Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jimmy Carter is one-for-two in his discussion about sexual assault on campus

From the Huffington Post:
According to [Jimmy] Carter, [sexual assault] a problem that often goes unaddressed by university administrators. 
"They don't want to bring discredit or criticism to the universities to have an increase in reported abuses," Carter explained. "What develops on college campuses is serial rapists who know that on a college campus they can get away with it, and they do."
First, Carter is correct about serial rapists. He's echoing a point that RAINN also emphasized, citing Dr.David Lisak's work, in its recent letter to the White House. (Among other things, that letter also rejected reliance on "rape culture" as a cause of sexual assault on campus.)

Reagan to Carter: 
"There you go again . . . ."
Second, Carter is on shakier ground insisting that universities fail to address sexual assault. The assertion is curious, given that this blog is replete with examples of universities riding roughshod over the rights of the presumptively innocent accused of sex offenses. We will not bore our regular readers by chronicling these atrocities here but invite anyone interested to type "university" in the upper left search box at the top of this blog -- and prepare to have your blood boil.

Moreover, Carter's view is one that is not likely shared by many university administrators, given the incredible monetary and other resources directed to combating sexual assault on campus.

Many, if not most, of the criticisms lobbed at universities for being ineffective at handling sexual assault are grounded in the inherent difficulties in untangling messy "he said/she said" sexual assault claims. This is a thorny task even for professional law enforcement personnel, much less untrained college administrators who never attended the police academy.  The job would be very easy if university administrators simply kowtowed to extremists who don't care about the rights of the accused (and this blog has chronicled too many instances where that very thing has occurred).

But Carter and his ilk would do well to read the words of Winston Crisp, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UNC, who said the following in response to criticisms about his school's response to allegations of sexual assault:
The complaints of sexual assault heard by the University’s Student Grievance Committee . . . almost always involve charges brought by one UNC student against another UNC student. 
When you hear only one student’s description of what happened to him or her, it’s easy to pass judgment. When you listen carefully to both students, the task often becomes more difficult. 
Talk with any student who has served on a hearings panel responsible for reaching a decision in one of these cases, and I think you will hear how gut-wrenching and agonizing the deliberations can be. 
Of course, these matters are significantly more painful for the students directly involved, and we try to always be mindful of that fact while staying true to our legal and procedural requirements.

In one sense, Carter is correct -- some universities are too tolerant of excessive alcohol consumption among both its male and female students, which makes sexual assault more likely. Cracking down on drinking to excess is rarely a significant part of sexual assault prevention on campus, and I doubt that Carter had that in mind when he made his comments. Scott Berkowitz, who heads RAINN, said: ". . . given the reality of the risk, [telling women to be careful when drinking] is often the most effective way to prevent rape on campuses." And: "After a certain point, drinking is unhealthy for you for a variety of reasons. Rape is just one concern."  Cracking down on drinking to excess is one area where the schools are woefully deficient.