This past summer, USC has been rocked by a number of scandals.
Allegations that a former Keck School of Medicine dean smoked meth, mingled with criminals and even hosted parties in his office during his tenure made national news. But the numerous sexual assault scandals involving USC students are arguably even more concerning, especially as the University attempts to sweep them under the rug.
At the end of July, the L.A. District Attorney’s Office announced it would no longer be pursuing charges against Armaan Premjee, a rising junior enrolled at USC who was charged with raping another USC student in a dorm room in Fluor Tower back in April. The following week, Matt Boermeester, a former USC football player who kicked the game-winning field goal of the 2017 Rose Bowl, was removed from the team after being suspended in February for a student code of conduct violation amid a Title IX investigation.
While circumstances in Boermeester’s case remain relatively murky, as the former kicker’s alleged victim and girlfriend has since come forward to deny claims that he physically assaulted her, the University’s treatment of Premjee, allowing him to return for the Fall 2017 semester, is troubling — especially as the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights have become mired in controversy regarding campus sexual assault policy.
For some context, Judge Michael Pastor ruled there was not sufficient evidence to continue working on the case against Premjee at the end of last month after Premjee’s lawyer said he provided footage of Premjee’s alleged victim appearing to give consent when the two were standing outside a bar.
“There is no indication of any withdrawal of consent,” Pastor wrote in his ruling. “There is a very strong indication that the alleged victim in this case was the initiator of any conduct between the defendant and the alleged victim.”
This, of course, ignores that by law, consent can be withdrawn at any time, and there is no evidence that the alleged victim didn’t change her mind later that evening behind closed doors. Consent is both morally and legally not a one-time exchange. And in stating that the alleged victim initiated the encounter, Pastor is suggesting that consent can be given when individuals are intoxicated, which is, again, a morally and legally unacceptable stance.
USC can’t be held responsible for decisions made in county courts, but it speaks volumes that Premjee is still enrolled as a student, and that the University was unwilling to confirm to the Daily Trojan whether there is still an ongoing investigation of Premjee taking place within USC’s Title IX office. However, the University has since confirmed to The New York Times that an investigation is still underway, and Premjee could be expelled if USC’s Title IX office concludes that he is guilty.
USC’s treatment of Premjee’s case comes amid national debate over campus sexual assault survivors’ rights, and how to balance these with the rights of accused students. While Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with sexual assault survivors and groups representing them last month, she also met with groups dedicated to dismissing, discrediting and even harassing survivors. These groups notoriously work to portray women as liars and men as the victims of an unfair system designed to strip them of their rights.
After these meetings, DeVos, who declined to make a statement about whether she would maintain Obama-era guidelines that support survivors at her January hearing, reportedly began considering rolling back a key part of these guidelines earlier this year.
Specifically, this guideline lowered the standard of evidence for survivors, and has always been controversial. But while false reporting does happen, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that these cases are not only rare, but are also as detrimental to real survivors as they are to falsely accused students by increasing doubt surrounding real cases. Additionally, as Premjee’s case demonstrates so chillingly, the preponderance of evidence guideline was introduced for a reason — survivors lacking evidence that unquestionably proves their experiences are easily dismissed in the absence of the guideline.
Crimes of a sexual nature don’t translate neatly into the prototypical “innocent until proven guilty” mold of our criminal justice system. However, the misogyny-laced national dialogue surrounding sexual assault has bred troubling ignorance about consent and an unhealthy obsession with requiring victims to have perfect narratives.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and fear of facing disbelief — due to how the survivor was dressed, how they were behaving in the moments leading up to the assault, their sexual histories and even the nature of their relationship with the alleged assailant — and a number of other factors that simply don’t exist in other crimes, all discourage survivors from coming forward immediately, if ever at all. These time lapses by nature weaken the evidence in the case. Lowering the standard of evidence for survivors isn’t some misandrist ploy to target the accused. Rather, it’s meant to support students who could otherwise be denied justice.
Circling back to the case involving Armaan Premjee, we’re seeing just how much institutions value narratives over the humanity of survivors. The footage provided by Premjee’s lawyer may prove the alleged victim’s narrative is flawed, but the only reason we sweepingly equate flawed narratives to vengeful, lying women is that our society operates within a rape culture.
This rape culture tells us that women who appear to flirt with their assailants, who wear revealing outfits, who have previously consented to sex, are all fundamentally dishonest; this rape culture tells us that they can’t be trusted, that they should be dismissed and punished because they don’t fit the mold of the perfect victim that is ultimately a patriarchal construct.
If the University chooses to allow Premjee to continue to attend USC, at the very least, it has an obligation to be transparent about this decision. On a federal level and at USC, raising the standard of evidence for survivors within a system that’s already stacked against them and giving the accused the benefit of the doubt over survivors, mark an unforgivable step backward.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” typically runs Thursdays.