Friday, November 14, 2008

Deplorable comments of a sexual assault advocate

Read the following tragic story about a professor's apparent suicide over a sexual harassment claim. At the end, you will read deplorable comments of a sexual assault advocate (highlighted in blue) that seem to assume the guilt of anyone against whom such an accusation is made.

Then read my letter to the editor in response, below the article.


Accused U. Iowa music professor victim of apparent suicide

By Regina Zilbermints, The Daily Iowan/UWireNov. 13, 2008

A University of Iowa oboe professor accused of sexual harassment apparently committed suicide Wednesday afternoon, and university officials are saying they offer counseling to try to avoid such incidents.

Iowa City police records show authorities responded to Mark Weiger's home at 3:41 p.m., where they found a male in a vehicle apparently dead. He was stiff and cold to the touch, according to police reports.

Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said he couldn't comment on the incident Wednesday evening.
Last week, a former UI graduate student filed a federal lawsuit against Weiger, accusing him of sexually harassing her on a daily basis during the 2006-07 school year. Melissa Rose Walding Milligan of West Lafayette, Ohio, contends in the lawsuit Weiger made derogatory sexual comments to her.

Milligan couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Weiger's apparent suicide is the second such incident this fall. Former UI political-science Professor Arthur Miller fatally shot himself with a rifle at Hickory Hill Park after he was accused of accepting sexual favors in exchange for higher grades.

Weiger's two-story house was dark Wednesday night, with no cars parked in the driveway - a different scene from earlier in the afternoon, when squad cars and ambulances crowded the street, neighbors said.

Matthew Olson, a neighbor of Weiger for around four years, said he never expected Weiger to commit suicide.

"It's so bizarre, because you talk to people, and you never know they're clearly having this struggle inside," he said. "With Mark, I never would've known."

Olson said he and Weiger would chat about family, traveling, and music theories.

"I never heard anything negative," Olson said. "He was always a positive and friendly guy."

UI Human Resources officials have begun counseling members of the UI School of Music, UI spokesman Steve Parrott said.

They met Wednesday night with faculty, staff, and students to discuss the incident and formulate a plan to help people cope. These meetings will continue, Parrott said.

"Other than that, we would hope that people in the university community would do their best to reach out to express sympathy and offer support," Parrott said. "It's been a tough year for us."
Arthur Rowe, a friend and former UI colleague of Weiger's, said sexual-harassment lawsuits frequently result from false accusations. He said such allegations - especially if it reaches the press - "can be devastating to people."

Rowe said a similar suit was brought against another one of his former colleagues, and the man nearly left the university. Weiger may have felt similarly, Rowe speculated.

"He has no family," Rowe said. "I don't know how much support he had."

Although it's too soon to say what effect this specific incident will have on university policy, Parrott said the current sexual-assault procedures will soon change. Such policies have come under much public scrutiny this semester after a former UI student-athlete alleged two former football players sexually assaulted her in Hillcrest.

Parrott said faculty accused of misconduct can go to the Office of the Ombudsperson and have confidential conversations to determine how to protect their reputation and resolve the problem.
Additionally, the university offers separate counseling services for both faculty and students when these incidents occur, he said.

Karla Miller, the director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program, declined to comment specifically about Weiger, but she said after such apparent suicides, it could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.

"It would be only natural to wonder why an individual would do this," she said. "Unfortunately, what can happen is the response that some people make is to blame the victims, and that's inappropriate.

"The victims are never to blame."



In your story, “Accused U. Iowa music professor victim of apparent suicide” (Nov. 13), you report on the tragic death of Professor Mark Weiger from an apparent suicide following an accusation of sexual harassment. One of the persons you interviewed properly noted that “sexual-harassment lawsuits frequently result from false accusations.”

However, you also quote Karla Miller, the director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program, who refused to speak about Prof. Weiger specifically but used the occasion of his tragic death to implicitly assume the guilt of every person accused of sexual harassment. Specifically, she said that the suicide of a person so accused “could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.” She makes sure to add that after such a suicide, “some people . . . blame the victims, and that's inappropriate. The victims are never to blame."

Did you get that? Before a single scrap of evidence is admitted at trial, the person who reported the sex offense is declared the “victim” who is “never” to blame for a tragedy such as Prof. Weiger’s suicide -- the facts, the evidence, and due process itself be damned. While Ms. Miller’s comments were not directed specifically at Prof. Weiger, it is difficult to see how he could not be included in her rush to judgment that improperly assumes the guilt of every person accused of a sex offense.

Our Web site is designed to raise awareness about false rape claims using objectively verifiable and ideologically unbiased information. At least nine percent and likely more than 25% of all rape claims are false, for instance. I can’t speak about Ms. Miller aside from what the article reports, but we find that, in general, the sexual assault advocacy industry is notoriously biased and is inclined to rush to judgment and assume the guilt of every person (almost always men) accused of a sex offense. When that ideological bias besmirches the reputations of persons like Prof. Weiger, who no longer have an opportunity to defend themselves or to prove their innocence, it is unacceptable and morally grotesque.