Thursday, November 22, 2012

Double standard: Some men accused of sex crimes are more presumptively innocent than others--the Kevin Clash case

Compare the way Duke University treated the news that three of its lacrosse player students had raped a black woman with the way Kevin Clash's employer treated the accusations of statutory rape lodged against Mr. Clash by two young men.

On March 25, 2006, in his first official statement that accompanied the cancellation of the lacrosse team's game against Georgetown and its following game, President Richard Brodhead opened with the following: "Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke." Three days later he added the following: "Let me explain my own thinking about the suspension of play. Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and will not be tolerated at Duke. As none of us would choose to be the object of such conduct, so none of us has the right to subject another person to such behavior. Since they run counter to such fundamental values, the claims against our players, if verified, will warrant very serious penalties, both from the university and the courts." A few weeks later he made the following well-known statement: "If our students did what is alleged it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn't do it, whatever they did was bad enough."

We won't even talk about the reaction of the Group of 88 or the potbangers carrying the giant "castrate" banner.

Remember Hofsta's statement following the infamous false rape claim by Danmell Ndonye? “We are saddened and deeply distressed by these allegations of horrific crimes perpetrated against a member of our community. Acts of sexual violence are not tolerated on our campus.”

How does that compare with the reaction of Sesame Workshop, the producer of “Sesame Street,” to news that a second young man had come forward to announce that he, too, had underage sex with Elmo creator Kevin Clash? Read it yourself. Sesame Workship issued the following statement: “None of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from ‘Sesame Street.’” According to the New York Times, the statement concluded, “This is a sad day for ‘Sesame Street.’”

Can you imagine if Penn State had called the allegations against Jerry Sandusky a "distraction" without condemning vile sex acts of the kind alleged? 

Oh, and by the way, the New York Times names one of the accusers against Mr. Clash. Has it ever named Crystal Mangum even after the lacrosse players were declared "innocent"?

The reaction to the Kevin Clash story stands in stark contrast with the usual reaction to news that a male has been accused of a sex offense.  The New York Times reports that prominent feminist Katherine Franke, a professor of law and the director of the center for gender and sexuality law at Columbia University, said she worried that Mr. Clash was “the most recent victim of what we call in my world a ‘sex panic.’"  She added: “At precisely the moment when gay people’s right to marry seems to be reaching a positive tipping point, sexuality is being driven back into the closet as something shameful and incompatible . . . decency (as in the case of Clash).”

Then, Ms. Franke did something we rarely see feminists do in high profile cases involving men accused of sex crimes. She underscored his presumptive innocence. Mr. Clash, she noted, “has not been convicted of a crime, but merely accused of one in a completely unsubstantiated, vague complaint.”  (By the way, you can read about Prof. Franke's views on sexual offenses here, starting on page 155:

The way that Sesame Workshop, the New York Times, and Prof. Franke treated the allegations against Mr. Clash is the way claims of sexual misconduct should be treated in all cases. 

Unfortunately, not all men accused of sex offenses are acclaimed artists who work for revered public television shows.