Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sit-In to Protest Dickinson College Sexual Assault Policy Will Hurt Presumptively Innocent Men and Actual Rape Victims

A puerile spectacle, a bizarre gender passion play, erupted at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania last week when more than 200 shrill students, mostly women, staged an irate '60s-style sit-in to protest the school's handling of sexual assault cases. About 50 members of the group had been occupying the Old West administration building since Wednesday. See here.

The protesters called for the school to issue "red alerts" with every report of a sexual assault and to take a stronger stance against sexual offenses, with mandatory and irreversible expulsion for offenders. Students say they also want Dickinson to discipline students who make catcalls and lewd comments.

Armed with talking points, the hyperbole flowed like lava from Mount Vesuvius: "We all know somebody who has been sexually assaulted on campus. It's too much of a prevalent issue on our campus and it affects our lives directly," said senior Tiffany Hwang, 22, of Harrisburg. See here.

How did the school reaction?  Neville Chamberlain would have been proud. The school's administration caved in, agreeing to notify students of all reported sexual assaults through the campus "Red Alert" system and televisions in the student union. In addition, students expelled for the offense of rape will no longer be able to appeal that sanction on grounds of "excessive harshness." See here. Junior Elizabeth Stuhr, a protest leader, said members were assured that they will have a role in drafting the policy.  See here.

The school caved in for the sake of expediency. It's administrators actually understand that the issue isn't black and white. "It's an extremely difficult situation, and it can frustrate people who want to know everything and want to know it now," Dickinson president William Durden said in an interview. . . . . Because the cases are date rape or acquaintance rape, they can be difficult to investigate and deal with, Durden said. "It's all behind closed doors. It's extremely complex. Some folks would like to make it more simple than it is," he said. See here.

And it's not as if the school has ignored sexual assaults in the past. Dickinson College, which has 2,400 students, offers a women's center, a shuttle service that operates from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. and a weeklong orientation for freshmen that covers topics including sexual misconduct and alcohol. There's also a student-organized program made up of volunteers who educate students about sexual violence. See here.  In addition, Dickinson has agreed to spend $300,000 -- get that?  $300,000! -- to "explore and improve its sexual misconduct dealings." See here.

Even without the policy changes insisted upon by the angry young women, it would not be unreasonable to characterize the school's present efforts as "overkill."  Dickinson reported five forcible sex offenses on campus in 2009 (that's not to say all five were actual sexual assaults -- that's the number that was reported) according to federal data. Five.  In 2009, there were 1,330 females on campus. No 2010 data were available.  See here and here.  Do the quick math. Five women reported they were raped.  According to RAINN, 60 percent of rape victims don't report their rapes. Even assuming all five reports were actual rapes, that means 12.5 (round up to 13) women were actually raped -- out of 1,330 women.  Spread over four years, that would be 52.  Hmm.  That's not even four percent, or less than one-in-25 -- a far cry from the canard that one-in-four women are raped during their college years (some say it's one-in-four during Freshman year; others, one-in-four before Thanksgiving of Freshman year -- the fact is, the "one-in" lie is altered to fit whatever circumstance a speaker wants).

By caving in to the protesters' demands that every accusation is worthy of campus-wide broadcast even before an investigation is conducted and regardless of how far-fetched the accusation, the administration is promising to foment good old fashioned, Chicken Little rape hysteria. We've demonstrated on this site time and time again that one need not go back as far as the hanging trees in the Deep South to find horrifying examples of this nation's sad penchant for overreacting to rape. The Dickinson administration is about to institutionalize that penchant.

The losers from the administration's capitulation are presumptively innocent young men, whose identities are more likely to be revealed -- either directly or by inference -- just on the basis of even far-fetched accusations.

The other losers are, of course, actual rape victims.  Why rape victims? Because so many college rape allegations turn out to be outright lies that raising the profile of every cockamamie allegation before an investigation has been conducted does no favors to legitimate rape victims.  Spend a few hours reviewing the innumerable cases we've reported that chronicle college rape lies in the recent past.  Every time a publicized rape claim turns out to be a lie, the lie is reported, and the integrity of every legitimate rape victim is diminished. Think I'm making that up? Judges and law enforcement officials bemoan this very thing in false rape case after false rape case. I can show you a thousand examples from the recent past.  Rape victims have written to this site, supporting our work, and emphasizing their detestation for rape lies because of the damage to their integrity.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Ashley Todd, a John McCain volunteer, claimed she'd been sexually assaulted and had a "B" carved in her face.  After it turned out to be a lie, feminist writer Jessica Vozel correctly wrote that "it’s dangerous and sad for legitimate victims when some of the most publicized sexual assault cases (Todd, the Duke rape case, etc.) end up being false reports." Vozel spoke volumes when she wrote: "it’s problematic . . . that [Todd's] story was automatically believed . . . ." 

In the aftermath of the Hofstra false rape debacle, where the terms "witch-hunt" and "rush to judgment" do not adequately describe what the news media did to four innocent young men, Carol D’Auria of 1010 WINS said this: “We need to move slower."  Does anyone doubt that if they could do it over, they would have waited to report the "rape" until after a preliminary investigation exposed the incident as a lie? The question scarcely survives its statement.

My guess is that by seeking to publicize every untested rape allegation, unfiltered by even a cursory investigation, the anti-rape activists really want to institutionalize the crackpot notion from the '70s that the woman is always to be believed.  That idea is as repugnant to the rights of presumptively innocent men as it is to the truth. And publicizing every reported rape hurts legitimate rape victims, whether the activists know it or not. Sadly, even if they know it, concern for legitimate rape victims seems to be beside the point. The protesters were out to make an ideological point -- about alleged female oppression. Rape is just a tool to that end.

In the end, Dickinson released a statement thanking the protesters for their activism and concern. See here.  "We applaud this kind of student engagement.  Welcome it for this generation," said Durden.  "So I think we're going to see out of this the result that we all want for the community.  But we have to keep working on this."  See here.  Christine Dugan, a spokeswoman for Dickinson, said this: "Students were really frustrated by the slow pace of change."  By protesting, the students "have indelibly left their mark on the college. We're all very proud of them," Ms. Dugan said.  See here.

Innocent young men, and rape victims, be damned.