On December 15, 2014, VICE Sports published a feature about a sexual assault case at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga involving a student wrestler, Corey Mock. The woman in the case, Molly Morris, told university administrators that Mock had raped her in March 2014. The two had attended a party, where, Morris said, she was going in and out of consciousness after consuming two drinks (she believes she was drugged, though there is no corroborating evidence beyond her fuzzy memory and how sick she got that night). Mock maintains that through her actions, Morris consented to sex.
The VICE Sports story documented the school's investigation and multiple hearings over the following months, which eventually found Mock in violation of its conduct code, resulting in his expulsion. At the time of publication, Mock, having exhausted his options within UTC, was appealing his expulsion with the Chancery court, a state court that expeditiously hears both criminal and civil cases, in Davidson County (Nashville). In the meantime, Mock was allowed, thanks to an injunction, to stay on campus and complete the coursework he needed to graduate, although he was barred from wrestling for the school's team.
The latest update to the case came last week. On Tuesday, August 4, Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled that UTC had not established a burden of proof and in fact had "erroneously shifted the burden of proof onto Mr. Mock." As a result, the court reinstated the school's initial finding that Mock had not violated its code of conduct, and reversed his expulsion.
Morris said that she is "really disappointed" by McCoy's decision.
"No one seems to have common knowledge of consensual sexual intercourse and non-consensual," Morris said. "It seems to just be a gray area that I think they needed to be educated on."
Mock, under advisement from his lawyer, is not talking to the media directly. Richard Tennent, Mock's attorney, emailed the following statement to VICE Sports: "Corey Mock is thankful that the original factual and legal determinations have been restored, and that the initial finding in his favor has been reinstated. He is especially thankful that this case received fair, impartial and diligent judicial review."
Whether consent was granted is often hard to establish in court cases, especially in cases where the only two witnesses are the accused and the complainant. Cases often hinge on this, with the accused claiming the complainant did give consent and the complainant denying they did. This contradiction makes the prosecution of these cases particularly difficult.
UTC's code of conduct states that "it is the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to ensure the other person is capable of consenting to that activity." During the hearing, McCoy ruled, it was not Mock's job to prove he ensured Morris's capability to consent but rather UTC's to prove he did not. This is, she wrote, "flawed and untenable if due process is to be afforded the accused." McCoy did suggest what it would take for the accused to adequately prove he had received affirmative consent under UTC's code: "a tape recording of a verbal consent or other independent means to demonstrate that consent was given."
For McCoy, Morris's inability to remember what happened to her that night was a major sticking point for UTC's case: "Ms. Morris could not remember whether she did or did not have sexual relations, except for the recollection of Mr. Mock on top of her, a strong pain, an effort to say 'ow' and Mr. Mock's hand attempting to quiet her. She stated that she did not consent to sexual relations." Still, McCoy continued, "Ms. Morris' inability to remember any other events in the bedroom does not bolster the fact-finder's ability to determine what other conduct occurred there."
"Ms. Morris repeatedly testified that she could not recall what happened except for some patches of time, none of which involved her recalling saying 'yes,'" McCoy wrote. "As noted by the UTC Chancellor, her silence does not constitute 'yes.' By the same reasoning, it does not constitute 'no.'"
"The UTC Chancellor," McCoy added, "noted that there is an inherent ambiguity in determining consent."
Mock father's, former UNC wrestling head coach C.D. Mock, created a website on December 18, 2014, to defend his son. His controversial rhetoric in the media and on his site became its own sidestory that was covered by the UNC paper. In June, UNC fired Mock, who had coached the team for 12 years. In a blog post published this past Sunday, the elder Mock wrote that his family was "very happy" with the outcome. He says his advocacy on behalf of his son cost him his job and friends, and that this case "took away any chance [his son] ever had to fulfill his dream of being a wrestling coach as a career. His reputation will never be restored."
UTC spokesperson Chuck Cantrell told VICE Sports via email, "We are evaluating the judge's decision and exploring our legal options. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will continue the great strides we have taken to ensure a safe campus environment and respond to sexual assaults on our campus." Cantrell said that UTC has "the option of appeal to another court if we choose."
In early January, UTC announced that it was putting a new interim sexual misconduct policy into effect and would work on a permanent one immediately. Though the timing suggests the change could have been driven by Morris's case, Cantrell denied this, saying, "This new policy had been in the development stages and we were reviewing a new final draft at the time this case arose." UTC has sought input for the new policy from students on campus. "We anticipate our policy in place for this semester," Cantrell said. "It does use affirmative consent."
Meanwhile, the Title IX complaint that Morris had filed with the Department of Education in September 2014 is still open, meaning the department's Office of Civil Rights is investigating UTC to see if the school has failed to comply with the federal law. Earlier this year, a second Title IX complaint was lodged against the school. The new complaint says that Associate Dean of Students Chad Clark, who was also involved in Morris's case, lost the statements of multiple students who complained about a fellow student they said was sexually harassing them (the student was eventually found to not be violating the school's conduct code).
Morris is now working to start a non-profit organization at the University of New Mexico called Revoking Silence. Morris says it will help "survivors to get their feet on the ground again," by teaching them "skills to cope with mental health, and to deal with juggling school, jobs, and being triggered unexpectedly." She says she wants to go to law school after completing her undergraduate degree at UNM. Her experiences at UTC have taught her what changes need to be made to the system.
Morris still contends that the ultimate problem in her situation was UTC's handling of the case, specifically the hearing itself. "In the initial hearings," Morris said, "I wasn't allowed to have legal counsel or a speaking advocate in the room with me during the hearing."
She advocates for complainants to have speaking counsel available to them during university hearings. Morris feels like not being able to have speaking counsel at the initial hearing undermined her credibility from the start.
Despite last week's development, Morris said that she doesn't regret having filed a complaint against Mock with UTC, or taking the story to the media.
"I know the truth is there," Morris said. "Even if this last hearing didn't find it, the two hearings before did."