Jason — until recently a student at an Ivy League school under Title IX investigation that has faced intense public criticism for the way it handles sexual assault cases — met Vanessa for the first time late at night at his fraternity house last March. Jason was drunk and doesn’t remember much, but he remembers giggling and talking about their hometowns.
Multiple bystanders saw Jason and Vanessa go up to his room. They also saw them making out on Jason’s bed. No one thought the situation seemed weird, according to witnesses who later volunteered to testify. But then, suddenly, Vanessa began to vomit. When she “came to,” Jason recalled, Vanessa didn’t know where she was or what was going on.
The next week, police knocked on Jason’s door. Vanessa had contacted both campus public safety officials and, later, local police after being urged to do so by friends who heard what happened, she said at the time. A campus public safety officer reported that Vanessa did not have any visible signs of injury or distress, and a detective noted that Vanessa did not report what happened as “harassment,” “sexual assault,” or “nonconsensual.” That’s because Vanessa didn’t remember what happened at all. She underwent a rape kit examination in hopes of finding out.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Jason said he understood why the police were investigating. If his sister or a friend had been in a similar situation, he would want the same. He told police that he barely remembered what happened either, but didn’t recall doing anything more than kissing and touching. He said Vanessa didn’t seem that drunk at the time.
“I think the police investigation was in good faith,” Jason said. “But the disciplinary hearing was not. They treated me as if I was some kind of monster.”
Jason has yet to file suit, but he and Miltenberg have compiled a lengthy list of the ways they say Jason was mistreated. For example, the process took significantly longer than 60 days, which violated the university’s own stated policies, as did Jason’s subsequent appeal, which took two months instead of two weeks. The school didn’t give Jason sufficient time to prepare for the hearing. The administration was required to provide him with all relevant case materials at least five business days in advance, but Jason had less than three business days. Vanessa submitted her 17-page-long transcript of her police interview to the college as her official complaint, but Jason was not given the same opportunity to submit his. One student on the hearing panel had been in a class with Vanessa. When Jason protested, the student said she thought she could be impartial.
On the day of Jason’s resolution meeting to discuss his fate, he woke up to an email asking why he didn’t attend. Administrators had rescheduled without notifying him.
According to legal documents, the police department that investigated the incident stated that “a significant factor in this will be whether semen is found” in Vanessa’s rape kit examination. Jason had told them that there wouldn’t be, and asked the panel to wait for the results of the kit before making a decision. They didn’t. Later that summer, the kit came back negative.
Jason was ultimately found responsible for violating the school’s policy that a “reasonable person” should have known that Vanessa was too incapacitated to consent. He was suspended for one year. Now, Jason is working for a friend’s company. He’s too scared to apply to graduate school, as previously planned, in fear that he’ll have to explain his record.
Jason acknowledges that the issue of consent is complex, but doesn’t feel it was right that the burden was all on him.
“They couldn’t prove that I wasn’t just as drunk,” he said. “So why was the burden of consent immediately assigned to me instead of her?”
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