame's support of star linebacker Manti Te'o, who claims he cultivated an online relationship with Lennay Kekua, a beautiful, smart woman who died from cancer – and who never really existed. Notre Dame is characterizing Manti Te'o as a victim of an on-line hoax, but the public consensus seems to be that his story is so far-fetched, he made up the girlfriend out of wholecloth just to garner public favor.

Ms. Rogers appropriately wonders why Notre Dame is supporting this story but a couple of years ago, dragged its feet to even investigate Lizzy Seeberg's claim of sexual assault at the hands of a Notre Dame athlete.

Some background: Seeberg, a St. Mary's college student, committed suicide nine days after reporting to Notre Dame police that a Notre Dame football player had touched her breasts. St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak decided not to file criminal charges in the matter due to conflicting witness statements and cell phone records that were inconsistent with Seeberg's allegations. We wrote about this case extensively here:

Katie Rogers makes a valid point about Notre Dame's peculiar support of Manti Te'o's story, but then she undermines her position by off-handedly taking it as a given that Lizzy Seeberg was, in fact, the victim of an assault: "In the stressful aftermath of the assault . . . Seeberg took an overdosed of depression and anxiety medication and died eight days later."

Note that when Rogers talks about Manti Te'o's story, she correctly says maybe it happened but maybe it didn't: "Maybe Te'o really was duped, or maybe he had a hand in perpetrating the Kekua myth."

But when it comes to Lizzy Seeberg's story, Rogers declares it an assault. 

Sorry, Ms. Rogers, but a disputed allegation by a witness who shortly thereafter killed herself, whose story was in part contradicted by cell phone records, and who can't be cross-examined by the presumptively innocent young man she accused, scarcely qualifies as a proven assault. It is certainly possible that Ms. Seeberg was assaulted -- no one should accuse her of making it up. But by the same token, no one should embrace it as a given that an assault occurred. The assumption that every campus sex accusation must be true, sadly common among writers like Ms. Rogers, does a grave disservice to all presumptively innocent college men. Have we learned nothing from Duke Lacrosse, Hofstra, Brian Banks and all the rest?

It isn't just Notre Dame that is guilty of a double standard. So is Katie Rogers.