Esquire feature reveals the media's inherent bias and tendency to finger-point in sexual assault coverage


Esquire Magazine published an article March 25 titled, “Occidental Injustice: The Disastrous Fallout when Drunk Sex Meets Academic Bureaucracy.” The lengthy article by Richard Dorment was featured in the “Women and Men” special issue, which aimed to answer the loaded question: What is the state of relations between the men and women of America today? In his article, Dorment closely examined a specific case that occurred early last year between two first-year students at Occidental, “Jane Doe” and “John Doe.” He used the case as an example to question the role of college administrations in dealing with sexual assault cases and boldly asserted that colleges may not be equipped to handle such cases.

My problem with the article does not lie in these questions. My problem lies in the biased reporting Dorment uses that gives voice and credibility to defensiveness while simultaneously discrediting Jane. My problem lies in the narrative Dorment created for John. And finally, my problem lies in the conflation of the roles of the criminal justice system and college administrations.

By putting in subtle details such as the way John “sips” his chai latte, his night full of “possibility”, or the innocent zit above his upper lip, Dorment paints a sympathetic portrait of John that male readers can identify with. In doing so, Dorment creates a platform for men to react defensively to the information he puts forward, which is ultimately unproductive.

In contrast, he breezes over the aspects of the case that gives credibility to Jane’s side, such as the aggressive nature of John’s texts (“Get the fuck back here”). Most importantly, John’s idea of consent, “If someone’s incapacitated, if someone’s passed out, [they] can’t give consent,” contradicts the college’s policy of consent which explicitly states (and which Dorment left out in his citation of Occidental’s definition of incapacitation), “If there is any doubt as to the level or extent of the other individual’s intoxication or impairment, the prudent course of action is to forgo or cease any sexual contact or activity.”

Dorment also solely interviewed John. Jane’s voice is almost entirely missing from the article, yet John’s thoughts on every step of the case are included. Thus, Dorment’s piece ultimately serves as the “boy’s” side on the issue of sexual assault that women and men should fight collectively to combat.

Dorment also confuses the roles of a college and a criminal justice system in dealing with sexual assault cases, arguing that Occidental’s biased system, rather than a sound, universal standard of sexual assault reporting, found John guilty.

“The criminal burden of proof proved too high a barrier for Jane to meet, but the college’s lower preponderance standard delivered the desired outcome for her,” Dorment said. “And John’s expulsion, with a potential mark on his transcript for sexual assault, is likely to result in a life of diminished opportunity.”

Dorment’s criticisms of the faulty, questionable ways that Occidental handled the Jane/John Doe case—such as having all female witnesses and only one adjudicator—are valid. Yet, I do not agree that Jane’s “proof” should have to meet the criminal standard.

The reason the standard of preponderance is lower is because the criminal justice system and colleges are not able to enact the same level of punishment: the criminal justice system can imprison while a college administration can only expel. Furthermore, John is now enrolled in another institution of higher education, which does not reflect “a life of diminished opportunity” and which glaringly discredits the entire point of Dorment’s article.

“When people think of due process, they typically think of the right to have an attorney, if you’re a criminal defendant. Those are not the rights you get in an administrative process,” Title IX Coordinator Ruth Jones said. “The reason why is the rights that you get are measured by what’s at stake. If you’re going to lose your liberty, you get the highest rights that can be afforded to you.”

Since the release of the 2011 “Dear colleague” letter, colleges are mandated to respond in an effective manner to sexual assault cases. Dorment raises good a point when he says the criminal justice system may be “better trained” and “better funded” to deal with sexual assault cases. However, as of now, there is no question whether it is a college’s role to respond.

In a real-life example of relations between men and women today, when I voiced my concern about the article’s bias to a few of my guy friends, they shared with me that they interpreted the article as simply fact. This kind of reading is worrisome. We need to read between the lines. Instead of answering the question that the article set out to answer regarding the state of relations between men and women, the article further polarizes men and women over this issue.

It is not helpful to think about sexual assault as men against women or women against men. We can and should all grapple with defining the abstract concepts of “consent,” and “incapacitation,” so as to better understand the current systems put in place to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Dorment mentions a few of the many different definitions of “incapacitation,” and the multitude of definitions in itself can make creating policies to combat sexual assault a difficult task. Instead of pointing fingers or getting defensive, let’s all engage critically in asking ourselves questions that can better the system instead of just slamming it.



  1. Dear Oxy,

    When the college sexual assault controversy broke at Oxy, many rightfully criticized the powers that be for viewing women as liars, and unjustly blaming women. The institutional dismissal of women was horrifying. But now, I firmly believe the Occidental administration and a large population of the student body is guilty of holding the same assumptions against men. Sweeping judgements (against any gender) are wrong. I would have expected the Esquire piece to receive a great deal of attention at Oxy given its history with Title IX issues, its promotion of critical discourse, and the fact that the article was posted on a major national news outlet. Ms. Drinkard’s article, “Esquire feature reveals the media’s inherent bias and tendency to finger-point in sexual assault coverage,” is seemingly the only discussion I have heard or seen regarding the Esquire piece at Oxy. I am writing this letter in hopes of bringing this issue into the light and sparking a meaningful discussion of the work.

    While Ms. Drinkard’s article provides an interesting analysis of Richard Dorment’s Esquire piece, “Occidental Justice,” I feel her criticism misses the intent and importance of the work. The Esquire article is a piece of journalism that contradicts a great deal of popular sentiment surrounding sexual assault on college campuses and provides a valuable addition to the conversation on gender relations that Ms. Drinkard claims it undermines. People should be willing to concede that some men accused of sexual assault might actually be innocent. Yet, I feel the narratives of Joshua Strange, the five accused men at UVA, the accused in the Colombia Mattress case, and John Doe are not given serious consideration (if any) by the Oxy community. Yes, the author undisputedly attempts to humanize our John Doe. Yes, Jane Doe’s voice is relatively smaller (although by no means absent) than John Doe’s. And yes, Dorment does aggressively criticize the Occidental Title IX procedures. I know people who have come out on both sides of the Title IX process and have seen how it impacted their lives. I understand that it is one of the most serious matters facing young people today. However, given my experience, I believe the Weekly article is too quick to dismiss the Esquire piece as one-sided, and wrongfully accuses Dorment of finger-pointing just because he chose to play devil’s advocate for a male narrative that was previously suppressed.

    One of my major concerns with the Weekly piece is Ms. Drinkard’s criticism of Dorment’s diction for being “sympathetic.” If Dorment’s narrative is accurate, I ask if John Doe is not worthy of some sympathy. Much of the language surrounding the college sexual assault policy tends to demonize the accused in the Title IX process, and, for that matter, men in general. A former Occidental professor even claimed that THE MAJORITY of college men are “calculated predators.” I think much of the Oxy student body and, as proved by the quote above, even professors, resonate in this sentiment whether they recognize it or not. While they might not overtly view men as such, I sense a general assumption that men in Title IX cases are assumed guilty before the verdict, and there is an underlying FEAR to suggest otherwise.
    The accused are also people with feelings, families, histories, and perspectives that should not be silenced. These cases have massive impacts on both parties involved. I don’t believe the general community takes this into consideration when making judgments on individuals involved in these cases.

    Ms. Drinkard also points out the “aggressive nature” of John Doe’s text message “Get the f*** back here.” However, in criticizing Dorment’s decision to not highlight this text, I feel she makes some assumptions of her own. The text is aggressive, but given the entirety of the John/Jane text conversation and the circumstances that night, I don’t believe it is grounds to make substantial judgments on John Doe’s guilt, innocence, rightness, or wrongness.
    Theory concerning gender and sexuality equates masculinity with aggression and domination, and Ms. Drinkard’s criticism demonstrates this line of thought. I myself have taken numerous courses deconstructing gender norms and relations and believe the discourse provides a vital elucidation of social relationships and paves the way for real progress toward quality. However, I think this theory is now being indiscriminately applied to indict people in John Doe’s situation on the basis of their inherent masculinity (as heterosexual men) and, in doing so, often misrepresents real events. At the end of the day, theory is just theory, and no matter how deeply rooted in reality it might be, an individual or interaction should not be viewed totally through any one lens. While critical analysis of gender is important to solving the issues that face our society today, equating an aggressive text with presumed guilt exemplifies how gender based assumptions can lead toward “man-blaming” just as easily as “victim-blaming.” In addition, I don’t think that Dorment “glazed over” the fact that John’s definition of incapacitation contradicted Oxy’s definition as Ms. Drinkard suggests. To me, his inclusion of this contradiction demonstrates that the new Oxy Title IX policy and procedure is written so that the outcomes of cases are left to the subjectivity of the accuser. In the policy, the line between incapacitated and not incapacitated is extremely vague, and consequently, an enormous burden is placed on the individual (read man) to determine the other’s sobriety or lack thereof. As the Weekly article points out, the language in Occidental’s sexual conduct policy tells students to not engage in questionable sexual encounters. I agree. If a student questions the other’s sobriety they should not engage in sexual relations. But what if both parties are too incapacitated to make good decisions? Why should the male get punished in cases where both parties truly are incapable of making a judgment on the other’s sobriety? Why should we assume the complete innocence of the female and the complete guilt of the male? To me, that is also “inherent bias” and “finger pointing.”

    I feel as though our fear of victim blaming has made us unwilling to place ANY responsibility on the accusers whatsoever. I think Dorment is trying to remind us that drunk sexual encounters can be far from black and white, but Oxy’s treatment of ALL sexual assault cases as such is problematic. Due to the vagueness of the policy and the trends of public opinion, the difference between sexual assault and mutual drunken mistakes is being eroded. Based on my knowledge of John Doe’s case, the label sexual assault seems like a massive overstatement of his deeds. A rape is a rape, a sexual assault is a sexual assault, and a great number of booze and drug-fueled sexual encounters are neither of these and should not labeled as such.

    While my discussion above is more concerned with general attitudes and opinions, I think the central importance of Dorment’s piece is his criticism of the current Title IX policy. While Oxy’s policy often does the right thing, it, and other colleges with similar policies, casts such an enormous net that many innocents are getting caught up in the crossfire. We should not take lightly that 28 Harvard Law professors, including self-proclaimed feminists, wrote a letter criticizing their institution’s Title IX proceedings, which as it happens, are extremely similar to Oxy’s. Despite the Occidental community’s venture to characterize the sexual assault controversy as masculine vs. feminine, man vs. women, oppressor vs. oppressed, etc… I believe Dorment’s piece really speaks to the dichotomy of just vs. unjust.

    I will agree that colleges should have a right to take adjudicate sexual assaults if, and only if, they grant due process rights to the accused. I will grant that a number of the men found guilty in Title IX cases are worthy of disdain. I could never forgive or condone some of the things I hear in the news. However, I also cannot forgive or condone a woman who unjustly labels a man as a sexual assaulter (read rapist), with little to no consideration of the consequences it will have on him. For the accused at Oxy, vast substantive differences in sexual encounters are now condensed into one category – sexual assault. As outlined in the Esquire piece, Title IX accusations lead to nearly an automatic expulsion for the accused, which will mark their records and psyche for the rest of their lives. In cases where the accused are truly innocent, or cases like John Doe where any sort of ambiguity is made irrelevant by vague policy language, the Title IX proceedings are stacked extraordinarily high against these men.
    Among the various policy issues outlined by Dorment, the most striking is Occidental’s use of the low standard of “preponderance of evidence”. More importantly, from the narrative described in the John Doe’s case and other situations I am aware of, I question whether Title IX offices even live up to this level of fairness. While women should, without a doubt, be encouraged to report if they believe they have been sexually assaulted, the current policies at Oxy and similar institutions are leading to what I would call unfair outcomes in some cases such as John Doe’s.

    That is why I protest Ms. Drinkard’s labeling of the Esquire piece as merely defending the “boy’s” side. I think the logic of choosing sides is exactly what Dorment was fighting against. So much rhetoric in the Occidental community frantically supports accusers and the Title IX process, but it seems that nobody is willing to criticize the sensationalism (i.e. Gloria Allred, Colombia Mattress demonstration, UVA Rolling Stone reporting) of sexual assault and the inconsistencies and inequalities of the ideas and policies that followed. The Esquire article does exactly this. To me, calling the Esquire piece biased is to discredit John Doe as a person whose life will be forever changed because of one mistake in which both he and Jane Doe appear to be equally complicit. I wish Occidental’s community, which claims to promote diverse viewpoints, would be willing to take criticism where criticism is due, and not blindly defend the steps it has made so far. While the severity of Oxy’s policy and the increased vigilance of the student population are paramount steps toward creating a safe environment on college campuses by disincentavising behavior that is predatory, malignant, and in accordance with “rape culture,” that does not mean the new status quo has not created its own set of flaws.

    The whole point of the movement against sexual assault was to create harmony between genders, but I feel it is pushing us apart. I feel, and sense in others (of all genders), a constant state of fear, disdain, accusation, defensiveness, and conflict. I feel the pendulum of public opinion and institutional prejudice concerning sexual assault on college campuses, especially at Occidental, has shifted from being biased against women to being biased against men. Dorment’s piece represents a movement back toward the center.
    I desperately hope we can one day reach a middle ground where people are treated as individuals and not viewed entirely as products of gender norms, but seriously doubt it will happen any time soon. I implore everyone to deeply consider their own biases and assumptions – I know I am not without my own.

    -Anonymous Oxy Student

  2. “Dorment also solely interviewed John. Jane’s voice is almost entirely missing from the article, yet John’s thoughts on every step of the case are included.”

    He is a Journalist and of course also wanted to talk to her.
    She refused.
    Taking your “reading between the lines” advice t is pretty much obvious why.
    I surely hope John Doe wins his lawsuit against Occidental.

  3. The article did not blame Jane for anything. All it did was cite what was in the official investigation, which is that she initiated sex and did consent.

    At issue is how the university handled these facts. They nullified that consent on the basis of her intoxication and held the John responsible for not being able to determine she was too drunk. Of note, more sober classmates also felt she was there willingly and when the checked on her did not see anything they thought constituted sexual assault. The school also demonstrated a double standard by not investigating the woman under the same rules they applied to the male.

    This is a poor case to champion as an example of how poorly women are treated in these matters. By defending how Occidental College handled this, you are going against the grain of basic logic and fairness. Future cases now carry the taint of these overtly biased proceedings.


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