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A flyer hangs in Brock Hall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Clarification

After the publication of this story, sources provided new information that contradicted certain dates provided to reporters earlier. Those dates have now been corrected.

Ask Corey Mock what happened at an off-campus party early in the morning of March 16, and he'll tell you this: He asked a young woman he liked to go into a bedroom with him, and she agreed. She took off her bra. Then they had consensual sex.

But the young woman says that isn't what happened. She said in a university hearing that she remembers only flashes of the night -- throwing up in the bathroom, feeling limp and lifeless, waking in pain, with him on top of her. The next day she told her roommate she was raped by Mock, and in the following weeks she reported it to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

It's not the clear-cut stranger rape, the man in the shadows with a ski mask. It's the other, more muddy, more common scenario. The he-said, she-said that often produces enough doubt to derail rape allegations altogether.

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The woman didn't say no. She didn't fight back. She admits as much. But she was drunk or drugged or sick or doesn't remember what happened. So did she give consent? Could she?

For years the mantra of consent taught at universities and more broadly was "No means no." When a woman says to stop, you stop. But in recent years the concept of consent has changed, and a new standard is taking hold in colleges across the country and locally.

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Cory Mock

A "no" is no longer necessary to define sexual violence. All that is needed is the absence of a verbal "yes." Increasingly, universities and even states define sex in the affirmative, the presence of confirmed desire instead of the absence of rejection.

It's an effort, strongly supported by women's advocates, to eliminate the ambiguity that often plagues rape cases and to empower women who are denied justice when there are competing narratives. Still, others argue that the new rules of consent, now official policy at many large universities and colleges across the country including UTC, change sexual encounters in a way that makes men vulnerable.

It's a national debate made louder by highly publicized college rape cases like that of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback accused of sexual assault who is in the middle of an ongoing university probe, and a recent Rolling Stone report on the University of Virginia, which is now being called into question.

In June, UTC heard both sides of the story at Mock's sexual misconduct hearing. Joanie Sompayrac, an accounting professor with a law degree trained as a hearing officer, initially ruled that Mock was "not responsible" for sexual misconduct.

Then, a university spokesman said, the school asked her to reconsider. And without new evidence, Sompayrac reversed her decision. On Dec. 2, university Chancellor Steven Angle upheld Sompayrac's ruling, and Mock was expelled.

The female student filed a Title IX complaint against the university, alleging that it didn't equitably handle her case. UTC will now join a list of more than 85 other institutions whose claims are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

Mock has appealed to the state Chancery Court and plans to sue the university if his expulsion isn't overturned. He's among a growing number of men who say their university's judicial systems, amid rising national pressure, gave them unfair trials.

"What this entire case is about," said his father, C.D. Mock, "is the definition of consent."

A history of consent

Legislators have been trying to address campus sexual assault since long before President Obama called it "an affront to our basic humanity."

In 1992, Congress added provisions requiring schools to afford basic rights to victims of sexual assault to a federal law now known as the Clery Act.

But despite new campus crime reporting requirements and laws that mandated fair treatment, victims continued to describe a higher education system that was deaf to their needs. So in April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education issued a "Dear Colleague" letter to universities explaining that victims of sexual violence are also protected under Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender-based discrimination.

Under Title IX, schools would need to "take immediate steps to eliminate the harassment" and "publish a notice of nondiscrimination and to adopt and publish grievance procedures," the letter read. Universities that receive federal funding must abide by these rules.

In 2013, Congress approved the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act to complement Title IX. Among other requirements, campuses now must provide programming for students and employees addressing issues of sexual violence.

Still, victim advocates and survivors say you can't legislate away sexual assault. Stories of horrific mistreatment bubbled to the surface. One notable example is the Columbia University student who carried the mattress she was raped on to every class until the school addressed her complaints.

In September, just months after Mock's hearing, Obama announced a major initiative to combat sexual assault on campus and said it's "on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what's unacceptable."

Under pressure by the media, the U.S. Department of Education last year released a list of more than 50 schools under investigation for violations of Title IX during the handling of sexual violence cases. That number has since swelled to more than 85 institutions. Just like the woman in Corey Mock's case, those suing their universities claim that their schools failed to protect them when they were at their most vulnerable.

"I do see systematic change and broader movement to address it," Laura Dunn, an attorney who founded the victim advocacy group SurvJustice, said in an interview with the Times Free Press.

Amid the rising tide of accusations that universities were mishandling sexual assault cases, schools began to accept new consent standards. Out went "No means no," the idea that rape happened when a woman said "no" and the man continued anyway.

Now men were expected to have a conversation with their desired partner, as awkward and unnatural as it might seem. Do you want to have sex? Yes or no.

In late September, California lawmakers penned the country's first legal definition of consent in a bill aimed at regulating campus sexual assault:

"Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent."

Dunn said neither the Clery Act nor Title IX define consent, and the new standard fills an important gap.

"I think it's a very appropriate standard," Dunn said.

And Dunn pointed out that codes of conduct, signed by students, must describe that standard. Students can't claim ignorance, she said.

But some argue against "Yes means yes."

Families Advocating for Campus Equality was founded in part by the families of young men expelled from their universities after sexual misconduct findings. The group claims that affirmative consent policies place undue pressure on men, in essence setting them up for guilt.

"They fail to impose any responsibility on the alleged victim to communicate his/her objection to the sexual activity, either by words or actions, thereby allowing the entrapment of unsuspecting partners," FACE advocacy chairwoman Cynthia Garrett said in an email.

Many sexual assault cases never make it to prosecutors. Instead, whether because the victim doesn't want to press charges or because of a choice made by the accused, they are handled through an internal judicial process governed by the university's code of conduct.

Opponents say that process, too, is deeply flawed.

Where a criminal conviction requires assurance of guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," the Office for Civil Rights requires only that campuses find a "preponderance of evidence," a finding that the action more likely than not occurred.

"There is no assurance the investigation will be thorough or impartial and there is absolutely no way to ascertain whether the decision-makers are biased (this is especially a concern in small private colleges)," Garrett wrote.

Since its website went live in July, Garrett said FACE has been contacted by more than 60 families of men who say they were wrongfully accused.

By all accounts, Mock's expulsion was unusual. A 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative journalism program, found that most students deemed responsible for such offenses face little to no penalties.

A Justice Department poll of 120 schools revealed that of 759 reported cases of sexual assault on campuses in 2012 and 2013, 56 resulted in expulsion and 135 resulted in a suspension. A total of 281 cases were dismissed or the accused was acquitted. The remainder resulted in a lower level of disciplinary action, such as counseling.

"Personally, I advocate that these things be sent to the prosecutors. If they find criminal activity, they should charge the person and put them in jail if they raped somebody," said Eric Rosenburg, an Ohio attorney who specializes in the defense of students he believes were wrongly accused of sexual assault.

Rosenburg said many university processes deny students due process rights granted under the law -- the right to confront their accuser, call witnesses or be represented by an attorney, for instance.

Corey Mock was represented by attorney Jeff Rufolo at his hearing. He was able to question witnesses and confront his accuser. She never reported the assault to police, and criminal law was never invoked.

But just as Title IX complaints from victims can come back to haunt a university, those who are punished can also take action.

In a five-year study performed by United Educators, an insurance company for higher education, students accused of assault brought 54 percent of the claims and comprised 72 percent of the financial losses to schools accrued after sexual assault hearings.

Between accusers and accused, losses to schools totaled $36 million.

A new standard

Not all colleges define consent. Codes of conduct at Covenant College and Chattanooga State Community College, for instance, do not.

UTC adopted its "Yes means yes" standard in the fall of 2012, Associate Vice Chancellor Chuck Cantrell said. Now, UTC's Code of Conduct reads that "consent is given by an affirmative verbal response or acts that are unmistakable in their meaning. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not mean consent is given to another type of sexual activity."

To Caroline Huffaker, coordinator of the sexual assault response team at the Partnership for Children, Families and Adults' Rape Crisis Center in Chattanooga, this is a step in the right direction.

"I often tell clients the absence of a 'no' does not mean 'yes.' And silence is not consent," Huffaker said.

At UTC, as on other campuses, sexual assault often happens between acquaintances, Huffaker said. Sometimes the encounters are fueled by alcohol and drugs. Sometimes women can't remember what they said. And legally, a person is never able to give consent if he or she is intoxicated.

But it's unclear whether UTC's efforts to change that definition have been effectively communicated to students.

Do they know what qualifies as consent?

"No drugs, not in the dark -- nothing that would impact your state of mind," junior Henry Romero, 26, said.

"Saying yes, and being completely aware of what's happening," said freshman Shelby Winter, 19.

"My guess would be just a verbal yes," sophomore Trent Dillard said. "It just seems like the most straightforward."

Mock said he didn't know what UTC's standard of consent was when he went into the bedroom with the young woman.

Three days later, at the encouragement of her roommate, she went to the Women's Center at UTC, where she tested negative for date-rape drugs. On April 3, she reported the assault to the Dean of Students' office.

Once a student is accused of sexual misconduct -- the university term for sexual assault or harassment -- the accuser can determine whether to take the case to the police and prosecutor. She chose not to bring it to police. Mock elected to contest the accusations at a formal hearing.

One night, two perspectives

Mock and the woman met through an online dating site called Tinder and then realized they were taking a class together that semester. On March 14, they went on a breakfast date to Bluegrass Grill. The next night, the night she says he raped her, Mock invited the young woman to a party.

This is how events unfolded, according to a transcript of the campus hearing and an interview with Mock.

He was drinking beer. He said she had a Budweiser Strawberita. At some point, he found her in the bathroom. He saw something red floating in the toilet and talked to her for a while, he said. Then he asked her if she wanted to go into the bedroom, he said, and she said yes.

On the bed, he said, they started kissing.

"There wasn't much talking afterward," Mock said.

Mock said he performed oral sex on the young woman and she took off her bra. As he fumbled on top of her, he said, she helped guide him inside her.

In the morning, she left quickly. He tried to meet up with her again, sending a text message that said,"I hope you'll text me sometime soon."

But he saw her just once more, when they met outside the library and she told him that what had happened that night was not consensual. He was stunned.

"She just dropped this bomb on me," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, my God.' I was shocked."

But the woman says there was never any question of consent.

Her name is being withheld in accordance with Times Free Press policy regarding sex assault cases.

According to a transcript of Mock's sexual misconduct hearing, she said she had little to drink that night but believes her drink was spiked with drugs, though not necessarily ones given to her by Mock.

The last thing she distinctly remembered was turning to talk to Mock, and turning back to a drink that tasted of cinnamon, though she had already turned down a shot of Fireball Whiskey.

"After that, I remember vivid scenes, but I don't remember anything in a free flow after that. It all went blank," she said in the hearing.

She said she remembered seeing Mock in the bathroom and him slapping her face to wake her up. She felt limp and had thrown up.

"I could not feel my arms. I could not feel my legs, couldn't move them," she said.

She remembered him taking off her pants as she lay on a bed.

"Then the next one that I remember is, I was on my back on the bed and he was on top of me and it hurt like hell and I knew in my mind what was happening, but I couldn't move at all," she said in the hearing.

On cross-examination, she told Mock's attorney she said "ow" and that Mock covered her mouth.

"I did not say no. I did not say yes. I was incapable of saying a word."

The next morning she asked Mock in a text message, "Did we sleep together? I definitely woke up with no clothes on."

"I mean I assume we slept together because we woke up together and we were both naked," he responded.

Mock said he remembers the entire encounter. And now, he worries about his future.

"I really just want my name cleared. I don't want to be charged with something that didn't happen," Mock told the Times Free Press.

At the daylong hearing June 24, the woman and Mock were called to testify, along with several witnesses. Sompayrac considered the evidence until Aug. 4, when she ruled that Mock was "not responsible," the university's version of not guilty.

But the school wasn't happy with the ruling. On Aug. 18, the university filed a petition, university attorneys filed a petition, supported by the woman, requesting she reconsider her decision. And on Aug. 25, she did an about-face. She concluded that the university proved with a preponderance of the evidence that the woman did not give consent.

The reversal surprised the woman.

"I feel like that would have been the decision that she made in the first place, and I'm not sure why she didn't," the woman told the Times Free Press.

But Mock's attorney questioned the reversal.

"No new evidence. No new text messages. No new witnesses. No new testimony. Nothing," said Rufolo, Mock's attorney.

Mock was found responsible and expelled, but Sompayrac granted a stay so he could continue taking classes while Angle considered his appeal. Mock was a member of the UTC wrestling team and a nationally ranked athlete, but had been suspended since the investigation began in the spring.

In Sompayrac's reversal, Mock's father says, is everything.

C.D. Mock, the head wrestling coach at the University of North Carolina, thinks that UTC, bowing to outside pressure and in fear of a Title IX complaint, urged Sompayrac to rule against Mock.

"I think the evidence, to answer that question, is found in the chancellor's finding of fact and conclusion," C.D. Mock said.

In that document, Angle wrote that "The recent focus on sexual assault on campuses by the White House, Congress and OCR [Office of Civil Rights] has resulted in heightened attention and care about how colleges and universities define and respond to allegations of sexual assault and address issues of 'consent' that are typically associate with sexual assault allegations. Specifically, colleges and universities have attempted to curb sexual assault on their campuses by modifying their sexual assault policies to include an affirmative consent standard for consent, referred to as "Yes Means Yes."

Angle goes on to say that Corey Mock violated the school's code of conduct by failing to gain affirmative consent.

C.D. Mock believes the chancellor's nod to "the White House, Congress and OCR" indicates bias. He believes the national discussion of consent influenced his son's case.

"What we're experiencing is a massive pendulum swing to the other side," C.D. Mock said.

Meanwhile, his son's accuser says the school treated her unfairly. In an article published last week in the online Vice Magazine, she said Assistant Dean of Students Chad Clark didn't pull Mock out of class until prompted by Women's Center adviser Sara Peters, and that Clark failed to communicate with her promptly and kept an inaccurate record of the statement she gave him.

She also felt under-represented at the hearing. She could have hired an attorney to work as her "advocate," but that person would not have been able to question Mock or other witnesses as the university's attorney could, she said. She was surprised by the length of time she was questioned and the short amount of time she said Mock was questioned.

She said she hopes her Title IX complaint will prompt UTC to address such problems. As Mock's appeal moves forward, she said she is taking things "one step at a time."

University spokesman Chuck Cantrell said UTC was notified by the Office of Civil Rights of the woman's Title IX complaint on Dec. 5.

"We are confident that the University's investigation and hearing processes led to the appropriate outcome and were conducted in a manner that was fair to both students and in compliance with state and federal laws," Cantrell said in an email. "We will cooperate fully with the OCR and are always open to recommendations that could improve the manner in which we respond to complaints."

A hearing on Mock's appeal to the Chancery Court in Nashville will likely be reset for January, Rufolo said.

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at cwiseman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter@clairelwiseman.

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