reported by the New
York Times, Candice E. Jackson, acting assistant
secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education,
claimed that 90% of sexual assault accusations on college campuses
“fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’
‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under
a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last
sleeping together was not quite right.’” This statement
was followed up, after much protest by victim rights organizations,
by her coming out as a survivor herself, thus, lending some
twisted validity to her statement, even as she claimed she misspoke.
As a survivor, even she knows women all lie and most sexual
assaults are really just about the woman’s regret.
article was terribly troubling, not only due to the content
of Jackson’s statement, but because the article relies
on ancient gender tropes: The accused are unfairly ruined and
the survivors are hysterically angry women ready to target any
poor innocent man. And, as the article makes clear, being accused
of sexual assault ruins your life. Being sexually assaulted?
Not such a big deal. After all, Candice Jackson is a survivor
and she rose to the top of a federal agency. The real victims
here are the accused. There was no mention of the fact that
there are consequences for knowingly making false accusations,
nor that there is a difference between false accusation and
a case that is ruled in favour of the accused. That is, if the
accusing students in these cases were not charged with false
accusation, then we cannot conclude that the sexual assaults
did not happen, but just that there was not enough evidence
to convict the accused. So whether they were falsely or just
inconclusively accused is up for grabs.
article also missed an irony. The typical Republican approach
to crime is to cast a wide net, to be ‘tough on crime,’
even if that means a few innocent men (usually of colour) are
wrongly imprisoned. That is a small price to pay for being tough
on crime, according to their logic. It seems this approach works
only if the accused are not white college males. We need only
turn to Judge Aaron Persky who sentenced a Stanford student
who was caught in the act of raping an unconscious women. As
he handed down a ridiculously meager, 6-month sentence (to be
decreased to 3 months for good behaviour), he justified it by
pointing out that prison would have a severe impact on the rapist.
The impact of the rape on the woman? Not an issue.
the end, the New York Times article reflected the current
cultural discourse where victims are present as disembodied,
unavoidable statistics – at least one in four women are
sexually assaulted is a fait accompli, after all, rape is a
fact of life for women, while falsely accused are the bodies
of the story – the sad, depressed, passive (thus, not
capable of rape), bodies represented by gut-wrenching stories
of near suicide and wrecked lives. So we have a story sterilized
of violence: innocent men and victimized women but no mention
of potential perpetrators. How is it we constantly trot out
the statistics that render the potential futures of women as
victims, but have no complementary statistic identifying the
potential for men to be rapists? If one in four women is assaulted,
what percentage of men are doing the assaulting? This glaring
absence lends further fuel to rape myths and to rape. We see
the potential for the assault but somehow blind ourselves in
that vision, to who is doing the assaulting. Thus the entirety
of the story and our prevention efforts and our standards of
evidence focus on the women. The narrative set up absents the
perpetrator, rendering the crime a bit sketchy. Did it really
happen? Can we really trust her when she didn’t manage
to avoid her rape?
long as rapists remain mythical creatures of our cultural imagination,
we will find it impossible to understand how our wonderful son,
our sweet neighbour, or our thoughtful partner could rape someone.
That is the point. Rape myths survive in part because they keep
the rapist as a monster, a stranger lurking in the bushes, usually
deranged and often, in our racist culture, decidedly not white.
The victim, an innocent, sober, virginal, usually white women,
is quickly overpowered. She had no choice. It really wasn’t
her fault. This is the only version of rape our cultural imagination
can fathom. As long as the reality that 75% of rapes are committed
by the quiet neighbour, the sweet son, or the thoughtful acquaintance,
and not the stranger, is kept under wraps, rape and sexual assault
will never be handled humanely, or justly, or reduced in frequency.
Of course this makes rape and sex more complicated, as Ali Shames-Dawson
describes in her forthcoming article.
I’ve written, as has Ali Shaes-Dawson, about the problems
with the Obama Administration’s response to sexual assaults
on college campuses, their controversial Dear Colleague Letter
(DCL), and the wrack-a-mole game they seemed to play, shifting
from “no means no,” to “yes means yes.”
This focus on consent, first negative then affirmative, was
troubling to me as it reaffirmed the neoliberal individual,
ignoring the cultural context of gender, coercion and rape.
And while I bristled at the myopic focus on consent, not surprisingly,
the Trump (“Grab them by the pussy”) Administration
is shifting focus from the ideally relational action of consent,
to the accusation itself. The accusation, not the precursor
consent, nor the sexual assault, is the moment of violence.
This shift, of course, emanates from an administration led by
a man who has made a career of dodging accusations, recasting
the accusers as the criminals.
this shift is more insidious.
2010, students on the campus of Yale University leveraged Title
IX after the administration failed to act on profoundly misogynous
and violent chants by a fraternity. This use of Title IX to
address sexual assault was somewhat effective in that the Obama
Administration followed suit with their DCL and colleges were
on notice that federal funding would depend on the atmosphere
of their campuses and whether colleges took accusations as warning
signs that something was amiss and needed to be changed. The
New York Times article focused exactly where DeVos and her team
wanted: the sad, ruined accused and the embattled victims. In
this light, the DCL and Title IX appear like un-nuanced sledge
hammers, or in psychoanalytic terms, castrating. The full extent
of the DCL and its focus also on the campus climate of misogyny
and homophobia was ignored. Thus this revisiting of the DCL
is not based on too many open cases, or the falsely accused
men, it’s due to the fact that women were somewhat effective
in being heard.
to investigate accusations of sexual assault (which was commonplace
before the DCL), turning a blind eye to misogyny on campus (again,
commonplace), failure to tell accusers of their rights to contact
the police (you guessed it, commonplace as was the more forceful
attempts to actively stop students from going to the police),
actively padding Cleary Stats, were suddenly actions that could
compromise federal funding. Don’t get me wrong, these
actions did not stop. But there were consequences for doing
so. Thus sexual assault discourse expanded to include women’s
and transgender students’ equal rights to equal access
to a college campus. And most importantly, campuses were responsible
to not only reduce sexual assault, but to actively promote gender
equity. Here the accusation of sexual assault was supposed to
be the canary signaling problems around rape culture of campuses.
The accusation was a signal in and of itself. This is why DeVos
is focusing on the supposed malignancy of the accusation.
shift in discourse could only result in a backlash. After all,
our culture is based on the ideals of male sexual sovereignty,
in particular for white, college aged men. Rape myths merely
support these ideals where the only legitimate and believable
rape is one between strangers, one that is overtly violent resulting
in multiple serious injuries, with a female victim who is virginal,
sober, and of course, white. Thus race, class, and gender are
woven through rape myths as white men’s access to all
women is deemed legitimate. Watching the fallout now, I can
safely say the biggest problem with the Obama Administration’s
approach is that it treaded on the all encompassing privileges
of white, college-aged, privileged men to do what they want,
when they want, with whom they want.
reason accusations are considered so dangerous by the DeVos
team is the shift from investigations requiring ‘clear
and convincing evidence’ to ‘preponderance of the
evidence.’ This shift legislated by the DCL is said by
the current administration to weight the scales toward accusers.
The fact is, due to the nature and contexts of most sexual assaults,
this shift is necessary to begin to weight the scales evenly.
New York Times also failed to adequately analyze the
ramifications of the groups DeVos assembled to testify before
her decision. The listening day included three groups. One group
included students and members of three men’s rights groups
accompanied by their parents. One of the men’s rights
groups is known for publishing the names and photos of rape
victims and as Ali Shames-Dawson notes, actively blaming women
for assaults. In their publicity, these groups each paint a
culture where women can willy nilly accuse men of rape without
facing any consequences. These groups appear to be motivated
by a primal fear where if women have any equality, it must come
at a cost to them. It is a kill or be killed gender scenario,
or, rape or be falsely accused of rape, scenario.
there was the group representing the colleges. This group was
almost all administrators, one lawyer who represents accused
students and professors, one representative from the AAUW (American
Association of University Women), and only one Title IX coordinator.
This is extremely important. Most college administrators do
not want to be on the hook for Title IX issues and most of them
do not deal with Title IX cases directly. Thus the college group
was comprised almost entirely of people who do not have direct
experience with Title IX cases (except, of course, for the lawyer
who defends accused students and faculty members). Administrators
also have reason for being ambivalent about the DCL. Few were
given increased budgets to provide the mandated prevention trainings
for students and employees. Most had to shift Title IX tasks
to existing employees, increasing their workloads. Because the
DCL acted as a band-aid to the complex racist, classist, heteronormative,
patriarchal systems of the culture, some administrators saw
themselves squashed between potential lawsuits by falsely accused
men and/or victimized women survivors, and investigations by
the Department of Education with the potential of losing federal
funding. In other words, the DCL does not make financial sense
for colleges. So many administrators, the DCL resulted in more
headaches and for some, this burden outweighed the benefit of
a more inclusive campus.
in this melee is that Title IX also includes transgender student
rights. Only one transgender group was represented in the group
of victim advocates. This group was comprised of groups that
have a solid track record advocating for student victims. However,
unlike the men’s group, no parents were included here
to paint the picture of how rape impacts a daughter.
if we take the New York Times article at face value,
it appears rape myths are alive and well at all levels of government;
to be accused of sexual assault is worse than being sexually
assaulted; and women who cry rape are merely regretful drinkers.