In Brown University Rape Case, Did the Media Have Any Interest in What Really Happened?

June 16, 2014

By Robby Soave at Reason Online

Did media outlets reporting the sexual assault allegations against Brown University student Daniel Kopin properly scrutinize the claims of his accuser, Lena Sclove? Over at Minding the Campus, Cathy Young argues persuasively that the accounts of the incident in both Salon and The Huffington Post contained inaccuracies that painted Kopin in an undeservedly poor light.

First, some background. Brown student Lena Sclove accused Kopin of assault after a sexual encounter at his campus residence last summer. Sclove said that Kopin forced himself on her and choked her. The police did not pursue charges, but university administrators determined that it was more likely than not that Kopin was guilty of “sexual misconduct.”

But the story is much more complicated than it was portrayed in the media, according to Young:

None of the media accounts gave any details of Sclove’s alleged assault. Both the Huffington Post and Salon claimed that the charges on which Kopin was found responsible included “sexual violence involving physical force and injury.” In fact, the conduct board made no such finding; the official document a scan of which was featured in the Huffington Post article showed that the offense was described as “sexual misconduct that includes one or more of the following: penetration, violent physical force, or injury” (emphasis added). Kopin was also found responsible for “actions that can result in or can be reasonably expected to result in physical harm” and “non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature.”

… Aside from Brown’s handling of the case, the most striking aspect of this story is the utterly pathetic performance of the media. No attempt was made to independently verify any of Sclove’s claims. Most publications made no attempt to get Kopin’s side of the story. No one thought to ask such basic questions as: If Sclove was indeed violently raped and strangled, why didn’t she go to the police? Would Brown officials really readmit a known violent rapist after a brief suspension and run the risk of him reoffending?

Young interviewed both Kopin and his attorney, Harvey Silverglate, who was barred from attending the disciplinary hearing. Some previously unreported details:

* Sclove never alleged that there was physically forced sex; rather, the finding of non-consensual sex was based on the fact that, as she testified and Kopin confirmed, when they got to his place she told him she did not want to have sex with him. She claimed that Kopin continued to make physical advances which she did not resist because she was “in a fuzzy state” from drinking at the party and because she felt he was not giving her the option to refuse.

* According to Kopin, he told Sclove he was fine with her decision and even offered to walk her home if she wanted to go–but she refused. Sclove conceded that he made such an offer; she said she didn’t leave because she felt unsafe either walking by herself or walking with Kopin, after the earlier choking incident (yet was willing to stay alone with him in his apartment).

* Kopin claimed, shortly after telling him she didn’t want to have sex, Sclove was the one who made sexual advances. (He also testified, with some corroboration, that she had a history of sending such mixed signals.) While Sclove denied this, she admitted that she asked Kopin to get a condom and agreed to give him oral sex–though, according to her, she did so only because it was the least “horrible” of her options.

* Kopin’s three housemates, who came home during the alleged assault and saw Sclove moments later, testified in support of Kopin. The three, two men and one woman, heard the sounds of a sexual encounter from outside and knocked loudly to alert the pair; Kopin and Sclove collected their clothes and ran upstairs to his bedroom, from which Sclove shortly came down. According to the housemates’ testimony, she seemed embarrassed but not frightened, traumatized or disoriented.

The notion that Kopin choked Sclove is especially dubious, given what Sclove said—or didn’t say—about the matter. In an email to Kopin a week after the encounter, she did not mention choking and instead wrote that he had “crossed a boundary.” She claimed to have been sexually harassed by someone else a few days before, and the way in which Kopin touched her “triggered” the memory of that harassment.

Given all that, it’s not quite clear why administrators deemed Kopin guilty, even under the lesser “preponderance of evidence” standard. According to Silverglate, the decision not to expel Kopin from campus outright was an implicit acknowledgement that the case against him was weak.

Of course, this has not stopped countless media outlets and a lynch mob of Brown students and faculty from declaring a miscarriage of justice over the fact that Kopin was merely suspended for one year (he ultimately dropped out).

But there will always be injustice in campus rape proceedings as long as administrators continue to deprive the accused—at the unfortunate insistence of the federal government—of their due process rights.

Schools: Brown University