Imagine that you could, by ritually sacrificing a few people selected at random, ensure the peace and prosperity of your community.
Sure, sucks to be those people, but, eh, it’s for the greater good, so we can’t really worry too much about notions of “individual rights” which are all sort of made up anyway. What matters is the well-being of the collective. After all, you need to break a few eggs to make an omlet.
That is, according to KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr., what’s happening at our universities.
Universities, under the encouragement and, later, demands of the Office of Civil Rights under the Clinton and Obama administrations, began to perceive their mandate as not simply providing for equal educational opportunities, but saw themselves as arbiters of student sexual misconduct, not simply in the form of expelling students convicted of assault, but by operating their own campus tribunals, in which they officially used a “preponderance of evidence” standard (more likely than not, 51% likely), but, on top of this, operated “trials” in which accused students had no realistic chance of defending themselves. Administrators running the trials prevented accused students from accessing information (such as texts sent by the accuser, or e-mails, or witnesses) that would exculpate them, disregarded for themselves inconsistencies in the accusers’ stories, and expelled students or withheld diplomas from students who had completed all their coursework.
Their rationale for this?
In part, a conviction, to the level of religious belief, that women are (virtually) always truthful; that the number of women who falsely accuse men is so small as to be irrelevant.
In part, a belief that, whether the man in question genuinely assaulted the accuser or not, the so-called “rape culture” is so pervasive that mistreatment of women is so ubiquitous that, if a woman complains, the accused clearly must have done something wrong.
And, what’s more, a belief that these accusations, and expulsions do no “real harm” to the men, and provide a benefit, in terms of setting an example for the rest.
But they do harm the men who are accused. The authors cite cases in which their academic career is wholly disrupted, as they’re unable to transfer elsewhere, they have a black mark on their records, and they suffer significant amounts of PTSD-level distress. And the causes for these accusations, based on evidence, not just “his side of the story,” are things like the woman having cheated on her boyfriend, and making an accusation to deny that she had initiated the activity, or simply wanting to deny that she’d hooked up. In some cases, the women are persuaded by administrators, such as Title IX staffers or even professors, that an incident of drunken sex was rape. And, in cases where both parties were drunk, the man is still deemed to be the “responsible party.”
What’s more, the media have latched onto these stories, as the authors cite multiple instances in which the accusations are reported uncritically, and then politicians jumped into the fray, proposing to enshrine into law the kangaroo court process.
The stories are dismaying, and, from what I can tell, the book’s critics don’t deny them per se, but instead say things such as
the authors choose a handful of egregious examples to make the case that campus sexual assault isn’t all that common and that the bigger problem is innocent young men railroaded by promiscuous women who get drunk and regret their choices, or flat-out lie at the behest of conniving campus feminists. Instead of an honest analysis of the complex issues and competing values at play, the book teems with vastly overstated claims, questionable statistics and quotes massaged beyond their original meaning.
In this case, that’s Jill Filipovic’s review in the New York Times. The space is too limited, perhaps, for her to support her claim of “questionable statistics” (presumably she’s referring to the authors’ lengthy demonstration that the oft-cited claim of rarity of false accusation is something that was originally pulled from thin air; and that false accusations are much higher, and actual incidence of sexual assault much lower, than “anti-rape culture” activists claim). But the general tenor of Filipovic’s review is that the authors exaggerate the due process problem.
And here’s the deal: it doesn’t matter how many cases of sexual assault occur on campus, because the number of assaults, however many there are, do not justify railroading innocent men. I don’t know what “competing values” Filipovic has in mind, but the value of “due process” is not something which must be balanced against “justice for victims.”
Now, having said that, the further question is, what is actually going on, on a day-to-day basis?
At the University of Michigan, 172 cases were reported, of which 78 were determined to not fall under university policy (e.g., an off-campus situation with a non-student), 66 cases were “reviewed” but then closed or not pursued by the complainant (e.g., she did not know the identity of the perpetrator or did not wish to pursue the matter further), and 29 were “investigated.” Of these, 2 students were expelled for sexual assault with penetration, and one for sexual assault without penetration; a further student was temporarily suspended for a period of time for sexual assault without penetration, and another for sexual harassment. It is also worth noting that significantly more students were accused of, and found not guilty of sexual assault with penetration — eleven if I’ve counted correctly — which is either a good thing (the system is properly exonerating these men) or a bad thing (they’re subject to baseless accusations which can still be disruptive, especially since “interim measures” can require them to leave the dorms or have their class schedule changed). What’s more, there is no mention of police involvement. Were these sexual assaults “rape rape” — that is, assaults which the legal system could have, and should have, prosecuted?
At Michigan State University, the numbers are higher: 461 incidents reported, of which 289 were not investigated due to “non-participation” and a further 50 for lack of jurisdiction, 29 because the incident did not “meet the standard” and 12 due to “administrative closure.” 66 were formally investigated, and 17 were still in the middle of investigation. Of the concluded investigations, there were 8 “no violation” findings for sexual assault, and 19 findings of “violation.” Again, there’s no indication of how many of these 19 were taken to the police, how many were actions that would seem, in a common sense view, to be rape, vs. something more ambiguous.
Johnson and Taylor report that, due to the nature of the system, most students are left clueless about what to do if they are put on trial, so that only a few have the ability to make waves and file suit themselves; in most cases, the stories are invisible, which means that we’re pretty much left unable to assess the magnitude of the problem. But, again, no woman should be a victim of sexual violence. And no man should be a victim of a kangaroo court. The problem is that, in the former case, these are individual criminal perpetrators, and in the latter case, it is the State which has become the perpetrator, and State-sanctioned injustice is something that demands a different response.