Campus rape accusations an obvious outcome at progressive college (Column)

April 29, 2013

I recently read that the people who run Swarthmore College, one of America’s most progressive, diverse and elite educational institutions are covering up sex crimes against their female students.

Can this be true? And if so, who do these college administrators think they are? The Catholic Church?

A formal complaint has been lodged against the school for failing to report numerous sex crimes on campus as the administration is required to do by federal law.

That law is the Clery Act, and Mia Ferguson, class of 2015, says Swarthmore is in direct violation of it. And she isn’t the only one.

Ms. Ferguson called a press conference to say she herself was the victim of a sexual assault on campus. Though she didn’t go into details, she said she "reached out to multiple employees of the college, and reported my sexual assault to two people who were both legally required to file reports, but neither followed the protocol and both failed to report the crime.’

Here’s the question I had: Did she? Did she report this assault to the proper law enforcement authorities; i.e. the Swarthmore Borough Police? And if not, why not?

If an actual crime was committed it most definitely should have been reported to the police so that the perpetrator could have been charged and prosecuted in a real court of law. Right?’

So why didn’t that happen?

Was it because Swarthmore officials intimidated Ms. Ferguson into not going to the police? Did they get her to drop the whole thing against her better judgment? If so, those officials should, of course, be fired.

College’s response

It is a serious accusation that Ms. Ferguson makes. It is the sort of accusation that got Joe Paterno fired and others at Penn State University charged with crimes.

As it is, Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp told the Daily Times that an investigation into Ferguson’s complaint, which has been undersigned by almost two dozen other Swarthmore students, is underway.

In addition, we are told, that the college is hiring a "dean of diversity, inclusivity and community development.’ What such a person will have to do with investigating the reporting of alleged sex crimes on campus is beyond me. Anyway, I would have thought a place as academically trend-setting as Swarthmore College would have had a diversity dean decades ago.

Also in the hiring pipeline, according to Chopp, is someone to "oversee the college judiciary committee.’ Good idea. Most university judiciary committees could use a little oversight, in so far as too many of them are kangaroo courts where the students hauled before them are denied the conventional legal rights of due process. Little things, like having a lawyer present to defend them.

Bad court for the accused

Judith Grossman is a lawyer and a feminist. She is also a mother whose son was forced to go before one of these college judiciary committees not too long ago.

Ms. Grossman recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal detailing how her son, who attended an unnamed liberal arts college in the Northeast, was accused by a former girlfriend of forcing her to commit acts of "nonconsensual sex’during their failed relationship.

Grossman witnessed first-hand the nightmarish lack of due process and fundamental fairness with which these tribunals often operate.’

Thanks to a recent decision by the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division, universities have been "advised’ to lower their standards for convicting accused individuals (who are, by the way, almost exclusively men). Instead of the "reasonable doubt’ standard applied in real courts of law, the lawyers at the DOE want it lowered to a "preponderance of the evidence’ standard (50.01 pecent).

"Across the country and with increasing frequency,’ writes Grossman, "innocent victims of impossible-to-substantiate charges are afforded scant rights to fundamental fairness and find themselves entrapped in a widening web of this latest surge in political correctness. Few have a lawyer for a mother, and many may not know about the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which assisted me in my research.’

(That would be FIRE, founded by University of Pennsylvania professor and Wallingford resident Alan Kors.)

An overblown problem

As early as 2008, the incomparable Heather MacDonald was writing and exposing the "campus rape myth,’ as a bogus crisis for its reliance on bad statistics, exaggeration and more than a few false accusations.

"The campus rape movement highlights the current condition of radical feminism, from its self-indulgent bathos to its embrace of ever more vulnerable female victimhood,’ wrote MacDonald for City Journal back then.

Based on the recent allegations made against Swarthmore College and other universities, this ideologically-driven neo-feminist cause hasn’t abated. But it’s certainly ironic that institutions as politically correct and sensitive as Swarthmore would be accused of looking the other way when it comes to violence against women.

"Right now,’ Ms. Ferguson asserts in a press release, "victims of sexual violence and harassment are suffering. In an environment where perpetrators of sexual violence, harassment and intimidation are protected instead of held accountable, there is little deterrence from committing further crimes.’

If what Ms. Ferguson says is true, Swarthmore College is no better at acting on and taking seriously charges of criminal sexual abuse than the Archdiocese or Philadelphia was in the priest abuse cases.

Can this be true?

A responsive campus

Swarthmore Police Chief Brian Craig, for one, finds it hard to believe.

In the last couple of years, he told me Friday, his department has investigated about five cases of sexual assault on campus, including one actual rape that was successfully prosecuted.

Once a month for the last five years, Swarthmore police have been meeting with college officials and students to discuss issues of campus safety, including sexual assault issues.

The very idea that any Swarthmore professor, counselor or administrator would take any claim of sexual violence lightly, "would be totally contrary to my experience with them,’ said the police chief.

Mia’s story

I called Mia Ferguson to find out her experience. She told me last year she was "raped’ by a fellow classmate.

The crime of rape carries a 12-year statute of limitations so she still has plenty of time to file a criminal complaint against her attacker with the Swarthmore Police. Yet she has declined to do so.

She said it was because after the incident she was "already in a pretty vulnerable space’ and because she was "assaulted by a male’ she didn’t feel comfortable going to a police station where she would be "surrounded by men.’

She said what happened to her met the "legal definition of rape’ but that she wasn’t "violently assaulted.’

She said that her assailant was a fellow student with whom she shared a class and there was the "likelihood he would…intimidate and harass’ her if she brought charges against him.

When pressed further, she said the facts surrounding her assault were "entirely irrelevant’ to charges she has made against the administration, which she accused of "lying’ and "consistently breaking the law.’

"It’s a sick system and an ailing system and that’s what we’re trying to address,’ she told me.

Whatever else can be said about Mia Ferguson, she is the kind of proud, progressive political activist Swarthmore College has, in the past, claimed pride in turning out.

As has been said in better places than this: You reap what you sow.

Schools: Swarthmore College