Was the Rape Case That Started Title IX Abuse a False Accusation?

Title IX, created to ensure women and men had equal educational and athletic opportunities at college, has in recent years been used to sidestep the due process rights of male students accused of sexual misconduct.

It all stemmed from an incident at the University of North Carolina back in 2013. The complaint filed by student Andrea Pino alleged that the school didn't do enough in the aftermath of her rape at a fraternity party several months prior. The infamous "Dear Colleague" letter from the Obama administration's Department of Education soon followed: it instructed colleges to essentially dismantle their due process protections in cases of sexual assault or face losing their federal funding.

But was it based on a lie?

Now, a new book on the controversies surrounding sexual assault on campus strongly challenges Pino’s credibility.

The Campus Rape Frenzy, by Brooklyn College history professor K.C. Johnson and National Journal contributing editor Stuart Taylor, takes a critical look at claims of an epidemic of sexual violence against college women and at the current Title IX system’s presumption of guilt toward accused students. It also describes Pino’s complaint against UNC as “the highest-profile questionable Title IX claim.”

While there is no accused rapist in this case -- Pino says she does not know his identity -- the question of Pino’s truthfulness is important, given her status as a central figure in the narrative of a “rape culture” pervasive at American universities. It is also relevant to another issue discussed by Johnson and Taylor: The media’s tendency to suspend normal journalistic skepticism when it comes to (alleged) sexual assault survivors.

Johnson and Taylor point to implausible elements in Pino’s account of her assault (for instance, while she says she was left severely injured and bleeding, no one at the party or at her dormitory noticed anything amiss) and to major discrepancies in her claims about her mistreatment by the school. According to Pino, when she couldn’t complete her schoolwork due to anxiety and depression caused by the rape, she was told she was “lazy” and lacking in ability. Her Huffington Post essay published in April 2013 attributed these remarks to an academic advisor to whom she had apparently said nothing about being raped, only about dealing with “personal trauma.” However, in an interview two years later, Pino described the culprit as a professor to whom she had “explained … what was happening.”

Heat Street's Cathy Young goes on to outline some very suspect instances regarding Pino's claim. She never accuses Pino of lying, which I certainly understand, but she does point out inconsistencies above and beyond those noted above. She also notes the similarities between Pino's story and the inconsistencies from the thoroughly discredited Rolling Stone article outlining the rape of a woman named "Jackie." For example, Pino claimed she didn't know her attacker's identity, but seemed to know he was a student.

Pino may have some explaining to do. The resulting behavior stemming from the DOE's letter has been nothing short of outrageous; at least one male punished based on this atmosphere of assumed guilt and unnecessary due process committed suicide. Countless other lives have been destroyed.

If Pino's story is fiction, she should be held accountable for damage she directly caused.