Louis Theroux tackles sexual assault on campus

Róise McGagh

Louis Theroux’s new documentary ‘The Night in Question’ looks at sexual assault on university campuses in the US, the debate on consent and the power of accusations.

It aired on 9pm 4 Mar 2019 on BBC Two and is definitely a classic must see work of the journalist’s.

Theroux follows suspended Yale neuroscience student named Saif Khan. He was accused of raping another student. He was found not guilty in criminal court but, at the start of the documentary is still going through a trial by the university almost two years after suspension.

In the US under Obama, there was pressure put on universities to have a stricter code of sexual conduct amongst students due to rising level of reports of sexual assault and rape. This was done under the Title IX law that stops discrimination based on gender in education.

In consequence accusations of sexual misconduct are taken very seriously and investigated. These have the power to exclude those they deem responsible and require a lower standard of evidence than the criminal courts.

Students accused of sexual misconduct found innocent in criminal court but guilty by Title IX investigations are beginning to sue the universities under that same law.

Theroux goes through Saifs story, how he came to the US on a scholarship and ended up in limbo due to the drawn out university investigation. He talks to his lawyer from the criminal case and his Yale case to build a picture of what had happened up until now.

He looks into whether investigations are overreaching in their power, as is claimed by the Trump administration as is soon to be changed.

There was uproar on Twitter when the documentary aired, in particular when Saif says he thought the victim was ‘just buzzed’ and not too drunk despite her vomiting twice in front of him.

Saif himself seems like a calculated and intelligent individual from the beginning. Theroux interviews a close friend of his from the support group Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE) for those affected by Title IX Campus Disciplinary Processes.

This friend John Adams, reveals some shocking information that shows Saif in a less innocent light.

In a typical Louis fashion his face shows his shock, anger and compassion in each of the interviews. He puts difficult questions to Saif with a stiff face, who stumbles with a response that is summed up by the line “We are not entertaining the fact that she could have lied.”

Theroux also interviews a man from New Jersey who was stuck suspended from college after accusations of sexual assault from a friend and the difficulties it has caused him. He interviews a victim of sexual assault who had turned her experience into a thesis and an art piece, and another Mollie Johnson, who has never before told her story publicly.

Mollie tells of how the university sanctions allowed her to finish her studies with piece of mind after she was raped in Delta Cappa Epsilon, which before it was shut down has 10 allegations of sexual assault. She went on to be a Legal Analyst at McAllister Olivarius in the UK which specilises in aiding people in cases of sexual harassment at universities.

The documentary shows all the aspects of the conversation in the US about consent in universities. The increase in classes, the seriousness of which allegations are now taken, the empowerment that has been brought through campaigns on sexual assault and rape, how the investigations can be overreaching and sometimes destructive but seem necessary to stop a long and deep bred culture of silence.


Róise McGagh


Image Credit: radiotimes