February 8, 2006

Sense, not Sensibility

I want to respond to one of Joe Malchow's recent posts—Pride, Prejudice, and Sexual Assault—because I think it's a great example of someone just not getting the whole deal with rape and sexual assault.

Joe takes umbrage at the developments highlighted in the The Dartmouth's recent reporting: "Over the past years, the College has tried to increase victims' comfort in reporting incidences of assault, an endeavor that would result in increased rape and other sexual assault statistics at Dartmouth." We're trying to increase rape statistics?! Ye gods! I thought those were supposed to go down!

Joe's concern seems to be with the justice of a system wherein the accused is not convinced of his own guilt (that's different from normal?) and where a third-party can intervene on behalf of a disempowered party (ever heard of amicus curiae? [edit: i'm not saying it's the same thing, just similar]). But I think this really comes from a mentality that says, if you're a woman and you're anywhere close to the "line," you've already crossed it enough for it not to be a criminal act on the part of the male. If you're "begging for it" and you get more of it than you want, well, tough luck, sista. Foreplay invariably means "I'm for play."

This type of thinking is obscene. This is the same attitude that believes marital rape is impossible, that the criterion of rape is (secretly) not lack of consent but the presence of physical force.

Let's look at the alternative to taking the kind of stand against rape advocated by SAAP. I will acknowledge that the following is dependent on taking the prevalence of campus sexual assault seriously, something which is absent from Malchow's analysis and from what usually comes from the Review. I don't think they believe that sexual assault occurs frequently enough to merit worry. I do. This isn't a bunch of girls going hysterical days later because she decides she doesn't want to see you anymore. This isn't sensibility. This is sense.

Anyway, the alternative to taking a firm stand against rape and sexual assault via the measures currently in place, or something approximating them, will simply result in an amplification of the pressures placed on women not to report. If you can save yourself a Parkhursting (or worse) by convincing a girl that when she said "no," she really meant "sure, go ahead" and that kind of behavior is successful fairly often because of a lack of third-party support, then such behavior will only become more successful because it will become more common. Rape itself will not necessarily increase, but the temptation to do something that lots of other guys get away with will be strong.

And certainly, the reporting of rape will plummet, which is the real mark of progress for Joe, I guess. So who's playing with the number of reported cases now?

Cheers to GDX and the football team for taking the problem of sexual assault seriously, btw.


  1. Anonymous4:04 PM

    You don't understand amicus curiae.

  2. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Thank you, Andrew.

  3. I the key part of Joe's post is the following quote:

    For College officers to take pride in the number of reported rapes requires the presumption of guilt

    I think that what Joe's not saying and what you may not be saying is that Joe is concerned about false positives.

    There is a set of sexual encounters in which it's unclear as to whether the sex was consensual or not. The whole "innocent until proven guilty" rule means that the guy shouldn't be on the hook for rape charges in these situations. No one disagrees about this, as far as I can tell.

    Joe's concern seems to be that these are exactly the type of situations that probably account for the increase in reported rapes, and that this isn't something to be proud of. In other words, the accuser's story would be "I wasn't sure if it was rape, but the SAAP people convinced me to report it."

    I think that SAAP would respond that Joe is mistaken about why people don't report rape, generally. It's not because they're not sure if it was actually rape. It's because they fear social consequences like ostracism, intimidation, being called a slut, and they fear that they will not be vindicated or believed, the rapist will not be held accountable, and that basically the benefit won't be worth the cost. SAAP presumably tells people "it's ok to report rape because we'll support you," not "hey, if you didn't sign a consent form we can probably sink this guy."

    Maybe I'm putting words into Joe's mouth and into SAAP's, but I think that they have differing ideas about what the circumstances are in the cases that may account for the slight increase in reported rapes.

    If you think--as I think Joe does--that SAAP is convincing more people that they were raped when they probably weren't, then that's a problem.

    If you think--as I think SAAP does-- that SAAP is allaying the fears of more women who were raped but afraid to report it, then that's an accomplishment.

  4. anonymous, yeah, it's not exact. amicus briefs are not exactly filed on behalf of either of the parties involved, but I would say that SAPAs are not working exactly on behalf of the victim (or, if you prefer, "victim"). They are more like a true third-party, I think.

  5. bmc,

    I'm planning a second post on this for later, and I'll probably repeat this because I think you highlight a really good aspect of this. Your analysis is, as per usual, excellent, I think. So here's my response to what you've pointed out in Joe's post.

    Joe's primary concern is with false positives. I find this ridiculous. His primary concern is not that girls might be getting raped or assaulted, but that girls are lying or are convinced to lie. He assumes—presumes—that if there is a spike in the reporting of rape or sexual assault, then it is the girls' fault. It is their indecision at best, their two-facedness at worst, all in collusion with "radical" SAPAs that has driven this rate up. This is like blaming gynecologists for an increase in breast cancer because they encourage women to get screened more often and therefore more cases get detected. The results, however, of a false positive in that case are clearly not as bad as in the case of rape.

    I totally recognize the possibility of false positives. I've heard of a few cases that I find troubling in that the guy seemed to have done nothing wrong. But I don't know the whole story, and the people who did (other than the guy) all seemed to reach the same conclusion. I think it takes a lot of cynicism to believe that all those people have no idea what they're doing.

    I simply don't feel Joe has the same opinion of what constitutes rape as does a SAPA; I can think of no other reason for his overwhelming skepticism of their efforts.

  6. Andrew, I agree with pretty much everything you said.

    This might make my point a bit clearer.

    I re-read Joe's post, and this time the end of it jumped out at me.

    when the purported victim does not consider the act rape in half of all situations, and when the purported perpetrator does not understand the imputation that his actions were wrong, and you take great pride in the number of fish this gapless net has nabbed, you do not have a just system.

    He worries that SAAP is making something out of nothing, to the detriment of guys who were on the right side of the line but a little too close to it.

    I think Joe's response to your gynecology analogy would be to say that SAAP isn't really doing cancer screening, but rather is going around convincing people that benign cysts are actually cancer... or maybe unjustly pushing at the edges of what the definition of cancer means.

    I think you're right, and I think that Joe's characterization of what SAAP does is unduly cynical. If Joe is going to say that SAAP isn't doing what it says it is, then he needs to show some evidence, I think.