Domestic violence is a serious issue, and fighting it has become a nationwide crusade. But what happens when the system designed to protect victims creates them instead? Just ask 22-year-old Zoe Katz, a nationally-ranked USC tennis player, and her boyfriend, USC football kicker Matt Boermeester. Their university’s Title IX administrators recently doled out their justice to protect Ms. Katz – kicking Matt out of class and off the team – despite all her assertions that he did nothing wrong.
Apparently, Matt and Zoe were roughhousing in the yard when a friendly – but nosy – neighbor thought the two athletes were in a real fight. The witness told a roommate, who then informed a USC coach. The story then made its way to the school’s Title IX office as a possible abuse case. Almost immediately – and apparently without even a preliminary investigation –the administration suspended Matt Boermeester from his football team and booted him out of his classes. Katz claimed that her boyfriend did nothing wrong and that he did not hurt her:
“I have never been abused, assaulted or otherwise mistreated by Matt,” she said in a statement. “He is an incredible person, and I am and have been 100% behind him. Nothing happened that warranted an investigation, much less the unfair, biased and drawn out process that we have been forced to endure quietly.”
Ms. Katz said that investigators ignored her repeated denials and called her a “battered woman” who only wanted to protect her abuser. “When I told the truth about Matt, in repeated interrogations, I was stereotyped and was told I must be a ‘battered’ woman, and that made me feel demeaned and absurdly profiled,” she said. “I understand that domestic violence is a terrible problem, but in no way does that apply to Matt and me.”
Despite the numerous attempts to clear her beau’s name, the officials would not relent. Ms. Katz remained quiet publicly until recently for fear of retaliation from the Title IX investigators. She released a statement last week against the Title IX office and its conduct. She claimed that Mr. Boermeester never had a chance and that he had been banned from classes without even being interviewed. He had only two courses left before graduation and was forbidden to take them anywhere else. He’d also undergone surgery two weeks before and was no longer allowed to rehabilitate his knee with the school’s trainers. Additionally, Mr. Boermeester was forbidden by restraining order to even to speak to Ms. Katz.
“Words, including mine, have been incompetently or intentionally misrepresented, misquoted and taken out of context, which should not be that surprising since no statements were recorded or verified,” Katz said.
Title IX is regulated by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) – one of Barack Obama’s last projects before leaving office. The goal was to be tougher on discrimination in education and to protect victims of violent and sexual abuse. However, some feel the administration gave too much power to Title IX investigators. The acting head of OCR, Candice Jackson, said the program takes a “gotcha” approach:
The OCR treats “every complaint as a fishing expedition through which our field investigators have been told to keep searching until you find a violation rather than go where the evidence takes them,” she said.
“… simply talking or writing about a Title IX inquiry can get a student or professor accused of violating Title IX policies.”
That certainly seems to be the case here. What was allegedly nothing more than a little flirtatious play between pro athletes – people accustomed to rough play – turned into a witch hunt that might destroy at least one promising career. Ms. Katz said in her statement: “I will not permit anyone to portray me as a victim, I am not.”
USC is not backing down from their actions. The school stated that it “stands by its investigation” and that “student disciplinary records are confidential. If the students involved waive their confidentiality rights, the university will offer a detailed response.”
In many cases, it can be difficult to convince an abused woman to come forward and accuse her abuser. It’s understandable that the school would want to make sure any alleged victims were comfortable enough and safe enough to confide. However, “convicting” someone of abuse when the reported victim adamantly refutes the accusation should require a considerable amount of solid evidence. Certainly, mere hearsay based on the word of one witness should not be enough to overshadow the denial of the supposedly abused. The tale was told to at least two other people before it even reached the Title IX office, but apparently, the administration didn’t require an actual investigation before taking disciplinary action. Is this enough to destroy a couple of young lives and at least one promising career?