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Policy: Law

Backlash: College men challenge 'guilty until proven innocent' standard for sex assault cases

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Opinion,Education,Crime,Columnists,Ashe Schow,Law,Higher Education,Gender Issues,Campus Sexual Assault,Rape

Kevin Parisi is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and barely weighs 120 pounds.

He’s hunched over and walking with a cane after back surgery earlier this year. He suffers from severe anxiety and digestive disorders, along with extreme allergies and panic attacks.

But in his junior year at Drew University in Madison, N.J., Parisi was accused of forcing a fellow student — one who is now a professional athlete — to have sex with him.

He was kicked off campus and placed under investigation. Three months went by before he was found "not responsible" in a campus disciplinary proceeding. Local police never filed charges against him.

Being accused, however, was enough to cause his world to collapse. Now he is suing Drew for assuming he was guilty from the outset and treating him as such until it was determined he was innocent.

He is also suing his accuser and her boyfriend at the time, claiming they concocted the false allegation to preserve their relationship. The Washington Examiner has chosen not to publish their names.

“The whole world seems hopeless and like, your heart pounds and the world — the walls — kind of close in on you,” Parisi, 21, told the Examiner of his frequent panic attacks, which he says were made worse by the allegations.

“It’s just, it’s … If you haven’t experienced one, I don’t know how you could understand. It’s just really — dread. A sense of dread. Nothing’s ever going to be better,” he said.

Parisi is one of at least 30 men who are striking back against campus rules on sexual assault that deny them due process by assuming their guilt. Their ranks have quadrupled since 2011.

This reversal of one of the bedrock principles of the American justice system stems from a bizarre interpretation of the Title IX provision in the Education Amendments of 1972 designed to protect women from discrimination.

The interpretation has been forced on universities by the Obama administration, and it thrives on many American college campuses, thanks to politically correct cultures that take women's words at face value while assuming the worst about men.

Elizabeth Price Foley, a Florida International University law professor, described the problem with the interpretation of Title IX as benefiting women at the expense of men in a “he said/she said” situation.

“The Department of Education under the Obama administration has adopted shockingly broad new guidelines under Title IX that not only encompass off-campus behavior — that should be no business of a college or university — but also require the use of a low ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard for sexual assault claims,” Price Foley told the Examiner.

“The individuals who hear these claims are generally predisposed to find in favor of a female accuser, and young men are sometimes severely punished by colleges and universities based on little more than a bare accusation made by someone whose memory of events is questionable,” she added.

Parisi considers himself lucky because he was found not guilty, which is not the norm in these cases.

His lawyers, Solomon Rubin, Andrew Miltenberg and Kimberly Lau — who are representing at least three of the 30 men who have filed lawsuits — say they get multiple phone calls every week from college students whose due process rights were violated after being accused of sexual assault on campus. Unlike Parisi, however, most are found guilty by their universities.

“It’s a delicate situation for everyone, but that doesn’t justify totally disregarding his rights, his health, his emotional health, his well-being on campus,” Lau told the Examiner.

“He’s a student, too, just as much as the other two. And he was treated as guilty from the start. And that’s the problem,” Lau added.

Parisi's lawsuit accuses the university of sex discrimination and violating its own guidelines on conducting investigations. He also claims the university failed to investigate whether his accusers deliberately filed a false report.

The university denies the accusations in its response to the lawsuit, saying Parisi’s academic future was harmed more by his own “poor academic performance,” which the university claims was due to “substance abuse, [Parisi’s] failure to devote time and attention to attending classes, performing course work and study sufficient to achieve success in a higher education environment and [Parisi’s] pre-existing conditions unrelated to the events alleged in the complaint.”

Parisi said he was placed on academic probation after his grades slipped — something he attributed to the stress of the rape accusation.

His accuser refused multiple attempts by the Examiner to hear her side of the story. After the third attempt, she said, "Don't call me again." In her response to Parisi's lawsuit, she denies all allegations against her but does not tell her version of events.

Her then-boyfriend claimed in a motion to dismiss Parisi's lawsuit that he was never told the sex was consensual, and that "as far as [he] was aware, his girlfriend was sexually assaulted by Parisi." The motion claims he reported the allegations "in good faith and without knowledge of their alleged falsity."

The U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., has not ruled on the former boyfriend's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and he has since been dropped by his attorney for lack of payment, according to court documents.

At issue is what happened one morning in September 2013 — even the date is disputed, with Parisi saying it was Sept. 24 and the university saying it was Sept. 10.

Parisi said in his lawsuit that he awoke at about 10 a.m. to find the woman, an acquaintance with whom he occasionally smoked cigarettes, sitting on his dorm-room desk.

She told him she had just broken up with her boyfriend. “She was completely calm," Parisi told the Examiner. He then asked if she wanted to join him in his bed.

She said "yes."

“There was no more talk of the boyfriend or the breakup after that," Parisi told the Examiner. She answered "yes" when he asked her multiple times if she wanted to have sex.

The woman is at least two inches taller than him and outweighs him by 20 pounds, Parisi said, claiming that he couldn't have forced her to do anything she didn't want to do.

Fearing for her relationship with her boyfriend, she told him not to tell anyone about their encounter, Parisi's lawsuit claimed. He agreed.

But she told someone else, a female friend who was a fellow Drew student, according to court documents.

Parisi said the woman visited him later the same day and again told Parisi not to tell anyone what had happened. Parisi again agreed.

But sometime later that day, she told her boyfriend, according to Parisi's lawsuit. He then accompanied her to file a sexual assault complaint against Parisi with campus police.

Parisi's lawsuit alleges the woman called him after she filed the complaint and told him not to worry because she would tell investigators that the sex was consensual, adding that her boyfriend had forced her to file the complaint. She never followed through, Parisi told the Examiner.

A day later, Parisi was summoned to meet with his resident adviser, who informed him that he would be barred from campus, except for his classes and the cafeteria, starting immediately.

He was also informed that the university had put in place a “no-contact order” between Parisi, his accuser and her boyfriend.

Parisi, who said he was too scared to tell his parents what was going on, moved in with a friend who had an off-campus apartment. Forced to sleep on a dirty kitchen floor, Parisi said his medical conditions became worse.

Parisi's lawsuit alleges that the woman also asked her friend to lie about their conversation the previous day. At some point after this conversation, the woman’s mother allegedly called the friend to scold her for not lying, the complaint says.

Even though Parisi was immediately kicked off campus, he told the Examiner that it wasn’t until a week later that he spoke to two university investigators. He did not immediately seek counsel because he was scared.

A week after the sexual encounter, according to Parisi, his accuser called him from a blocked phone number to apologize for “ruining” his life.

“She sounded like she was crying when she said it,” Parisi told the Examiner.

Parisi informed university police that she broke the no-contact order and that her complaint was false, as it was his understanding the order worked both ways. Drew University's response to Parisi's lawsuit, however, only states that it placed the order on Parisi.

Drew officials claimed they “did not impose sanctions” on the woman for violating the no-contact order. The university also didn't impose sanctions on her for allegedly filing a false claim of sexual misconduct.

A few days after filing the university complaint against Parisi, the woman's boyfriend called Madison police to report that Parisi had raped her, according to Parisi's complaint.

Even though the university’s policy is to conclude investigations into sexual assault claims “within 15 working days of the date of the complaint,” because the police had been called, the university suspended its investigation.

Parisi told the Examiner he found out about the matter being in police hands when his father called campus security several weeks after the initial encounter.

During this time, Parisi said his anxiety and digestive disorders got worse due to the stress of the situation, and he was taken to the emergency room for exhaustion and dehydration.

It was at this point that his parents finally learned what was happening. Parisi then moved back in with his family — 45 minutes away from campus.

After Parisi moved back in with his parents, he sought legal counsel, who discovered that his accuser and her boyfriend didn’t cooperate with Madison police following the initial rape accusation.

Finally, in late November, Drew University reopened its investigation of the matter under pressure from Parisi’s father and after Parisi's lawyer discovered that the two were not cooperating with police.

Around Nov. 30, 2013, the woman again asked her friend to lie about the sexual encounter with Parisi — this time to the university's Human Rights Committee, according to Parisi's complaint. The friend never did, according to Parisi's lawsuit.

Drew, according to Parisi’s lawsuit, never interviewed the accuser's friend during its investigation. The university, a private school of about 2,400 students, denied Parisi's assertion, saying the friend rejected repeated requests for a statement about the alleged assault.

On Dec. 17, 2013 — nearly three months after the incident — Drew University informed Parisi he had been found “not responsible” for violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy.

A month later, the Madison Police Department sent an email to Drew saying it found no wrongdoing on Parisi's part, according to Parisi's lawsuit, which was not disputed by the university.

As for what happens next, Parisi said he wants to become a pharmacologist but doesn’t know where he will complete his education.

“What happened at that school could happen at another school,” Parisi said, his voice shaking. “I don’t see any way that this — I don’t see how these — the laws at hand don’t protect me from this happening again.”

He definitely won't go back to Drew.

“Even driving past the campus can give me a panic attack."

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