Friday, September 6, 2013

It's easy to condemn the appalling rape chants at Saint Mary's (and we do), much harder to condemn the appalling chants that unjustly accused Dez Wells of rape

At Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, students engaged in an appalling frosh-week chant:

“SMU boys we like them young. Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass.”

The public discourse is replete with condemnations of this behavior. A newspaper editorial explained that Dalhousie Student Union president Sagar Jha said in a radio interview with the CBC that "we must recognize that systems of oppression place good people in positions of complicity." The editorial continued: "The leaders immediately involved in the chant are not the only people responsible for a social situation in which violence against women has been so normalized that chanting 'N is for no consent!' met with no immediate disapproval. . . . . We all need to take responsibility for ending violence against women. Turning issues of rape into entertainment, whether it manifests as a frosh week chant or a rape joke at the dinner table, needs to stop. Take this as a teaching opportunity—and let’s work to make sure we never have this opportunity again."

Professor Todd Pettigrew had an interesting take on the reaction -- hold the individuals accountable, don't blame everyone: "Making every rape, or indeed every tasteless mention of rape, an effect of “rape culture” is short-sighted and mean spirited because it makes everyone guilty or everything, regardless of their particular actions or beliefs. It judges all for the actions of a few. And that, in short, is the definition of prejudice."

We can't even fathom the mentality that would tells a student it's somehow okay to engage in such insensitive behavior. Thankfully, we think the overwhelming public reaction condemning the chant says more about our culture than the chant itself.

We do wish society would condemn"jokes" about prison rape of defenseless male prisoners with the same zeal. Many victims of prison rape are very young and in prison for non-violent offenses.

And then there are the chants that are unjust but politically correct. At a Northwestern-Maryland basketball game on Northwestern's home court last season, Maryland guard Dez Wells was showered the full 40 minutes with “no means no” chants. The chants were in reference to a sexual assault allegation that resulted in Wells' expulsion from Xavier University. Mr. Wells called the comments hateful, but he had a spectacular game nonetheless.

Unjust? Yes, unjust. It is true that Mr. Wells was expelled from Xavier University, but that's not the whole story. Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters not only declined to pursue a sexual assault case against Mr. Wells, he outright excoriated Xavier officials for the process they used to expel Mr. Wells. In words that should be chilling to all persons of good will, Mr. Deters called the system “fundamentally unfair” and “seriously flawed.” (Mr. Deters, it should be underscored, is not an ACLU attorney or a men's rights activist. He's a prosecutor whose effectiveness is determined, in part, by how well he prosecutes rapists and other felons.)

But wait, he wasn't finished. The Wells case, Mr. Deters said, “should never have gotten to the point where someone’s reputation is ruined.” The university's panel was "untrained" to deal with sexual assault allegations, he said. In contrast, Deters took the allegation seriously and assigned two assistant prosecutors “who are highly skilled at assessing these kinds of cases.” The Grand Jury declined to prosecute, and Deters said that, based on the evidence that was presented, “It wasn’t even close...." (And, dear readers, you should know this: the standard of proof at Grand Jury indictments -- preponderance of the evidence -- is the same as the standard of proof on college campuses for sex offenses.) Mr. Wells is now suing Xavier, and if Mr. Deters is correct, we hope Mr. Wells gets a very substantial verdict.

Despite all of that, the fine students at Northwestern treated Mr. Wells like a rapist, and that was somehow acceptable. Their chants were not subjected to widespread condemnation. Officials at Northwestern did nothing to express their disapproval of the students' reaction to Mr. Wells. It is no stretch to suspect that either they didn't care or, worse, they tacitly approved.

Alex Putterman, a reporter for the Daily Northwestern, defended that taunts (and, yes, Putterman was one of the taunters). Putterman said that the taunts "mock[ed] someone for a serious legal and moral crime."

The assumption that Mr. Wells committed "a serious legal and moral crime" was unjust, but aside from this blog, few people cared about it.

Mr. Wells received the same taunts at Duke, and a writer condemned the taunts -- not because they were unjust to Mr. Wells but because they "trivialize[d] a trauma" for "the victim."

It's the same old story. An accusation is as good as a conviction, due process be damned. It's the same mentality that allowed crowds to pose in the famous lynching photos of the Old South.

If the taunting students want something truly worthy to chant about, its a collegiate disciplinary system that puts college men at serious risk -- a system that a seasoned prosecutor has called “fundamentally unfair” and “seriously flawed.”

This blog isn't going to trivialize the sexist chants, or the barnyard rutting mentality behind them, at St. Mary's. We just long for the day when chants that unjustly assume guilt are condemned with equal zeal.