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Title IX gives universities greater latitude to punish students accused of sexual assault

Suspicion about the cause of Michael Dixon Jr.'s suspension from the Missouri basketball team has risen since an MU woman accused him of sexual assault.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 | 6:12 p.m. CST; updated 6:57 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 2, 2012

COLUMBIA — Michael Dixon Jr. appears to be clear of criminal charges related to a rape accusation by a fellow MU student. But recent changes in the interpretation of Title IX have prompted universities to take more aggressive action against students accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

The allegations against the senior guard on the Missouri basketball team first came to light on Twitter early Saturday after a woman tweeted that on Aug. 20 she was sexually assaulted by Dixon. On Tuesday, the Columbia Police Department released a report of the alleged offense, which detailed the woman's accusations against Dixon. The Boone County Prosecutor's office decided there wasn't enough evidence to make a case against him.

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Dixon, 21, was suspended indefinitely on Oct. 26 after coach Frank Haith announced that he had violated team policy. Haith said it was not a legal matter that was keeping Dixon on the bench.

But Dixon's continued suspension from the team has given rise to speculation that his conduct is being reviewed by the university.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits the university from disclosing whether Dixon's conduct is being reviewed by the student conduct board, according to Mary Jo Banken, executive director of MU News Bureau.

Noel English, director of MU’s Equity Office, said Wednesday that she could not comment directly on a specific student case. But she said university officials did not have the same burden of proof to find guilt as in a criminal prosecution, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A student conduct board would only have to find that it is more likely than not that a sexual assault occurred in order to take action against a student

English oversees Title IX issues on campus. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on college campuses based on gender. Title IX has been interpreted to include sexual harassment and sexual assault, which English said are considered forms of discrimination because they interfere with a student’s learning environment.

English said that in the past, students at other universities have alleged they have been raped and seen little action against the perpetrators by university authorities.

“After a number of those kinds of complaints, the Department of Education said, 'you know what, (the student conduct board) is not a criminal court, and your job is not to look at this as a criminal event,'" English said. "Your job is to look at this as sexual harassment.”  

On April 4, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a letter of guidance to universities which stipulated the obligations that educational institutions should meet when taking disciplinary action against students accused of sexual assault. 

The letter reads, “Police investigation may be useful for fact-gathering; but because the standards for criminal investigations are different, police investigations or reports are not determinative of whether sexual harassment or violence violates Title IX.”

It continues: “Conduct may constitute unlawful sexual harassment under Title IX even if the police do not have sufficient evidence of a criminal violation. In addition, a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.”

The woman who accused Dixon worried from the beginning that she wouldn't be taken seriously, partly because of Dixon's status on campus where he is "worshipped," according to an investigative report released by Columbia Police on Tuesday.

The woman, who is a sophomore at MU, told police she contacted her sisters in Chicago to ask them for their definition of rape. Both of her sisters told her they thought she'd been raped and worried it could happen again, though it's not clear from the report whether they worried for her or for other women with whom Dixon might have contact.

The woman who accused Dixon contacted the Missourian newsroom on Thanksgiving Day to talk about the allegations but ultimately decided that she did not want to reveal anything that she might regret. She said she wanted to speak with her family before speaking to the media.

Telephone calls on Tuesday and Wednesday to Dixon were not returned.

The offense and investigative reports also reveal that Columbia Police never interviewed Dixon about the incident, though they equipped the woman's phone with a recording device and asked her to call Dixon from the Police Department and get him to talk about what happened that night. He never answered.

According to the investigative reports from the police, Dixon was accused of rape on Aug. 20, and the investigation was closed on Nov. 16 after Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Tracy Gonzalez concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Dixon.

The reports, which were redacted to remove the woman's name, show that police contacted the woman on Aug. 20 at around 11:30 p.m., after she called police to report she’d been sexually assaulted. She told police she'd been raped by Dixon at approximately 12:15 a.m. that morning. 

The woman then gave police an account of what happened. She said she had invited Dixon over to her apartment to get to know him better.

She said that when Dixon arrived, he asked her to turn off the lights because his “eyes hurt.” The woman then told Dixon that she didn’t feel comfortable turning off the lights, and Dixon told her to “just chill.” After a short argument, she turned off the lights.

Once the lights were off, she said, she and Dixon laid down on her bed and she tried to talk to him. She said that after a short time Dixon began kissing her and she kissed him back. She said that Dixon then stopped kissing her and got on top of her. She told police that she then told Dixon that she “did not want to do this but that she just wanted to kiss him.”  The report clarifies that by “this” she meant sex.

She said that Dixon once again told her to “just chill out” while he began to tug at her pajama bottoms. She said that she tried to hold her pants up and told Dixon that she did not want to have sex with him.

She said in the report that she tried to push him off her with her arms. She said Dixon didn't restrain her or hold her down. The woman told police that she then told Dixon “no, you don’t even have protection, this is disgusting.” She said that Dixon then pulled a condom out of his pocket and put it on.

The woman alleged that Dixon then penetrated her with his penis, causing her pain and making it impossible for her to move. She said that Dixon then asked her to turn over so that he could penetrate her from behind, which she said she did. She said the penetration lasted about 20 minutes. 

Police then asked if she ever tried to stop Dixon from having sex with her.

The woman told police that “she had just let it happen and she did not know why.” When asked if she felt any physical threat from Dixon, she said she “was not afraid of being struck or any physical contact from Dixon that might harm her other than what was happening at the moment.”

The woman states that after Dixon was finished, she put her pajama pants back on and he asked her angrily what she was doing.

She replied: “I’m putting my pants on because this was never supposed to happen in the first place.” 

She said that she then went to the bathroom, and when she returned Dixon asked her to perform oral sex on him. She said that she refused and then Dixon asked her to give him a "hand job."

The woman told police she complied until she believed he'd ejaculated. She said she didn't know why she did so.

Dixon then got dressed and left her apartment, she told police. About two minutes after he left, she said she sent him a text message saying that they should hang out and that she was sorry for yelling at him.  

During the incident the woman told police that she told Dixon that “all basketball athletes are alike, and they all like to have sex with all the girls,” the report states.

According to the report, the woman met Dixon at a fraternity party during St. Patrick’s Day weekend and danced with him. She described their relationship as “annoying” because she said Dixon would stand her up and only want to come over late at night. She believed that Dixon was trying to use her for sex, though they did not have sex until Aug. 20, she said. 

The woman told police that on Aug. 28, eight days after she contacted police about the incident, she sent Dixon a text message that said she was annoyed that Dixon was not texting her back and that she knew he was ignoring her, then called him an "asshole."  

According to the report, Dixon texted her back the next day. The woman provided police the cellphone text message conversation, though, she said she had deleted some of the texts. A transcription of their cellphone conversations shows that Dixon apologized, saying he hadn't been ignoring her and was just busy. She responded that she was sorry for calling him an asshole.

She then responded via text message, "I wanted to talk to you about when I last hung out with you. I just felt like you were using me. Like you didn't want to do anything else with me but have sex."

Dixon has been practicing and traveling with the team since his suspension. 

Mitchell Ferman contributed to this report

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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