US politician Earl Ehrhart sues the government for mistreating students accused of rape

By Olivia Lambert

Earl Ehrhart believes some men are misjudged and thinks colleges are coming down too hard on those who have been blamed for sexual attacks on campus.

Mr Ehrhart thinks colleges are ruining the futures of alleged rapists and he said investigations within colleges are biased and judge the accused as guilty until proven innocent.

He is a politician in the state of Georgia, and even sued the government for forcing colleges to deal with rapes in a stricter manner.

New government rules pushed colleges to punish students before the conclusion of a police investigation, and were encouraged to deem the accused responsible for incidents, even if there was little evidence to prove it.

Mr Ehrhart's stance is certainly controversial but he's not the only one to sue the government based on these strict rules - some men accused of sexual assault are also suing because they believe their university did not hold a fair investigation.

The court actions come as new light is being shone on the issue of campus rapes.

Brock Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to six months in jail for raping a woman behind a garbage bin at a frat party at Stanford University.

Brandon Vandenburg, of Vanderbilt University, was found guilty of multiple counts of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery and was convicted of one count of unlawful photography.

He was accused of dragging a cheerleader towards a dorm room three years ago with some football buddies, It was a gang rape so horrific it involved water bottles, physical assaults and urination.

Brandon Vandenburg listens during his rape trial. Photo / AP
Brandon Vandenburg listens during his rape trial. Photo / AP

Taking college rape seriously

In March 2011, an undergraduate at Yale, Alexandra Brodsky, was fighting to end the rape culture at universities.

Ms Brodsky, along with 15 other students, claimed Yale had a sexually hostile environment and didn't follow-up on complaints properly.

She was raped the night of a freshman dance during her first year of college, by a man she thought was her friend.

She said Yale tried to cover up her assault and told her not to tell anybody and she started to fight against the silencing of victims.

In April 2011, the US Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights wrote a letter to colleges relating to Title IX, a federal law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities.

"Sexual harassment of students, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX," the letter states.

It defines sexual violence as physical acts perpetrated against a person's will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the use of drugs or alcohol.

"An individual also may be unable to give consent due to an intellectual or other disability," the letter said.

The department said the statistics on sexual violence were "deeply troubling" and the National Institute of Justice found that one in five women became victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault while in college.

The letter said schools were obligated to respond to sexual violence.

"If a school knows or reasonably should know about student-on-student harassment that creates a hostile environment, Title IX requires the school to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects," it said.

The Office of Civil Rights said it was not acceptable for a school to leave it up to alleged victims and perpetrators to work out the problem themselves.

It also said schools should not wait for the conclusion of a criminal investigation and should protect students immediately.

These reviewed guidelines could see more people accused of rape expelled from college.

Under Title IX, a college can go ahead with its investigation without the accused having a lawyer to defend them.

Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer, received six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Photo / AP
Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer, received six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Photo / AP

Was the government wrong?

Mr Ehrhart and his wife Virginia sued the US Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights just two months ago.

Mr Ehrhart said more students at college were being branded as rapists as a result of the letter telling schools to crack down on sexual assault.

Court documents show Mr Ehrhart was concerned his son, like another male college student, could be wrongly accused of rape and harshly punished by his college.

The politician was worried the family could lose the money saved for his son's tuition and the son's reputation and career prospects could be damaged.

Court documents show colleges have been spending millions on counsellors, lawyers and other officials to deal with the growing number of campus rape complaints.

Mr Ehrhart, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, also claimed these new guidelines were an attempt to "micromanage student sex lives".

The politician claimed the government enforced the letter without following rule-making requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and threatened to not give funding to colleges who didn't abide by the new guidelines.

State colleges and universities in Georgia will now amend sexual misconduct codes next month to protect students accused of rape.

According to Mother Jones, these amendments will give the accused rights to a lawyer, to present evidence and defend them and put a stop to any bias.

Georgia Tech is the main university Mr Ehrhart is fighting and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the college has expelled or suspended nearly every student accused of sexual misconduct in the last five years.

Earl Ehrhart is looking at whether the schools are doing enough to protect the rights of students accused of sexual assault. Photo / AP
Earl Ehrhart is looking at whether the schools are doing enough to protect the rights of students accused of sexual assault. Photo / AP

Sexual assault claims

A college student accused of sexually assaulting a woman on campus is also suing the government for how it dealt with it.

Court documents identify him only as "John Doe" and his alleged victim as "Jane Roe".

On March 6 last year, the victim filed a complaint against Mr Doe for allegedly assaulting her on August 23 in 2013 at the University of Virginia.

She alleged that she drank alcohol and could not properly give sexual consent but Mr Doe said she did not appear intoxicated on the night.

Mr Doe was two months off graduating and was going to start a job in Washington at a law firm.

Mr Doe's degree was withheld during an investigation into the sexual assault, which lasted nearly a year.

He could not start his job without his degree.

In January this year, an adjudicator for the college, a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, found Mr Doe responsible based off "weak" evidence.

The retired justice said evidence before her made it "slightly more likely than not" that Mr Doe did not get proper consent from the alleged victim.

As punishment, Mr Doe did four months of counselling and received a lifetime ban from college property and activities.

He received his degree in March but he is not yet a member of the Virginia State Bar and can't practice law or "meet his financial obligations".

The graduate filed his own lawsuit against the Department of Education last week.

He said guidelines from that 2011 letter were orders improperly imposed on universities.

Mother Jones reports Mr Ehrhart started fighting for those accused of sexual assault after he received a phone call from a mother whose son was expelled from Georgia Tech in April 2015 for an alleged sexual assault.

The accusation came months after the alleged incident.

"He was robbed of his past and future, labelled and marked for the rest of his life," the mother said the Ehrhart.

"We as a family have been living a nightmare."

- news.com.au

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