A former graduate student is suing Princeton University, alleging the New Jersey institution mishandled his reports of sexual assault, and expelled him after a related suicide attempt—all because of his gender.
Going by the pseudonym John Doe, the Harvard graduate has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking undisclosed damages for the University's supposed violation of Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, alleging it failed to act on two sexual assault complaints against a ex-boyfriend.
“Princeton has created an environment where a male victim of sexual assault is fundamentally denied a fair and impartial process,” his complaint alleged. “John Doe would not have been subjected to Princeton’s discriminatory acts if he were a female victim of sexual assault by a male assailant.”
Advocates report one in six women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. According to a 2013 Department of Justice study, one out of every 10 rape victims are male.
Princeton has denied the allegations leveled in the complaint, and called the case “without merit,” in a statement provided to The Daily Beast by the school’s vice president for communications, Dan Day. “The suit contains a series of inaccurate accusations and repeatedly mischaracterizes how the University handled this former graduate student’s complaint,” the statement read in part. “The University responds seriously and compassionately to victims of sexual misconduct and to all students who need support.”
According to the complaint, Doe, a Turkish citizen in the U.S. on a student visa, is gay, but was not “out” when he started dating the man who would become his alleged assailant, an “influential student on campus” identified only as “Student Y.”
The identity of the Doe’s alleged rapist is unknown.
By the fall of 2014, the pair were dating exclusively, but had not been sexually active, according to the complaint. When Y asked him to have sex, Doe says he initially refused, but buckled under “pressure” from his boyfriend. While they were actually engaged in intercourse, the complaint claims, Doe withdrew his consent, asking Y to stop “multiple times,” a request that allegedly was ignored.
Doe claims he was injured from the alleged assault and wanted to break things off with Y as a result. When Doe tried, Y started to cry, according to the complaint.
“As [Y] was crying, he slipped his hand into John Doe’s trousers,” the complaint says. “John Doe asked, ‘What are you doing?’ but [Y] moved very quickly and undressed him down to his boxers.” The complaint goes on to describe a second assault, which it claims stopped just short of rape.
Doe was no longer seeing Y when, a month later, he says he reported both alleged assaults to an assistant dean at Princeton, along with harassment from Y’s friends, who allegedly leveled anti-gay slurs at him. These reports, Doe claims, were not taken seriously. The investigation that followed was slow-moving and traumatizing, Doe says.
In a series of interviews, investigators allegedly asked Doe about his own sexual history—a line of questioning that the complaint calls, “insensitive, irrelevant and in violation of Title IX.” Further, he claims Princeton provided little support as he struggled with the aftermath of his alleged assault.
The complaint states that Doe, "overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness,” attempted suicide and it claims that campus religious leaders ignored him when he told them.
And on June 3, Doe received a letter advising him of his immediate expulsion for failing to maintain a B average. As a result, Doe’s student visa was revoked and he was forced to leave the country.
“[Doe] felt like request for academic accommodations were being ignored. He felt like he had been abandoned,” Doe’s lawyer, Kimberly C. Lau, told The Daily Beast.
Lau has represented over 100 students in college disciplinary proceedings—mostly men accused in sexual assault complaints, figures she refers to as victims of overzealous administrations. Having been on both sides of these cases, Lau said she realizes how difficult it can be to investigate them fairly.
“I think schools are in a tough position when they are handling cases of sex misconduct,” she said. “It’s a tall, tall order to fulfill.”
Princeton would know.
In 2014, the university reached a settlement with the Department of Education after a four-year investigation found it had shown favor to the accused in sexual assault cases. In the ruling, the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights concluded that Princeton had failed to provide “prompt and equitable responses to complaints of sexual assault and violence,” and in at least one case, “allowed for the continuation of a sexually hostile environment that limited and denied the student’s access to the University’s educational program.”
And the Ivy league institution is still embroiled in ongoing litigation in the three-year-old case of W.P. v. Princeton University, in which a former student alleges he was expelled after a 2012 suicide attempt.
The university has yet to be served with Doe’s lawsuit, but said in its statement: “We intend to mount a vigorous defense."