A professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy is under scrutiny after writing an email response to students on Thursday that “accusers sometimes lie” in sexual abuse allegations.
The remark was a reply to a schoolwide invitation to a “Coffee and Title IX” event hosted by the Price Women and Allies. The event intends to inform students on the details of Title IX, and to spark a “candid and open dialogue on the realities of sexual violence and misconduct on college campuses.”
PWA’s email asked members of the Price School to believe survivors, referring to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of a Senate committee at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearing. Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
Price Professor James Moore replied to the email with a statement deemed as controversial by some who read the exchange.
“If the day comes you are accused of some crime or tort of which you are not guilty, and you find your peers automatically believing your accuser, I expect you find yourself a stronger proponent of due process protections than you are now,” Moore wrote. “Accusers sometimes lie.”
The reply prompted multiple responses from professors, alumni and students, including Price Professor LaVonna Lewis, who criticized Moore for his statement.
“If you believe that accusers lie, you should also believe that abusers lie,” she wrote in a reply.
Price Dean Jack Knott addressed the situation later that evening in an email to the Price school. He noted that the choice and timing of words matter and that Moore’s words were “insensitive and incendiary.”
“The statement made — that accusers lie — in my opinion showed a lack of sensitivity to the current climate, here at the University and in communities across the country,” Knott wrote. “The issue here is not a question of free speech, but a question of respect for the students and other members of the Price School community.”
Moore, however, told the Daily Trojan that his response was in line with PWA’s invitation for “a candid conversation.”
“I’m a little concerned about the direction that our [Title IX] procedures might go,” Moore said. “The prospect of automatically believing every accusation just seems to be an untenable way to approach adjudication in these cases.”
Lewis, who was the first to reply to Moore’s email, said in an interview with Daily Trojan that while she understands the importance of free speech, people should be more sensitive to the current climate surrounding sexual misconduct.
“For people to not be aware how much tension there is right now around that topic and to be so dismissive of something the students were doing was something that I really couldn’t give a pass,” Lewis said.
Jessica Jaworski, who graduated from Price in 2017, wrote in her email reply that while Moore’s words would have been inappropriate on “a normal day,” they were even more so on an “emotional day” like Thursday.
Jaworski tied the professor’s remarks to the hundreds of sexual misconduct allegations against former health center gynecologist George Tyndall.
“I would think that in light of the recent revelations of abuse at the USC Health Center that the Price school would not want this to be how it is represented to both current and former students,” Jaworski wrote.
Aria Cataño, a junior majoring in public policy, reacted to Moore’s remarks, saying that they contribute to a “toxic environment of doubt” for sexual assault victims.
“We’ve seen examples of politicians [and] people in power discrediting women throughout the country and trying to put doubt into the public mind — doubt as to whether or not we should trust women,” Cataño said.
However, Moore said that the reactions to his comments were healthy and that those who responded were entitled to their opinions and understood the emotional nature of the topic.
“If some of them are annoyed by ideas that are opposed to theirs, well that’s just preparation for adult life,” Moore said.
Esther Nguyen, the director of community relations for PWA, said that while Moore’s response was disappointing, the organization will use the situation as a teaching moment.
“We want to use this as an opportunity to highlight what’s actually important: “The stories of survivors and how we can work together to make schools, professional settings and all spaces really safer and more equitable for everyone,” Nguyen said.
USC said it would not have a response in time for publication.