In this confessional post about a “sexual misconduct” claim filed against him, Patrick Witt describes how the faulty claim messed up his personal, academic, and professional life. He claims that he is innocent of whatever claim his ex-girlfriend filed against him, but explains that he is unable to make a clear case of his innocence because he was never allowed to learn the nature of the claims. In his post, he uses these and other examples to criticize Harvard and Yale’s sexual harassment policies.
Reading his story, I didn’t really care whether or not Witt was guilty. It’s natural to form a judgment based on what we read, especially if the writing is persuasive, BUT, I reminded myself that guilt and truth are not matters that anyone can claim to decide simply by reading one side of a story.
So, decisions of guilt and innocence aside, what’s important to me is that he appears to have been treated as if he was guilty, based on no evidence at all and without any opportunity to defend himself.
If he’s innocent, then I really feel for him, for everything he lost because of this claim. How could this happen to him? Was his ex-girlfriend vindictive, nasty, and crazy enough to destroy his dreams based on a break-up? (I’ve seen lots of sane people go crazy because of love, so I wouldn’t be too surprised!)
Personally, I doubt that ‘crazed ex-lover’ explanation, as melodramatically satisfying as it sounds. What seems more likely to me is that there was a miscommunication between the alleged victim and the accused while they were dating, something that led the girlfriend to believe she had been sexually abused when her boyfriend didn’t see anything wrong with his actions. Maybe he persuaded her to do something she didn’t want to do in bed, but didn’t realize he had pushed her too far. Or maybe he did something he thought would excite her but actually frightened her. These possibilities seem quite likely to me.
I don’t want to assume that he’s a villain, and I also don’t want to assume he did ‘nothing’ wrong– because if I had to guess, I would put my money behind the ‘miscommunication’ scenario.
But again, this post of mine is not about guilt. The bottom line is, I tentatively agree with him that the policy is (read: appears to be) unbalanced and very flawed. I’d love to read the arguments for and against these kinds of policies to get a better understanding of them.