uofmIt’s happened again, and this time in my own back yard at The University of Minnesota where ten college football players have been disciplined for the alleged sexual assault of a female student.

This isn’t a unique story.  Sexual assault on college campuses has been rampant for decades, but it’s only been recently — and possibly thanks to the CNN Documentary, The Hunting Ground — that it is finally gaining national attention.  Consider this: an estimated one in five college women report having experienced a sexual assault, with over half of those assaults taking place during the first three months of the Fall Semester (RAINN.org). Sadly, most of these assaults not only go unreported, but — traditionally — universities have gone to great length to protect their names  and “brands” by failing to appropriately address and discipline these cases (Does the Baylor Sexual Assault Scandal ring a bell?).

The University of Minnesota is unique in that it is one of the few universities nationwide who is taking a stand and fully adhering to required procedures under Title IX with the full investigation and sanctions against football players who were found “responsible” in the September complaint by a female student.  The university should be heralded for its bravery, as it is a beacon of light in an otherwise dark history of college sexual assault.

Now, Gopher Football Players are threatening a boycott on all football activities —  possibly including a December 23 Bowl Game — unless their teammates are exonerated and the suspensions and expulsions are lifted.  Senior team representative, Drew Wolitarsky, is quoted by the Star Tribune as saying “We’re all in this together. What are they going to do, pull 120 guys off the team? They won’t have a team if that’s the case.”

In answer to Mr. Wiltarsky’s question, my answer is a vehement yes! The university should absolutely suspend the football team for the remainder of the season.  Make no mistake:  this collective action is neither noble nor acceptable.  It is nothing short of retribution against the victim, which is prohibited in the Student Code of Conduct, and a blatant blackmail of the university.  The football team’s efforts must be condemned by not only the university, but by students, alumnae and the population in general.

The University of Minnesota has done exactly what they are required by law to do:  Investigate allegations of sexual assault under Title IX rules and take swift disciplinary action if necessary.  But Gopher football players and supporters, possibly due to a lack of understanding regarding Title IX guidelines, see it differently.

An April 4, 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter” was issued to all institutions of public education by the United States Department of Education.  This letter outlined in very specific terms the schools’ responsibilities related to sexual harassment and sexual violence. It states in part:

“If a school knows or should know about a student on student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the  harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.” (Read Letter in Full)

It furthermore sets forth procedural requirements for the hearing and discipline, all of which the University of Minnesota appears to have followed scrupulously.

Perhaps due to misunderstanding, Wolitarsky is further quoted by the Star Tribune as saying “…these kids were suspended when they were just found [innocent] by the law.” This is completely and categorically untrue. Neither guilt, nor innocence, was assigned by law enforcement officers. The decision not to charge is not synonymous with a finding of innocence. Instead, it simply means that prosecuting attorneys lacked confidence that they could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

There are several fundamental differences that should be noted between a criminal case and the required actions by a university as it relates to addressing Title IX complaints such as sexual assault.

  1.  A Title IX complaint is a civil complaint, not a criminal one, and does not carry criminal penalties.
  2. The standard of evidence between a civil case and a criminal case are different.  Whereas a conviction in a criminal case requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” the proof of wrong-doing in a civil case is found through “preponderance of evidence”; or, rather, asks the question “Is it more likely than not that the assault occurred.”  It should be noted that this is the same standard of evidence which allows victims to be awarded monetary damages for a crime wherein a defendant is found not guilty. A good example would be the O.J. Simpson case whereby Simpson was found not guilty on criminal charges, but later found guilty in his civil case and the Goldman family was awarded more than $30 million in damages.
  3. It is entirely possible to be found responsible in a civil court without ever being charged with a criminal complaint.
  4. More than 90% of all rapists are never criminally charged and, of those who are, 97% never see a jail cell.  The fact is that sexual assault cases are difficult to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but that does not imply that the rape did not occur.

The University of Minnesota must stand strong behind its decision, and not bend. If the ten students who have been disciplined believe the decision is in error or unjust, there is a system in place to request an appeal, and that appeal process must be utilized.  But bullying the university into changing its decision by boycotting cannot and must not be allowed.

Collegiate athletics is a privilege, not a right; and this boycott with the apparent support of its coach, Tracy Claeys, warrants a suspension of the program and – at minimum – disciplinary action for Clayes.

To the University of Minnesota, I say:  WE SUPPORT YOU.

To the victim, I say:  WE BELIEVE YOU!