Tag Archives: sexual assault

I rape, therefore I am

22 Aug

As my younger cousins either return to college or embark on their first-ever semester, I have been sending them off with the advice “Have fun; don’t be stupid.”  For me it is a concise way of conveying mixed emotions.  Excitement for them as they experience that privileged mix of pure, unobligated learning and pure, unobligated fun.  Worry that they will find themselves in situations that they don’t quite know how to navigate, or whom to turn to for help.

During my own senior year in college, I got to see first hand how social norms and institutional policy intersect.  Sadly, much of the administrative response toward threats to students’ safety and wellness proved disjointed, resulting in countless brain-numbing meetings while many individual concerns went unanswered.  Clearly, all students deserve a healthy, safe campus.  Unfortunately, the reality is that women more often than men find their personal security being threatened, so they would benefit more from proactive policies.  Or suffer more from insufficient ones.

Recalling my experience as a student activist, I can remember being surprised at how controversial it was requesting that even the most seemingly easy changes be made.  So the (over)reaction from Peter Berkowitz  to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) new directives regarding judicial processes in sexual assault cases is old hat.

Berkowitz’s main problem with these directives is that they tell recipients to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard  when deciding sexual assault cases, rather than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” one.  Now, I’m not trying to get into a debate about constitutional rights or the applicability of criminal law standards in private judicial processes.  Nor do I want to assert that these directives are flawless, or that universities’ interpretations of them will be.  We have yet to see whether any difference whatsoever will be made.

What I do want to take issue with is Berkowitz’s alarmist, anti-feminist bullshit rhetoric.  I’m so sick of seeing rape apologists given serious attention.  Berkowitz adopts the stance of some enlighted liberal thinker to champion the cause of the ever-beleaguered rapist.  To him, the safeguards sought for sexual assault survivors in campus judicial systems threaten the very essence of enlightened liberal thought.  He all but accuses the fight against sexual assault of being propaganda, and universities of being brainwashed pawns in the scheme to….what, keep women from being raped?  He scoffs at the “dubious statistics” of sexual assault, and encourages skepticism about claims of equivalence in misreporting of rapes versus other violent crimes
I’m sorry to tell you, Mr. Berkowitz, but these “hype” are out there because they are fact.

Universities are not out to presume guilt, as Mr. Berkowitz accuses.  He is not the only one to grasp how devastating being falsely accused or convicted is.  He does seem to forget, however, how devastating being raped and unable to safely seek justice is.  Jezebel ran a great piece on this the other day.
Berkowitz is also not the first to realize that much of college students’ sexual interaction and exploration entails a lot of grey area.  He is right.  Many a college student’s sex life is fueled by alcohol, and there are many cases where all parties involved accept that booze-fueled murkiness.  Although technically inebriation prevents full consent, no one involved feels assaulted.  The key part that Berkowitz misses is that these ambiguous cases are where the majority of sexual assault also happens.

Berkowitz decries the characterization of “men bad, women victim.”  But that is not what universities are teaching their students.  I wish more campuses threw light on the fact that sexual assault does in fact occur within a wider context of uneven power dynamics.  Within that differential obscure intentions, conflicting passions, murky hearts and divided soul can quickly transform from youthful romantic entanglement to manipulation and assault.

Identifying this dynamic is a huge step in combating sexual assault on campus, and the OCR directives might help institutionalize such recognition.  Why is Berkowitz so scared of giving victims more power in campus judicial proceedings?  Does he think it will threaten men’s position in other social arenas?  For such a defender of liberal thought and enlightenment, Berkowitz seems far too eager to cling to an outdated, unreasonable status quo.