The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct has heard 78 cases since 2011 — some of which resulted in suspensions, some in expulsions and others in reprimands.
But why are some perpetrators of sexual misconduct allowed back to campus and others only reprimanded?
Last year, 2016–17 Delta Kappa Epsilon president Luke Persichetti was suspended for three semesters for “penetration without consent” — a case that has sparked outrage on campus and raised new questions about the University’s protocols. Just a year earlier, former basketball captain Jack Montague was expelled from Yale for the same offense. Ultimately, the punishments imposed on perpetrators of sexual assault are based on the specific details of each case, according to the committee chair, David Post, who said the panel also assigns penalties after analyzing precedents set by previous cases and the accused students’ disciplinary histories.
Although UWC proceedings are confidential, Montague’s recent lawsuit against the University unearthed documents from his sexual misconduct case. According to the documents, the UWC found “persuasive the corroborative evidence provided by these third-party witnesses” that the victim said she did not want to have sex, tried to push Montague away and that he apologized after intercourse. Given his statements to the panel, the committee found that Montague did not demonstrate a solid understanding of the University’s sexual consent policy.
In determining the disciplinary action, the committee took into account that Montague had been disciplined twice before — once for sexual harassment and once for aggression with a University police officer. After the incident for which Montague was found guilty of sexual harassment — in which he rolled up a paper plate and shoved it down the shirt of a female student — Montague had attended four meetings at the SHARE Center before his second allegation of sexual misconduct. At the time of the incident that resulted in Montague’s expulsion, he was on probation and had received sexual harassment and gender sensitivity training, as well as alcohol education and counseling.
Given those specifics, Montague was expelled. But on several other occasions, perpetrators of nonconsensual sex at Yale have gotten away with reprimands.
“It is clear that [the University is] more concerned with potential lawsuits than they are with appropriate punishments for those who commit sexual misconduct,” said Helen Price ’18, a former president of Unite Against Sexual Assault at Yale. “While obviously there has to be some degree of nuance in deciding on punishments for sexual assault cases, the fact that 10 of the last 15 people that the UWC found to have committed penetrative sexual assault … have gotten probation, a written reprimand or a suspension is unbelievable. Yale is putting its students at risk by allowing these people back on campus when there is a high likelihood that they will sexually assault someone else.”
In a statement, University spokesman Tom Conroy said “safety and welfare of students is the motivation for Yale’s policies and decisions.”
Deborah Tuerkheimer — a law professor at Northwestern University who specializes in sexual misconduct policy — said she was unaware of any systematic research on the range of sanctions for perpetrators of sexual assault and why they differ.
But Harvard law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen hypothesized that certain ambiguities in the investigation and other circumstances could affect a committee’s ruling on a case of sexual assault.
“Let’s say two people are found responsible for committing the offense of penetration without consent. Let’s say it was the same decision maker: two cases where the basic offense is defined the same way,” Gersen said. “Maybe there was force involved in one case. Maybe in one case, the case was really seriously ambiguous … Maybe it’s somewhat reasonable of the accused to be unaware that the person was not giving consent.”
Asked whether the University is considering revisions to its sexual misconduct policies and procedures as victims’ accounts reach the national spotlight, University President Peter Salovey said he stands by the UWC procedure. In 2015 — the UWC’s fifth year — a faculty panel recommended minor changes to the system but defended Yale’s existing procedures as “the best … that could be demonstrated,” Salovey said. He noted that the group found that the published literature is inconclusive about what constitutes the most effective sexual misconduct prevention programs.
“These cases are difficult, complicated and emotionally fraught, and changing the procedures will not make them any less so nor guarantee results that are universally seen as fair,” Salovey said. “The procedures are from time to time reviewed and adjusted in the light of new cases and circumstances, but, as they stand now, we think they are clear, fair, and up to the task.”
The Montague-Yale case is expected to go to trial next month.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org