Monday, December 8, 2014

The Rolling Stone debacle didn't happen in a vacuum: it is time to mothball the destructive 'rape culture' meme

The Rolling Stone debacle did not happen in a vacuum. The sordid saga of the infamous article about a supposed gang rape on a college campus -- the fact that it was written in the first place, then published in a mainstream magazine, and then believed by so many -- is the product of a culture that has allowed gender extremists to dominate the public discourse on sexual assault. These are people who unflinchingly demonize college men and reduce them to vile caricature, insist that college campuses are rape pits, claim with a straight face that women don't lie about rape, and preach that due process for men accused of rape on campus is a luxury college women can't afford. In short, they buy into something that even RAINN, the preeminent anti-rape organization in America, denounced: the "rape culture" meme.

Only acceptance of the "rape culture" meme can explain the widespread and uncritical acceptance of the fantastic -- indeed, other-worldly -- tale of the gang rape depicted in the Rolling Stone article. As Erik Wemple explains in the Washington Post:
Under the scenario cited by Erdely, the Phi Kappa Psi members are not just criminal sexual-assault offenders, they’re criminal sexual-assault conspiracists, planners, long-range schemers. If this allegation alone hadn’t triggered an all-out scramble at Rolling Stone for more corroboration, nothing would have. Anyone who touched this story — save newsstand personnel — should lose their job. The “grooming” anecdote indicates not only that Erdely believed whatever diabolical things about these frat guys told to her, she wanted to believe them. And then Rolling Stone published them.
(Prof. KC Johnson, who helped bring justice in the Duke lacrosse case, has more on this travesty here.)

The "editors and fact-checkers [at Rolling Stone] felt that Jackie was credible," said the New York Times. It is well to remember that in virtually every false rape case where a man or boy is wrongly charged and sometimes convicted, the accuser seemed credible. By way of example, Brian Banks spent years behind bars after he was coerced into a guilty plea because, his own attorney convinced him, no jury would ever believe him over his false accuser.

Last Friday, only after other news outlets pounced on the tale to reveal significant problems with it, Rolling Stone wrote the following: "Our trust in [the accuser] was misplaced." Over the weekend, under pressure from women's groups, Rolling Stone revised its apology to scrap the line about "misplaced" trust, because it sounded like "victim blaming." Rolling Stone took all the blame itself.

Even now, the extremists' spin on the Rolling Stone debacle reveals they've learned nothing from it, and they are only making matters worse for rape victims. Again. They still say "Jackie" should be believed, and they claim the only problem was that Rolling Stone didn't jump through pro forma journalistic hoops in telling her story. Rolling Stone's lapse in judgment, they say, will only fuel "the age-old rape myth that women lie about being raped."

It is that sort of thinking that goes to the heart of the problem that led to the story in the first place: while they are right about Rolling Stone's lapse in judgment, devotees of "rape culture" still think people should automatically believe rape accusers without considering both sides of the story.

Fortunately, most people don't look at every rape claim through the prism of extremist gender politics, and they don't buy into that narrative.

The real lessons from the Rolling Stone disaster are that it is never right to rush to judgment and treat an accusation as tantamount to a conviction even where the accuser "seems" credible, and that it is both journalistic malpractice and morally grotesque to refuse to concede even the possibility that there might be another side to the story. The entire affair underscores the critical need for due process in "he said, she said" scenarios involving sex claims -- something feminists are happy to dispense with on college campuses. And, it affirms what Prof. Alan Dershowitz once wrote about rape accusations: ". . . don’t assume anything until all the evidence is in. The story is almost never what it appears to be on first impression."

Make no mistake, this mess is the product of the dreaded "rape culture" canard. It is time to insist that RAINN's counsel be heeded and that the "rape culture" meme be mothballed once and for all. "Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime," according to RAINN. The "unfortunate" tendency to blame "rape culture" for sexual assault, RAINN wrote, "has led to an inclination to focus on . . . traits that are common in many millions of law-abiding Americans (e.g., 'masculinity'), rather than on the subpopulation at fault: those who choose to commit rape." The distinguished writer John Leo has urged the media to confront the notion of "rape culture." Mr. Leo wrote: "Stupid ideas spread when people who know better refuse to confront them."

The fact that vocal segments of the feminist community part company with RAINN on this issue tells us how extreme those voices are.

Insisting that rape is "normalized" in our culture and practiced by even otherwise "decent guys" (even Dr. David Lisak doesn't agree with that) gives purveyors of "rape culture" license to rush to judgment and assume guilt based solely on an accusation. Worse, the "rape culture" meme is used to justify the erosion of critical rights of men and boys accused of sexual misconduct. If you don't think that's happening, you are woefully unschooled on the issue. Read, for example, the recent letter signed by 28 Harvard law professors voicing strong objections to their school's one-sided, feminist-inspired sexual misconduct policies, which are typical of such policies at colleges around the country. Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld echoed those concerns in the New York Times. Brett Sokolow, head of NCHERM and the nation's most prominent college sexual assault victim's advocate, sounded a clarion call to address the institutionalized mistreatment of college men accused of sexual misconduct. Prof. John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, said that illegals crossing the border have more rights than college men accused of rape. The American Association of University Professors criticized the Department of Education's mandate that schools use a "preponderance of the evidence" standard -- the lowest in our jurisprudence -- for college disciplinary proceedings involving sexual assault. The AAUP said the higher "clear and convincing evidence" standard isn't just preferable, it is "necessary" in order to insure that students are afforded the due process they are entitled. The Database of Lawsuits Against Colleges and Universities Alleging Due Process and Other Violations in Adjudicating Sexual Assault chronicles the witch hunt that is the product of the "rape culture" meme.

The Rolling Stone debacle is evidence of "rape culture" hysteria and is troubling on more levels than I can count. If the Rolling Stone article has a "chilling effect" that deters women from reporting rape, don't blame it on "rape myths." The blame lies squarely with "rape culture's" purveyors -- they are the architects of this travesty. People hate and have no tolerance for rapists, but they also hate and have no tolerance for witch hunts that target innocent men. With this gang rape story, Rolling Stone crossed the line from journalism to witch hunt, and feminists ought to stop trying to whitewash it.

It is critical that the community of the wrongly accused be at the forefront in insisting that victims of sexual assault be treated with dignity, and that the real causes of sexual assault be addressed. But the "rape culture" lie needs to stop, and the extremists need to be exposed for what they are.