Nel's New Day

June 10, 2014

George Will Needs to Go

Conservative pundit George Will wants to stop the rampant reporting of sexual assaults on college campuses because they are elevating the victims into a “coveted status that confers privileges.” According to the title of his June 6 piece, this is one way that “colleges become victims of progressivism.” If sex includes hormones, alcohol, or a “hookup,” then it’s not rape. He concludes:

 “What government is inflicting on colleges and universities, and what they are inflicting on themselves, diminishes their autonomy, resources, prestige and comity. Which serves them right. They have asked for this by asking for progressivism.”

Carl Gibson’s excellent commentary on Will’s outrageous support of rapists and the rape culture describes the experience of a friend who was raped on campus:

“She told me about the horrible experience rape survivors like her have and the profound effect it has on their lives. After surviving the ordeal, she was faced with the choice of either reporting it or allowing her rapist to go unpunished. When she reported it, she went through the entirely separate ordeal of reliving the experience to a bunch of skeptical, mostly male college administrators whose main concern was the university’s image and the effect it would have on recruiting new students.

“While she pressed for punishment and public accountability, administrators stalled and dragged their feet, asking her what she was wearing that night, how much she drank, her prior relationship with her rapist, whether or not her attacker was clear on his lack of consent, and if she understood how severe the impact would be on her rapist’s life and future if he were formally charged with rape. Ultimately, nothing happened: her rapist continued to walk free on campus, and my friend continues to struggle with depression. I can guarantee she doesn’t consider herself “privileged” as a result of her experience. And I doubt George Will would feel the same way if his wife or daughter were a survivor of a sexual assault.”

Will’s column resulted in rape survivors’ sharing their experiences through the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege.

Will’s column goes farther than the rape apologist voices in mainstream media whose positions support the rape culture. In our society, the culture of rape is strengthened by attacking victims of this horrible crime. As I’ve written before, policing girls on their clothing without educating boys in respect only adds to the prevalence of rape. Other contributions to the rape culture are telling boys that the belief of taking control and not asking for consent is a manly behavior that attracts women and that the act of putting date rape drugs into women’s drinks is normal. And that’s just the beginning.

The United States isn’t the only place with a serious problem. Narendra Modi, newly elected Prime Minister of India, said about rape, “Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.” A member of Modi’s party, the home minister of the Chhattisgarh state, said that rapes happen “accidentally.” These statements follow the violent gang rapes and other horrific crimes against women in India that led to massive street protests. After two girls, 14 and 15, were gang-raped and hanged from a mango tree, Indian riot police used water cannons against protesters.

The Washington Post maintains that it is being reasonable in questioning the sincerity of rape survivors. People can now decide if they will support the newspaper by reading it and buying products from the newspaper’s advertisers. Another question is whether Jeff Bezos, the newspaper’s owner and co-founder of amazon.com, supports the position that rape victims are privileged because of their “coveted status.” At least the Post published a rebuttal to Will’s column from Alyssa Rosenberg.

It’s not as if George Will’s outrageous column surprises people who have followed his career. Almost 35 years ago, he participated in stealing then-President Jimmy Carter’s debate briefing book for his debate with Ronald Reagan during the 1980 campaign. Immediately after the debate, Will appeared on Nightline to praise Reagan’s “thoroughbred performance” without mentioning his participation in coaching Reagan with Carter’s information and questions for Reagan. The host of Nightline, Ted Koppel, helped spin Will’s message by not revealing that Will was working for Reagan’s campaign.

After his unethical behavior was made public, Will did not pay any price—no criticism, censure, or loss of employment. Instead, he did the same thing during George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign when he previewed questions for the ensuing interview with the presidential candidate. During the meeting he gave Bush a 3 X 5 card with a question that he planned to ask him on air. Will said that he didn’t want to “ambush [Bush] with unfamiliar material.”

Other conservative pundits have written and spoken about their disbelief in the number of rapes, both on campus and in other places, but Will may have provided the tipping point of rejecting these myths. In the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens pointed out George Will has now destroyed any credibility that he might have had:

“Will is helping spread misinformation. He’s no better than Holocaust deniers, Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists and the monsters who tell parents of school shooting victims that the massacres that robbed them of their children were a hoax….

“I’m not suggesting Will’s right to free speech should be curbed. He can go around as an American citizen saying whatever nonsense he wants to about rape victims, and plenty of places will be happy to hand him a microphone. He’s no longer credible as a journalist, whose first job, above all others, is to tell the truth.”

After 35 years the people of the United States need to recognize Will for who he is—a propagandist. As Stevens wrote, “If you deny the truth because it doesn’t fit your agenda, you’re not a journalist. You’re a propagandist.” He should be stopped from misrepresenting his radical right fantasies as information.

May 9, 2014

Campus Rape a Serious Problem

Three University of Oregon basketball players–Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Brandon Austin—won’t be charged for alleged sexual assaults in March, because ”the crimes cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Patty Perlow in Lane County. The victim said that the three males raped her repeatedly.  Dotson had been suspended from a game earlier this season after trying to use a fake ID to get into a bar, and Artis was out of  the first nine games of the season for selling team-issued shoes in violation of NCAA rules. Austin transferred to UO from Providence College (Rhode Island) after suspension following allegations of sexual assault.

This is another ugly chapter in sexual assault on college campuses across the country. U.S. politicians promote a culture of rape through their laws that concern themselves with a definition of “forcible rape” or refer to a pregnancy caused by rape as a “gift from God” or biologically impossible from “legitimate rape.”

UO officials haven’t explained why they didn’t immediately begin investigation into the March 9 assault when they were alerted, as mandated by federal law. The campus was not notified about the assault, as UO has done in cases not related to athletes, and the report does not appear on the UO police crime log. Eugene police notified UO of its completed investigation on April 8, but university officials did nothing until April 24, well after the three accused basketball players were able to play in the NCAA tournament. The vice-president of student affairs is now blaming criticism from the UO Coalition to End Sexual Violence’s for deterring the students from coming forward.

This is part of a pattern across the country, but students are starting to fight back, filing Title IX, Title II, and Clery complaints against a number of universities. The Clery Act, named for Jeanne Clery who was raped and murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student, requires higher institutions of learning to report crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, and use of a date rape drug.

The federal government has released the names of  55 colleges and universities that they are investigating for  mishandling of sexual abuse complaints. One of these is the University of Southern California that classifies sexual assaults on campus as “injury response” so that they don’t have to report attacks to the LA Police Department. A year ago, USC campus police told Ariella Mostov, who filed a sexual assault report, that she had not been raped because her attacker did not orgasm. They explained, “Even though his penis penetrated your vagina, because he stopped, it was not a crime.”

Two Republican and 10 Democratic members of Congress have requested that the US News & World Report college ranking report include a rating for the handling of sexual assault on campus. Critics claim that such action would further underreporting of this crime and shaming of victims to keep them quiet. Twenty percent of women experience sexual assault while in college, and six percent of men have the same experience. The victims know 90 percent of their rape perpetrators. One study, however, found that 95 percent of college sexual assaults are unreported. Only 20 to 25 percent of men found guilty of sexual assault are expelled from college. Their punishment might be writing a research paper.

Studies indicate that colleges reporting a low level of campus rape are those that discourage victims from reporting. These campuses are likely to have rapists continuing to offend. In contrast, victims are taken more seriously and rapists face real consequences at schools with relatively high numbers of reported rapes. A study by Safer and V-Day found that almost one-third of schools surveyed don’t meet even the minimum reporting standards of the Clery Act such as anonymous reporting, transparent and just judicial hearings, prevention programs, and definitions of “sexual misconduct” requiring students to practice affirmative consent.

A reason for concealing sexual assault at colleges is the search for funding. Higher education relies on private money, and institutions count on good public perception to make money. Private donors and businesses have less interest in funding schools with problems of violence. Much of the money comes through the jock culture that encourages sexism and violence, and college sports programs frequently use women to attract athletes.

At the same time that a group of women are suing the University of Connecticut because of their failure to follow Title IX, the state legislature has passed a bill against campus sexual assault. Requirements for all state colleges and universities:

  • Immediately provide concise, written notification to each sexual assault victim regarding their rights and options under the school’s policies following an assault.
  • Accept anonymous reporting of sexual assaults.
  • Enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with at least one community-based sexual assault crisis center and one community-based domestic violence agency to make sure sexual assault victims can access free and confidential counseling and services on or off-campus.
  • Create a campus resource team to review school policies to make recommendations for services to students and employees who report being sexually assaulted.
  • Provide more prevention programs, with an emphasis on encouraging bystanders to intervene.

Gov. Daniel P. Malloy has not yet said if he will sign the bill, but it passed unanimously in the state Senate.

Testifying against a rapist is a horrifying experience for the victim of sexual assault. A common attitude in the country was demonstrated by a contractor’s tweet on Mass.gov: “Sexual assault is always avoidable.” Criticism caused Gov. Deval Patrick to call the tweet a “dumb mistake” and have it taken down. The sentiment, however, remains: a victim of sexual assault should be sober, dressed conservatively, and stay out of “dangerous” places. Society advises women to protect themselves from rape by not drinking, but nothing is ever said about men avoiding alcohol so that they don’t rape others.

Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University junior, was raped by another student, but the man, accused by two other students of sexual assault, avoided any sanction. Harvard officials failed to act after a male student raped a young woman living in the same dormitory. Kimberly Theidon, an anthropology professor at Harvard, claims that she was denied tenure because she spoke out against sexual violence on campus and supported women who came forward with allegations.

Wagatwe Wanjuki filed a complaint at Tufts University in 2008 after two years of rape and abuse by an ex-partner, also a Tufts student, but the only action that the university was to expel her. She and another victim of sexual assault at Tufts had published a telephone number with this information: “We think rape is bad. We will help you. Call these numbers if you’re raped.” Expulsion for rape victims who insist on justice is not uncommon.

Wanjuki was awarded some justice six years later when the Education Department found Tufts to be in violation of Title IX, writing that the school has mishandled complaints of sexual assault and harassment. It has the option to terminate federal funding for the school, yet Tufts refuses to follow Title IX law. Wanjuki is now an organizer with Know Your IX, a group to educate students about their rights under Title IX.

At the end of April, the White House released a report from its Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The goals are identification of the scope of the problem, prevention, and improvement of responses of universities and the federal government. Instead of using statistics about occurrences, the report suggests a “climate survey” to find students’ awareness of and attitudes toward sexual assault on campus. The problem with this approach is how to detach it from the college’s profit motives.

Title IX can be a useful tool to combat the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. NotAlone.gov provides information about protections for students under this federal law. A 52-page document from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights provides additional information. Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand and some of her colleagues propose a database of all Title IX and Clery Act violations. Other ideas to increase students’ protection from sexual assault:

  • Colleges themselves must be held responsible for changing their culture of rape.
  • Students found guilty of sexual assault must, at the least, be expelled.
  • Students must have access to mental healthcare, safe housing, and rape kits that are actually processed.
  • The Education Department can withhold federal funding from a school that doesn’t comply with the law.

The University of Oregon is just one of many campuses that can be part of the problem or part of the solution. The university’s president said today that the three accused players will never play for the Ducks again.  University President Michael Gottfredson also said the university is appointing an independent panel to take a closer look at sexual violence and harassment on campus as well as recruiting practices at the university.

On another note, Oregon men’s basketball head coach Dana Altman said, “I am very disappointed in the three young men.” Just “disappointed”?

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