He said it was consensual. She said she was too drunk to consent, and it wasn’t. But unlike most accusations at college, Yale in this case, the matter was tried in real court.
Mr. Khan’s lawyers worked relentlessly to discredit the account of the woman, who was not identified by name in the arrest warrant application. They asked repeatedly how much she had to drink, and how she could claim not to remember certain details, such as how she arrived back at her dorm room, but remembered others, such as the alleged assault itself. They parsed her text messages with Mr. Khan, asking if she had not been flirting with him in the days before the incident. They showed off her Halloween costume, a black cat outfit, and asked her why she had not chosen a more modest one, such as “Cinderella in a long flowing gown.”
This quote, from a news article about the trial, curiously reflects the writer’s view. Was the victim discredited or was the truth revealed by confrontation, the way the system is supposed to work?
Laura Palumbo, a spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, called the defense’s line of questioning “all victims’ worst fears in coming forward.”
It’s also the false accusers’ “worst fears in coming forward,” that their accusations will be revealed as false.
“It is very intentionally working to trigger victim-blaming and stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual assault,” she said. “You must be interested in sexual behavior just based on how you’re dressed and drinking.”
In real court, facts matter more than narratives designed to provide an excuse for every failure. The “victim’s worst fears,” indeed. Saifullah Khan was acquitted of all charges.
In an interview after the verdict, Norman Pattis,* a lawyer for Mr. Khan, said he had tried to challenge “the outer limits of the #MeToo movement,” which he called “a form of mass hysteria.”
For the woke lawyers who would never consider challenging the accusations of a woman claiming victimhood against your client, Norm did what he was supposed to do, and did it well. In a climate framed by the “believe the victim” narrative and an excuse for remembering, whether too much or too little, which invariably leads to conviction regardless of the testimony, the jury reached the verdict of not guilty. So the nightmare for Khan is over? Not quite yet.
In light of this legal verdict, Khan’s lawyer said that Yale should readmit Khan after he was suspended in November 2015, three days before his arrest. The lawyer, Norm Pattis, said the University should “right that wrong” and welcome Khan back into the community.
Khan was a grad student at Yale when he was accused on Halloween, 2015. He was suspended and hasn’t been back.
Readmitting Khan would be a grievous mistake, as using legal standards of “not guilty” do not apply in a private community like Yale. Legal acquittal does not mean “innocence.” It does not mean that Khan did not engage in deeply dubious sexual conduct. It just means that a jury could not find that this sexual behavior was, to their eyes, rape beyond a reasonable doubt.
It’s curious that Yale Senior Amelia Nierenberg writes “to their eyes.” They were the jury. They were the people who sat and listened to the words, watched the demeanor, of the accuser. She can be forgiven for being wrong when she says “Legal acquittal does not mean “innocence,” as her lack of precision by failing to say doesn’t “prove” innocence is a common misperception of the law.
Khan was innocent. Every accused defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Khan was not proven guilty and remains innocent. Much as some want to argue that the presumption of innocence is a legal technicality, it reflects a choice society has made, that people aren’t witches because little girls point at them and scream, and the witches must then prove they’re not.
Nierenberg may not care for the presumption, may prefer guilt as the starting point (at least when it comes to sexual assault), but she doesn’t get to reinvent the law to suit her consequences. Not that she seems to think so.
Fortunately, a courtroom and a college community have different standards of proof. Here, the question is not, “Is this person absolutely guilty?” Instead, the question is more, “Has this person acted in such a way that their right to continued participation in our community is forfeit?”
To my eyes, the answer to the second question is, resoundingly, “Yes. His place here is forfeit.”
And in juxtaposition to the jurors, who heard testimony, saw demeanor, Nierenberg has the hubris to write about the outcome to her eyes. An acquittal at trial, to her eyes, means guilty, and she deems herself worthy to declare that an innocent man’s place at Yale is “forfeit.”
This problem extends far beyond the bounds of this one man or this one night. Just because the courts have found this example of sexual misconduct one in which the participant was “not guilty” does not mean it is acceptable or that Khan is innocent. He is not. And he — along with everyone else found to have a preponderance of evidence of sexual misconduct — should not be allowed back on our campus.
Except Khan was never found to have committed sexual misconduct, by any standard of proof, except by people like Nierenberg who point and scream witch, who rationalize why their complete absence of actual knowledge is irrelevant to wrongdoing, and why the narrative in which they believe so dearly matters more than anything else.
On the campus of Yale, Khan is guilty whether he’s convicted or acquitted. If the consequence of a criminal prosecution doesn’t lead to a verdict of guilty, then it’s the system at fault. Once accused, the taint of guilt will always remain. It was that way at Columbia for Paul Nungesser. It will be that way at Yale for Saifullah Khan. Once accused, there is no innocence, even after the jury acquits.
*While I haven’t mentioned Norm in a very long time, for reasons well known to long-time readers, Norm got the acquittal here, and for that deserves the recognition that comes with a successful defense.
Edit: Curiously, a Google search of my old post, “A Book Unreviewed: Norm Pattis (Update),” fails to show its existence.
I wonder what that “www_riskeraser_com” on the end of the link means? I wonder how much Norm had to pay to get my post delisted from Google. I hope it wasn’t too much.