The accuser and the accused: The debate over sexual misconduct allegations on campus

Joseph Roberts, who said he was falsely accused of sexual harassment, said he and others like him have been denied due process on campus.
9:34 | 10/19/18

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Transcript for The accuser and the accused: The debate over sexual misconduct allegations on campus
Reporter: Joseph Roberts is back in Savannah, his college town, for the first time in five years. The homecoming is hard. So what's it like to be back here, Joseph? It's spooky. Reporter: In fact, he's not even sure what will happen to him if he steps on Savannah state's campus. I still don't feel safe. Reporter: After serving in the Navy, Joseph was on track to become the first person in his family to receive a college diploma. Instead, he received this e-mail that derailed his dream of graduating. The e-mail said you're hereby summarily suspended. There was a picture, and it was like a mug shot. Reporter: The reason? Two students filed complaints, making what Joseph says were false allegations of verbal and online sexual harassment. And according to documents obtained by ABC news, he was suspended the same day the first complaint was made. And no one had reached out to you, interviewed you, asked you what happened? Anything before that e-mail went out? No. No. Reporter: You were immediately found guilty. Immediately. Just off the mere accusation. Done. Done. Reporter: Joseph says he and others just like him have been denied due process on campus because of title IX. The federal government today announced new guidelines for ending sex discrimination. Reporter: The groundbreaking federal civil rights law enacted in 1972, improving equality in education, strengthening women's sports programs, and calling for stricter procedures on how schools respond to allegations of sexual misconduct towards students. But controversial groups have argued that those procedures have caused an overcorrection, making schools quick to accept allegations of sexual misconduct and sometimes unfairly punish the accused. How rock bottom did it get? I woke up nonresponsive surrounded by emts and firefighters with an empty bottle of alcohol and a bottle of pills. Suicide attempt. That was the worst. Reporter: Under the trump administration, which Roberts ardently supports, organizations pushing for the rights of mostly male students accused of sexual misconduct are receiving unprecedented attention. Do you swear that the testimony -- Reporter: As well as a huge shot of momentum from the he said/she said debate that played out in front of the nation. A case of two diametrically opposed accounts, a day of reckoning for the country. We believe Dr. Ford. Reporter: And reawakening of painful debate. Kavanaugh has got to go. I say that it's a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. We felt like somebody was finally recognizing. Reporter: Cynthia Garrett is a co-president of families advocating for campus equality and sits on the board of S.A.V.E., stop abusive and violent environments. Both groups that say male students accused of sexual misconduct often don't receive fair treatment from their schools. I started to hear about these cases. When people told me that the students weren't allowed to see evidence against them or even know what they're accused of before they're questioned, I said, this is America. You can't do that. Reporter: Amid widespread demonstrations and a government report saying only 12% of students report their sexual assault, the Obama administration toughened rules for schools responding to allegations of sexual misconduct. Campus sexual assault is no longer something we as a nation can turn away from and say, that's not our problem. Reporter: But when secretary of education Betsy Devos entered office, she scrapped the obama-era changes. It's an incredibly difficult topic. Reporter: Holding a series of listening sessions on title IX, hearing from members of sexual assault survivor groups as well as advocates for the accused. Had you ever sat down with a presidential appointee about your cause in the past? No, never. Until you can see somebody tell their story, it's very easy to disregard. Reporter: Joseph was one of the students Garrett brought along to the session to share his story. Title IX is supposed to protect students, and if you are accused, you're supposed to be given certain rights that I just wasn't given. Reporter: Savannah state university told ABC news they could not comment on any student's case specifically but that they give every student due process in accordance with title IX. Acting as his own attorney, Joseph sued the university but the case was dismissed. However, he did complete his degree online and is now enrolled in a California law school. What was it like to sit before Betsy Devos and tell your story? The only thing I can do is present my story and just hope and pray that she listens. One rape is one too many. Reporter: And she did. I also think of a student I met who honorably served our country in the Navy. This young man was denied due process. Reporter: Two weeks later, Devos announced rollbacks to the Obama administration's implementation of title IX. The era of rule by letter is over. Reporter: Further proposed changes leaked to the media would not only limit liability on universities but would require victims to present stronger evidence that a sexual assault occurred. The department of education declined to comment on any potential changes, saying nothing has been finalized. But it was a definitive turn in the tide for Garrett and her cause. My favorite book and movie growing up was "To kill a mockingbird." I feel very strongly that you can't ruin somebody's life based on nothing. Reporter: Though Garrett and her groups may paint themselves as Atticus finch, fighting for an unpopular cause for the sake of righteousness, opponents say the organizations have a troubling core. These groups have way overblown the impact of their issue and their concerns. Between 2% and 8% of all sexual assaults that are reported are false. I think that the goals of these groups certainly seem to be more concerned with poking holes in survivors' stories. The southern poverty law center has been very direct about how it feels, saying you use male grievance propaganda and a narrative that the, quote, out of control women's movement is taking away equality. There is some truth to that. Reporter: There's truth to that. There is some truth to that. It's this radical ideology that treats all men as potential rapists. And I just don't see that. One in five undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted on campuses and of those, 88% are not reported. Reporter: Patel is a former attorney for the U.S. Department of education. I came into an administration, this was the Obama administration, that recognized and understood the many ways that students are impacted by discrimination based on sex and gender in schools. And they cared. Reporter: Does this administration care about survivors? I wish they did. Reporter: And that, Patel says, is why she quit. It was troubling because what I saw was so much more access to the administration for groups that worked with accused students than for groups that worked with survivors. Reporter: Does title IX give the accused due process? Yes, it does. The 2011 and 2014 guidance documents that Devos rescinded last September explicitly stated that title IX does protect the due process rights of students. But something that we're not talking about are the due process rights of complainants, of survivors of sexual violence that are also not being recognized. Reporter: A spokesperson for the department of education told ABC news they met with a variety of groups on both sides of the issue and say their focus is on restoring due process and ensuring equality for all students. But in a divided country -- People look at you different when something like this happens. It affects me. It just felt like it just put me in a hole. Reporter: It's difficult to agree on what that looks like. The new regulations that the department's putting out would also indicate that they don't want for there to be accountability. They want it to be easier for people to get away with sexual violence.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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