A horrifying story. Do you want this to happen to your son?
For Caleb Warner, weekends still revolve around sports and hanging out with his friends. But life hasn’t been so carefree in the four years since he met a young woman.
“We met at a party,” Warner told America Tonight. “And, I don’t know, we just kinda made eye contact. And, you know, one thing led to another.”
On Dec. 13, 2009, Warner, then a junior at the University of North Dakota, attended a party thrown by his fraternity, Phi Delta Theta. There, he met a freshman who caught his eye. They played beer pong in the basement of the fraternity house, later making out. Soon after that, they would head into a side room to have sex. When they were done, Warner says they exchanged numbers and went their separate ways.
“I liked her,” Warner said. “She was, she was fun. She was a fun person to hang out with.”
Warner said he and the freshman were “sexting,” and that both of them were keen on hooking up again. Later in the week, she came over to his house off campus to watch a movie. After they started kissing, Warner says they went up to his room and had sex. Holding her in his arms, the freshman suggested to Warner about the idea of him being her boyfriend. He told her he wasn’t sure, but enjoyed hanging out with her.
The next morning, they had sex again before Warner drove her home. He said he received a text later on from the freshman. “Don’t ever talk to me again.”
After the holiday break, an administrator pulled Warner out of class. To Warner’s surprise, he was asked about that night in mid-December, the night he watched a movie with his new freshman friend. After learning why he was pulled out of class, Warner called his mother.
“When he told me what he had been accused of, I felt like somebody hit me in the stomach,” said his mother, Sherry.
According to the incident report, the young woman filed a sexual assault charge with the university against Warner. The report stated that she requested a rape kit from a local hospital.
“That night, I was sexually assaulted by someone I thought was a friend,” she said in the statement. “The experience was brutal and being completely sober, and knowing what exactly happened made it worse.”
Two weeks later, Warner faced a disciplinary hearing on campus, which would ultimately decide his fate. He had a lawyer, but Warner said the attorney was not allowed to speak. He said he wasn’t allowed to question his accuser. During one point of the accuser’s story, she ran out of the room crying.
“I knew she was lying,” Warner said. “I mean, everything she said, it just wasn’t true and it was opposite of what had actually happened.”
A ‘preponderance of evidence’
As correspondent Chris Bury points out in his report airing Thursday on America Tonight, the standard of guilt was far lower than for a criminal courtroom. In Warner’s case, he says a “preponderance of evidence” was in effect. A student is found guilty not if his or her guilt is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but simply if it’s “more likely than not.” Only slightly more than 50-percent belief in guilt is required.
The lower bar isn’t just an isolated situation at North Dakota. In fact, it’s the standard for nearly all colleges. In 2011, the Department of Education advised schools that “preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.” Schools that don’t comply with the rule are at risk of losing their federal funding.
The federal standard does no favors for accused students like Warner. In February 2010, the University of North Dakota student relations committee found Warner guilty. As part of his punishment, he was banned from campus for at least three years.When he told me what he had been accused of, I felt like somebody hit me in the stomach. – Sherry Warner-Seefeld
During his final comment to the university committee, Warner, overwhelmed with emotion, broke down.
“I remember I dropped to my knees and then I just – that’s when I really lost it,” he said.