Yesterday, Saifullah Khan was acquitted of all charges of sexual assault. He had been charged with having sex with a woman who was too drunk to give consent. He claimed that the sex they had was consensual. Only afterward, he claims, did she rewrite the narrative of their encounter.
In light of this legal verdict, Khan’s lawyer said that Yale should readmit Khan after he was suspended in November 2015, three days before his arrest. The lawyer, Norm Pattis, said the University should “right that wrong” and welcome Khan back into the community.
Readmitting Khan would be a grievous mistake, as using legal standards of “not guilty” do not apply in a private community like Yale. Legal acquittal does not mean “innocence.” It does not mean that Khan did not engage in deeply dubious sexual conduct. It just means that a jury could not find that this sexual behavior was, to their eyes, rape beyond a reasonable doubt. Fortunately, a courtroom and a college community have different standards of proof. Here, the question is not, “Is this person absolutely guilty?” Instead, the question is more, “Has this person acted in such a way that their right to continued participation in our community is forfeit?”
To my eyes, the answer to the second question is, resoundingly, “Yes. His place here is forfeit.” Our University system requires a “preponderance of evidence” in the formal proceedings of the University-Wide Committee, which is our most trial-like approach to handling sexual misconduct and assault. A preponderance of evidence is the idea that, more likely than not, one person violated another.
There is certainly a preponderance of evidence that the sex that happened after the Halloween show in 2015 falls far outside the realm of appropriate. For unlike our legal system, Yale considers consent to be more than just “not rape.” Instead, Yale’s definition of consent is “positive, unambiguous and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity throughout a sexual encounter.”
The alleged victim threw up several times and had to leave the Halloween Show, thus demonstrating that she was too intoxicated to give consent that was unambiguous. She could not walk unaided. She could not use her key unaided. She threw up again after they returned to her room. They struggled in sex and she had bruises from the encounter the next day. To all reasonable eyes, this is a portrait of someone too drunk to give positive, unambiguous, voluntary and continued consent. And it does not measure up to standards of consent laid out by Yale in its bylaws.
This line of reasoning can often lead conservatives to argue inflated ideas of false accusations, claiming that women “cry rape” unjustly. This is bogus. It comes from inflated fears of vindictive women suffering from a certain type of modern hysteria. No person with the best sexual intentions would have sex with someone that drunk, and no person with the best sexual intentions would struggle with someone they are having sex with to the point of bruising. Men can easily avoid being accused of assault by simply not assaulting women or being in situations that are ambiguous. Women say they are raped when they experienced something that felt like a serious violation. They do not say that they were raped simply because they want to ruin someone’s day.
The sex described between Khan and the alleged victim represents a disturbing failure to recognize another person’s interiority and understand how one’s own actions impact the livelihood of other people. The fact that Khan continued to participate in and initiate sex shows, at the very minimum, critically bad judgment and an overwhelming selfishness. Individuals who approach sex — one of the most vulnerable and intimate things we do — with such cavalier malice should be unwelcome at Yale.
Furthermore, it is unacceptable at Yale to put alleged victims on trial rather than alleged rapists, as the defense attempted to do. Khan’s lawyers commented on her Halloween costume and asked why she had not been dressed more modestly. After the trial, they dismissed this interaction as an “experiment.” This is a semi-eloquent version of “she was asking for it,” a misogynistic tactic that men habitually use to silence women who have experienced sexual violence by blaming them for their own assaults. The clothes women choose to wear are never invitations for assault, and rape is never a sexual experiment gone awry.
This problem extends far beyond the bounds of this one man or this one night. Just because the courts have found this example of sexual misconduct one in which the participant was “not guilty” does not mean it is acceptable or that Khan is innocent. He is not. And he — along with everyone else found to have a preponderance of evidence of sexual misconduct — should not be allowed back on our campus.
Amelia Nierenberg is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .