Jingy Cui

This article contains sexually graphic language. 

Found not guilty in a court of law but responsible for sexual assault by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, Saifullah Khan — a former member of the class of 2016 — has continued to be the subject of scrutiny since a female student accused him of rape on Halloween night in 2015. 

The case made national headlines, renewing conversations about whether campus rape allegations should be handled by internal university panels or within a court of law. University regulations are typically based around a “preponderance of evidence” evidentiary standard, which requires that there is a greater than 50 percent likelihood that the accusation is true. But criminal conviction in a sexual assault case requires the defense to meet the highest burden of proof in judiciary — guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Even after the rise of the Me Too movement, these decisions remain murky. Only a fraction of campus sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement, and far fewer make their way onto a criminal docket. Yale, like most universities in the U.S., has internal regulatory bodies to handle sexual assault claims. 

Khan was arrested in November 2015 by the Yale Police and arraigned for trial in fall 2017. But the original criminal case was postponed by a mistrial because the Yale Police Department had not given the defense a full record of interview notes with witnesses. 

The alleged victim — referred to as Jane Doe in court documents — said she had never been inebriated before Oct. 31, 2015, when she consumed multiple alcoholic beverages at the Jewish society Shabtai’s off-campus party where Khan was also present. She then left to attend the annual Yale Symphony Orchestra Halloween Show with her friends. But outside Woolsey Hall, Doe said she was so intoxicated she had trouble producing her ticket, vomited and ended up sitting with Khan, whom she considered an acquaintance.

Later that evening, the two walked back together to her dorm room, where she said Khan forced himself onto her despite her intoxicated state. 

“I was crying, I tried to say stop but I’m not sure if anything came out,” Doe testified in court. “I remember feeling him inside me.”

After waking up the next morning, Doe realized that she had had vaginal sex and noticed condoms on the floor as well as bruising on her thighs. She alleged that Khan, who was sleeping on her couch, insisted that they not tell anyone about their sexual encounter and establish a timeline of the previous night over breakfast.

According to Khan, Doe’s attitude the next morning came as a shock. Throughout the case’s development, Khan has maintained that he engaged in consensual protected sex with Doe. 

Surveillance footage of Khan and Doe walking back from Woolsey in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2015 was presented to the jury, in which Khan appeared to be helping Doe walk on their way back from Woolsey.

Attorneys also furnished text messages exchanged between the pair before and after the alleged rape. Doe said that there were texts on her phone she did not remember sending, and said that Khan had responded to a friend’s inquiry asking whether she was okay on her behalf. She decided to schedule a meeting with SHARE, and Yale suspended Khan — for the first time — in early November 2015, soon before police arrested him.

During the hearings, witnesses called by the defense included Rabbi Shmully Hecht, who hosted the Shabtai party, and Khan’s longtime partner, who is also from Afghanistan and was in an open relationship with Khan.  

After over a week of hearings, a jury in the New Haven Superior Court found Khan not guilty on all charges of sexual assault. 

“We’re grateful to six courageous jurors who were able to understand that campus life isn’t the real world,” Khan’s lawyer, Norm Pattis, said in email to the News after the verdict came out. “Kids experiment with identity and sexuality. When an experiment goes awry, it’s not a crime.”

Still, the UWC resumed its internal investigation of Khan following the court’s acquittal. 

A UWC policy allows students under investigation to continue taking classes while committee proceedings are pending. While a petition circulated online calling on Yale not to readmit Khan garnered nearly 78,000 signatures, Khan returned to Yale in the fall of 2018, living off campus and taking a full course load of five classes. However, after new accusations of sexual assault surfaced in October from Jon Andrews — one of Khan’s chief supporters during the trial and former romantic partner — Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun suspended Khan for a second time.

At the time, Andrews was serving as a board member of Families Advocating for Campus Equality — a group advocating for due process in college sexual misconduct cases — after his own expulsion from Hanover College on accusations of sexual assault.

He alleged that Khan had sexually assaulted him during a threesome in Washington, D.C., in June 2018, physically attacked him on several occasions and spoke about women with sexually explicit and disturbing language.

“Being with Saif for the nine months we were together was like being slowly smothered,” Andrews told the News. “Every day he tangled me up more and more in his twisted world.”

More than three years after the alleged assault was first reported, Khan was formally expelled by Yale in January 2019 after the UWC found Khan responsible for sexually assaulting Doe in 2015. 

But Khan continues to fight this verdict. In the most recent development, he filed a still-pending lawsuit against Yale last December, alleging that the University had violated his Title IX rights throughout the investigation process. He is suing for $110 million in damages attributed to the obstruction of his degree completion, reputational harm, breach of his right to privacy and emotional distress. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the process Yale used to engage in its fact-finding was fatally flawed,” Khan’s attorney Norm Pattis said in a January 2019 blog post.

The University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct was founded in 2011 and includes roughly 40 members selected across the University. 

Emily Tian | emily.tian@yale.edu