Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'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.'

The public discourse about sexual violence is nowhere at an adult level. It is often childish and unjust, and sometimes immoral. The persons who dominate the public discourse on this issue need to stop suggesting, implying, and outright stating, that every allegation of sexual assault -- except those that are proven to be false -- must have been a sexual assault. It is a monstrous lie, and they know it.

Yet virtually every "study" that supposedly measures the prevalence of rape and false rape claims is premised on this fiction. Every untested, unchallenged, unverified allegation of sexual assault is taken as an actual sexual assault. That doesn't just strain credulity, it shatters it into a thousand pieces. It cavalierly dismisses the fact that the vast majority of rape claims fall into a gray area where nobody can say whether it was a rape, a false claim, or a mischaracterization of what occurred. (And, yes, it is grossly dishonest to take a sexual assault study and proclaim that it shows that "only 8 percent of rape claims are false" -- when the speaker damn well knows that his or her audience will wrongly assume this means the other 92 percent must have been actual rapes.) 

Or perhaps they actually believe the lie. It is very easy to assume a sexual assault must have occurred when the only voice you bother to listen to is the accuser's. That's the problem.

Winston Crisp, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UNC, responded to news that a complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights challenging his school's response to allegations of sexual assault. His words resonate with this blog:

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.


Amen, Mr. Crisp. "When you listen carefully to both students," the task becomes gut-wrenching. That's because there are usually two sides to the story. Yet, every study blithely and without apology accepts as true every assertion that a sexual assault occurred. There is nothing gut-wrenching about it to the people who do those studies: if she said she was sexually assaulted, then she was.
Assuming that the accuser must be telling the truth, and that the accused must be lying, is childish, unjust, and immoral. The purveyors of this lie wouldn't accept it about any other subject.

It's time to have an adult discussion about these issues. We can start by heeding the words of Winton Crisp and "listen carefully to both students."