Jacques: Lawyer: Campus rape 'hell' for all

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

David Nacht knows a lot about campus rape. It's a big part of his job.

The Ann Arbor attorney and founder of Nacht Law has dealt with sexual assaults on university campuses for 20 years. His firm is located near the University of Michigan, after all.

"I've been working it in the trenches," Nacht says. "It's not only hell on students, but it's hell on parents."

In the past three years, he's seen an "enormous spike" of cases related to campus rape. That's in large part because of the Obama administration's crackdown on sexual assaults taking place on college campuses. The White House, through the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, is placing pressure on universities to prevent and punish sexual misconduct.

The University of Michigan has felt additional heat from the Education Department, as one of dozens of schools the department is investigating for its handling of sexual assault complaints. If universities don't fall in line with the government's demands, they face losing federal funding.

Nacht believes there are very real problems facing college students today, with alcohol a common culprit.

"I care deeply about fighting not only rape, but what I'd call cultural disintegration and the normalizing of bad behavior," Nacht says.

And young women should be aware of the dangers that can come with too many drinks at parties. But so should young men.

Nacht has seen how the system can seriously harm the reputation and future of some students—especially male students. When universities investigate reported sexual misconduct, due process is often thrown out for the accused. That's leading a lot of male students and their families to seek legal help when a complaint is filed. While Nacht also represents women in campus incidents, he says at any given time, he's got six male clients.

When relationships go south, those disagreements are now starting to include lawyers and even police.

Nacht related a recent case that illustrates the problem. A couple at UM had been together for three years, and in the course of one weekend, they had consensual sex three times. But after they attended a party, the woman decided she wanted to break up with him. She didn't inform him of this and went back with him to his dorm room that night, where some sexual activity took place. They both had been drinking.

The young woman later contended this last sexual encounter was rape. In addition to being investigated by the university, the young man faced criminal charges. In the end, he was cleared of any wrongdoing, but he needed the expensive help of a lawyer.

"That is, in my mind, the most extreme example I have seen of the system going out of control in terms of pursuing cases," Nacht says.

In another instance of a hookup gone wrong, a young man who was a top student with high MCAT scores was suspended for a semester from UM, although he was never charged with a crime, and ultimately was shut out of medical schools.

"It destroyed his future," Nacht says. "And it was just stunning to me."