Fabricated rape allegations — the type where someone falsely accuses another person of rape just to hurt that person — are statistically rare. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that between 2 and 10 percent of sexual assault allegations are made up, and women's rights activists say the few high-profile fake accusations discourage real survivors of sexual assault from reporting crimes.
So when University of Miami students rallied around Angela Cameron, who accused then-fellow student David Jia of rape in 2014, few expected that portions of Cameron's story would unravel and help lead to the ousting of an associate dean and a well-regarded but unofficial campus rape counselor. Now the ordeal has also led to a lawsuit.
This past Tuesday, Jia formally sued Cameron, the university's former rape counselor and women's and gender studies professor Dr. Katharine Westaway, and Tony Lake, the university's director of judicial affairs, for negligence, Title IX violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and other claims.
"Due to a complete lack of evidence, no charges were brought against David Jia by the South Miami Police Department," the suit says. "Notwithstanding the foregoing, the University made the decision to charge David Jia with violations of the University's student handbook policies and procedures for sexual conduct with respect to Angela Cameron."
Reached via phone, Cameron declined to comment, adding that she had not yet been served with the complaint. Jia's lawyer did not respond to multiple requests from New Times yesterday, and a University of Miami spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Reached via phone, Westaway declined to comment.
Sexual assault advocates and civil rights experts have long debated whether universities should issue their own punishment for allegations of criminal conduct such as rape. Universities require less evidence than courts to substantiate claims of sexual violence, and some critics have said the university trial system violates students' due-process rights. But schools began conducting their own sexual assault investigations because police have historically treated sexual assault victims poorly, and only 1 percent of rapists are punished.
Schools are now under the microscope for treating women poorly: As of 2015, 106 schools were under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault claims. And in rare instances, situations such as Jia's also arise.
Jia alleges he was railroaded out of school after being falsely accused of rape. Cameron alleged Jia had raped her while she was drunk and unconscious in 2014. The suit says the two students met during an acting class and were assigned to act out a scene from the play The Blue Room in which a prostitute falls in love with a cab driver. The suit says the pair began having consensual sex in March of that year.
But on April 11, Cameron alleged that Jia raped her. Little hard evidence from that night exists: South Miami Police declined to investigate the case, citing a lack of evidence, but Jia maintains the pair simply engaged in drunken, but consensual, sex. Two witnesses — Jia's roomates — said they were in Jia's apartment when the alleged sex occurred, and they backed up Jia's claims that the sex was consensual in affidavits attached to the lawsuit.
The suit instead alleges that Cameron instead fabricated claims of rape hours after she learned that Jia had not invited her to a party and was likely cutting ties with her.
Though the details of that night will forever depend upon witness testimony, other portions of Cameron's story have since been proven demonstrably false, casting doubt on her side of the narrative. Cameron alleged Jia had twisted her wrist and beaten her in two April 2015 incidents. But Coral Gables Police determined Jia was not in town that week in April. Then-UM President Donna Shalala publicly called the beating allegations "unfounded."
The suit also says a medical examiner studied bruises on Cameron's body and determined the wounds to have been self-inflicted.
Police also had separately accused Cameron of falsifying pregnancy tests during an encounter with a different student in 2014.
But event though law enforcement declined to prosecute Jia, the university kicked him out of school for a semester. In the suit, Jia alleges that Lake, the university judicial dean, screamed at Jia during the disciplinary hearings and acted as if he believed Jia to be guilty. The suit alleges Lake also confused the dates that Jia's two witnesses would be available to testify on Jia's behalf, resulting in neither being called to defend him.
On April 24, Cameron filed for a restraining order against Jia, which prevented him from visiting campus at the same time as his accuser. Jia also says Westaway, the rape counselor, circulated petitions demanding Jia be expelled. Westaway ran the popular organization Canes Consent on the UM campus; students who'd been sexually assaulted visited her regularly for support and advice on dealing with law enforcement. The suit says she helped orchestrate a protest at graduation just as police said some of Cameron's claims didn't check out.
The university declined to renew Westaway's contract in 2016. The university did not say she was fired for her conduct in Jia's case, but a top university official who asked to remain anonymous told New Times in February that her "poor judgment" during the ordeal led to her termination. Westaway said she had helped 37 students who were victims of sexual assault; one student last year told New Times that she'd been raped by a fraternity brother on campus and that Westaway's Canes Consent group gave her the courage to speak out about her assault.
All in all, the case is another black eye for the university's handling of sexual assault allegations. Former UM philosophy professor Colin McGinn was at the center of another uproar when he was accused of sexually harassing a female student. He resigned in 2013, and the school was sued two years later.
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