Monday, April 13, 2015

Feminists, be careful what you wish for--if journalists thoroughly investigated the typical college sexual assault claim, it would be the end of 'rape culture'

Salon's Katie McDonough says that the Rolling Stone "rape" debacle exposes the flaw in the way society thinks about rape. You see, Rolling Stone zeroed in on a "victim" and a "rape" that "fit neatly into our preconceived notions about victims and sexual assault," and that's the problem, McDonough concludes. She suggests that outlets like Rolling Stone ought to stop inventing victims and go after the stories more reflective of "rape culture"--where the victims are not perfect and where alcohol is involved. After all, McDonough says, false reports are rare, so she suggests that journalists ought to show the world what campus rape really looks like. It's a refrain other feminists are repeating, in various ways, in the wake of the Rolling Stone non-rape.

We wholeheartedly agree that journalists ought to thoroughly investigate typical sexual assault accusations. But McDonough and her ilk ought to be careful what they wish for. If journalists did what McDonough wants them to do, not only would the "rape culture" balloon burst, the reports would engender outrage that our sons are being subjected to a politicized witch hunt.

In the milieu of campus sex--where raging hormones and alcohol can be a deadly concoction--the typical sexual assault accusation is a "he said-she said" murky mess. College administrators routinely bemoan the difficulty in charging and adjudicating sex claims that are not marked by bright lines and where the truth is elusive. If the story of a typical college sex accusation were told objectively and thoroughly, the public would see that usually there are two sides to the story, that there are no black and whites--and that too often, college men are being charged when they shouldn't be charged. If that last point sounds radical, read on -- it's not my opinion, it's the opinion of a feminist named Brett Sokolow who has done more to craft the sexual assault policies of colleges than anyone.

Last year, Mr. Sokolow, the head of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM), wrote a landmark letter to his clients called "An Open Letter to Higher Education About Sexual Violence" in which he painted a chilling picture about the hostility on American college campuses to the rights of men accused of sexual violence. The letter goes into detail about cases NCHERM has investigated, illustrating that, in the "hook up" culture, the evidence is often too murky to warrant charging and punishing the male accused of sexual misconduct, but that's exactly what too many schools are doing. Among many other things, the letter states that "in a lot of these cases, the campus is holding the male accountable in spite of the evidence – or the lack thereof – because they think they are supposed to, and that doing so is what OCR wants." In chilling words that almost seemed a premonition of "Jackie's" rape claim, Sokolow wrote:
We fear for the mental health issues impacting many students, but in particular for those whose reality contact issues manifest in sexual situations they can’t handle and campuses can’t remedy. We hate even more that another victim-blaming trope – victim mental health – continues to have legs, but how do you not question the reality contact where case-after-case involves sincere victims who believe something has happened to them that evidence shows absolutely did not? How do campus and community mental health resources help someone who is suffering from real trauma resulting from an unreal episode?
Read that again: in "case-after-case," the evidence "absolutely" shows that nothing happened despite the claims of an accuser. Is that not chilling, coming from someone like Brett Sokolow?

Law enforcement generally will not prosecute the typical "he said-she said" college sex case--and for good reason--the evidence is entirely too conflicting. Once in a while, a prosecutor will roll the dice with a college man's life even when the evidence is murky, and the jury usually acquits quickly. Here is just one of innumerable examples: the case where a 21-year-old college man was charged with raping a 20-year-old female classmate at a fraternity party.The accuser claimed she was high on alcohol and marijuana, and that she blacked out at a frat party only to awaken with the accused on top of her. She said she tried to push him off but that he held her down by one arm while her other arm "got caught underneath him." The accused, on the other hand, told an investigator that the woman had attacked him by pushing him down on the couch and telling him he was going to have sex with her. Three witnesses testified under oath that they peeked behind the curtain and saw the accused and the accuser, but they said they saw nothing that pointed to a struggle. One man said he glimpsed a woman on top of the accused. "They seemed to be engaged in sexual contact," he said. It took a mostly female jury just one hour to acquit the man--and not because of "rape culture" or because the jurors engaged in victim blaming. The evidence was too murky to decide whether she consented. Again, the general public wants rapists strung up by their balls, but it has no taste for punishing a young man when there a good chance he's innocent.

Another example: the University of Virginia's Sexual Misconduct Board presented a mock trial as part of a weeklong sexual assault advocacy program, Take Back the Night. Assoc. Dean of Students Nicole Eramo, the board’s chair, opened the event by describing a typical trial, which often lasts an entire day and involves multiple witnesses. The mock trial was a rape case in which the complainant, the accused and three witnesses testified. After each testimony, the board — comprised of three faculty members and two students — asked clarifying questions, most of which sought to determine whether the complainant had the capacity to “effectively consent.” The Cavalier Daily, the school's student paper, reported: "After the trial, most felt there was not an obvious answer to the case — highlighting the difficulty in reaching a verdict using contradicting statements and a lack of detailed evidence."

The real world is much different than the one that exists in the Salon offices, where the "rape culture" meme is alive and well (RAINN, be damned) and the one-in-five campus sexual assault survey still holds sway (even though that survey came under fierce fire last year and only zealots still rely on it). The "rape culture" fiction only thrives in a climate where every rape claim is uncritically accepted and none are carefully scrutinized or tested against competing claims of innocence. Our guess is that Katie McDonough, for one, would not be happy if the typical college sexual assault claim was subjected to the Klieg lights of a thorough investigation by a seasoned journalist acting without a political agenda. The resulting story will not advance the narrative the sexual grievance industry wants to peddle.

McDonough, you may recall, is the writer who branded a Wall Street Journal reporter "a caveman misogynist and serial rape apologist" after he had the temerity to applaud a New York Times writer for merely acknowledging the problem of wrongful accusations on college campuses.