That Screenshot from Snow White Is Not Helping Your Case, Title IX Critics

In perusing some articles about sexual assault and Title IX, I came upon an article on Reason that began like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 5.39.49 AM

In short, John, a college student at Brandeis, was accused of sexual transgressions by his former boyfriend, J.C., for what Reason describes as “stolen kisses, suggestive touches, and a wandering eye.” Reason’s further description of the allegations—that John woke J.C. by kissing him and refused to stop even when J.C. wanted him to, and a reference to “an attempt at oral sex gone wrong”—made me question the publication’s accuracy in describing the case, so I went looking for more information.

Before I get to what I found, I want to call attention to the image that accompanied the article—a screenshot from the scene in Snow White where the prince kisses the sleeping Snow White, whom he comes upon in the forest and has never seen before in his life. Clearly attempting to draw a parallel, Reason gave the story this headline: Judge Sides with Gay Brandeis Student Guilty of ‘Serious Sexual Transgression’ for Kissing Sleeping Boyfriend.

Oh no! He kissed his sleeping boyfriend, just like the prince kissed Snow White! What is the world coming to!? This is why we can’t have good things!

Based on case files, the story looks somewhat different. J.C. alleged that John “required” him to sleep naked when he spent the night in his room, that John frequently pressured or coerced him into performing oral sex, and that on one occasion John attempted to perform oral sex on him when he did not want it, and they fought. And as the Reason article itself admits, the issue wan not simply that John woke J.C. by kissing him but also that John wouldn’t stop even when J.C. said he wanted to go back to sleep.

I want to make two underlying points.

There has been a lot of talk lately about whether Title IX complaints on college campuses are a violation of due process, whether they are kangaroo courts, whether we are taking the definition of sexual assault too far, etc. But what concerns me when I read these objections is that they almost always mistake the facts of a case, downplay key details, or state highly concerning items as though they were no big deal (as I’ve seen in the case of the professor who referred to menstruation as “riding the cotton pony”).

At issue, in some cases, is an interest in sensationalization, as we see in this Reason article. The only item listed in the headline “kissing sleeping boyfriend,” the most easily sensationalized item out of a laundry list of allegations. This is a blatant attempt at click-bait, dispensing with any interest in accuracy, and it undermines the article’s credibility in a very serious way.

The other problem I have with this article is the inclusion of the screenshot from Snow White. Why is this image even included? The article’s claim appears to be that, within an established relationship, kissing your partner while they’re sleeping is okay. But if that is the argument, why include an image of a man kissing a sleeping woman he has never met before, where this no established relationship? For crying out loud, this is a woman who has been drugged! (I mean, what else was in that poisoned apple?)

Why, if your argument is that waking a significant other by kissing them is okay, would you include a screenshot of someone kissing a sleeping stranger in what is a blatant case of sexual assault? This is bizarre. I would have a much easier time taking complaints about Title IX courts seriously if those making them didn’t display a wanton lack of understanding of what sexual assault actually is, and a lack of willingness to take it seriously.

What do I actually think about kissing a sleeping significant other? Giving a partner a quick peck on the cheek or lips while they’re sleeping wouldn’t generally wake them, so that’s not what we’re talking about here. Given that John was kissing J.C. until he woke up, I’m going to guess we’re talking about french kissing. Whether someone likes to be woken in this way is going to depend. Some might find it romantic; others might find it annoying or invasive. How did J.C. react the first time John did this? That should have determined whether John did it again in the future.

This is really not that complicated. If someone has a fantasy about waking their sleeping partner by kissing them, they could even discuss that beforehand. That would ensure that the woken partner wouldn’t clobber them in complete surprise, or be upset.

If someone has indicated that they don’t like to be touched in a certain way, or that they don’t want a given sex act, and their partner continues to do those things anyway, that is at best dysfunctional behavior and at worse abusive. I understand the concern about having governments (or colleges) litigate dysfunctional relationships. Where is the line between dysfunction and abuse? When do we say “he’s a jerk, leave him” as opposed to “report that shit and get him prosecuted”? I get that this can be complicated.

What I don’t get is misconstruing the facts of the case, blowing allegations of sexual assault off as though they were a joke, and throwing in a screenshot from Snow White as if invested in demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of sexual assault.

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