At Temple, Collateral Damage in the Fight Against College Sexual Violence

The case of Praise Martin-Oguike is a clear example of activism gone awry, and proof that due process is needed more than ever.

Praise Martin-Oguike

Praise Martin-Oguike

Last week, President Obama made a big splashy show of announcing the formation of a task force to fight the “epidemic” of sexual violence on college campuses. He dragged out all the leaky old statistics that activists have been tossing around for years even though they fly in the face of common sense. (Would any father let his daughter attend a school where one in five female students actually got raped?)

There’s no doubt this is a touchy topic. There’s no doubt too many women have their lives ruined by sexual assault. But in the rush to protect them from the stampede of frothing male attackers, there’s collateral damage. The tale of Praise Martin-Oguike at Temple is proof of that.

At first blush, Praise’s story seems so familiar as to be clichéd: College football player is accused by female student of raping her after she refuses his advances in his dorm room. College football player is arrested last May and charged with crimes that include rape, false imprisonment and reckless endangerment. College football player is summarily dismissed from the team and the university.

But then his case takes a twist. When it comes to trial in court in October, on the very first day, all charges against him are thrown out after his attorney introduces into evidence text messages that shows the relationship and the “rape” were consensual — that, in fact, the woman only accused Praise of rape after he refused to become her steady boyfriend.

Too bad his photo and name have already been plastered all over the news: Football player rapist! Part of that epidemic! Steubenville! Notre Dame! Jameis Winston! Rape: It’s what football players do! So why shouldn’t Temple have kicked him out of school and off the team without any evidence beyond his accuser’s word that he’d done anything wrong — hell, without so much as a hearing before its own Student Conduct Panel? Didn’t dean of students Stephanie Ives say, in regard to such situations, “It doesn’t matter to the university what a criminal charge is”?

Two days before President Obama’s task-force announcement, on January 20th, Praise Martin-Oguike finally got that Student Conduct Panel hearing regarding the charges for which he’d been expelled from his school and team. Months after the Philadelphia court cleared him, Temple did, too, finding him “not responsible” for sexual assault. No one from Temple’s administration or athletic department would comment publicly on his case.

Praise is enrolling in classes for the spring semester, and hopes he’ll be able to return to the football team. It’s hard to figure why he’d want to do either.

Several other Temple football players have been accused of sexual assault in recent years. In the impossibly wide net being cast by the Obama administration to combat sexual violence on college campuses, spurred on by a wave of student activism, more rapes and assaults will be reported. That’s a good thing. But when accusations of such crimes are made, they should be reported to police, so that rules of evidence and civil rights safeguards are adhered to for both parties, and not adjudicated by campus tribunals staffed by those same activist students, and professors and administrators painstakingly (and expensively) trained to believe the accuser’s side of things.

And in what universe does a school expel a student without even that rinky-dink kangaroo-court procedure? North Broad Street’s, I guess.

I hope what happened to Praise is rare — but the situation of a former St. Joe’s student is strikingly similar, right down to the text messages he says should have exonerated him in his judiciary panel hearing. He’s suing St. Joe’s, claiming the university violated his Title IX rights against discrimination on account of his gender in kicking him out of school. Those would be the same Title IX rights on account of which female students at Swarthmore, Yale, UConn and some 20 more colleges are pursuing federal complaints. It’s hard to imagine what the progeny of this double helix of pain and rancor will be. In President Obama’s view, it’s a safer campus atmosphere for women. The view’s not quite the same for Praise Martin-Oguike.

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