Commentary Magazine


Topic: sexual assault

Concerned About Sexual Assaults on Campus? Let Women Defend Themselves.

One of the hot-button issues of the last year is about to get even more contentious. After a year in which both the White House and many members of Congress have sought to highlight what they say is an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, legislators in ten states are seeking to change the laws to make it easier for women to defend themselves against assailants. But don’t expect the president and many of those who have done so much to try and focus attention on the issue to be supporting these initiatives. That’s because the measures in question are an attempt to change the law to make it possible for students and faculty to carry firearms on college campuses. Stopping rape may be important to some people, but not so important as to cause them to join forces with the gun-rights movement.

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One of the hot-button issues of the last year is about to get even more contentious. After a year in which both the White House and many members of Congress have sought to highlight what they say is an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, legislators in ten states are seeking to change the laws to make it easier for women to defend themselves against assailants. But don’t expect the president and many of those who have done so much to try and focus attention on the issue to be supporting these initiatives. That’s because the measures in question are an attempt to change the law to make it possible for students and faculty to carry firearms on college campuses. Stopping rape may be important to some people, but not so important as to cause them to join forces with the gun-rights movement.

As the New York Times reports, proposals to allow guns on campus are getting negative reviews from most of those who have been trying to make rape prevention a front-burner issue. They claim that acquaintances rather than strangers perpetrate most rapes, making possession of a gun less likely to prevent the crime. An even stronger argument is made by those who say it’s free access to alcohol that is fueling sexual assaults rather than the lack of access to firearms.

But even if we concede that date rape and drinking are the real problems, the only argument against providing campus residents with the ability to defend themselves with weapons has more to do with hostility to guns and liberal ideology than protecting women against sexual assault.

It is true that those behind the efforts to amend the laws to allow students and faculty to carry weapons are exploiting an issue that isn’t necessarily associated with the movement to promote gun rights. But the hypocrisy here isn’t to be found among the supporters of the National Rifle Association and other groups that seek to expand firearm ownership. Rather, it is among those who, until this issue came up, were shouting from the rooftops that something had to be done to protect students and faculty from what we have been told is a steep increase in sexual assaults. Though allowing people to carry guns on campus won’t stop all or even most rapes, can anyone credibly argue that it wouldn’t prevent some of these crimes? Can anyone doubt that if gun possession became more common that would constitute a serious deterrent against sexual predators?

It may be true that the last things most residents of academia want to see are more guns. The left, which dominates the vast majority of colleges and universities, tends to see the Second Amendment that guarantees the right of Americans to bear arms as a mistake that should be annulled. They also may think that widespread gun ownership will endanger more people than it helps and create a Wild West atmosphere that will create more casualties from accidents and other mishaps.

But those who claim that more must be done to prevent sexual assaults are on shaky ground when they say that giving a potential victim a weapon that could stop any attacker in their tracks is the one measure that must be considered out of bounds as a solution to the problem.

It is undoubtedly true that efforts aimed at stopping binge drinking and the widespread consumption of alcohol on campuses would be a more effective method of stopping rapes and many other problems. But opponents of gun rights are exposed as hypocrites when they claim that firearms are the one measure to stop rape that is off the table.

College campuses are places where other rights, such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment, are often sacrificed to political correctness. But just as students should not be asked to give up their right to free speech, neither should they necessarily be required to give up those protected by the Second Amendment.

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Kirsten Gillibrand’s Cruel Assault on Justice

The media’s atrocious coverage of campus sexual assault myths–from uncritically broadcasting fake stories of rape to promulgating false and debunked statistics pushed by the Obama administration to further its “war on women”–has created an interesting phenomenon in response. Good reporters are seeking to “re-report” the stories, in the hopes of setting the record straight and minimizing some of the incredible damage the accusations have done. Cathy Young is one such reporter, and she has a disturbing story at the Daily Beast today that is about more than just flimsy accusations; it’s a chilling example of a United States senator’s abuse of power.

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The media’s atrocious coverage of campus sexual assault myths–from uncritically broadcasting fake stories of rape to promulgating false and debunked statistics pushed by the Obama administration to further its “war on women”–has created an interesting phenomenon in response. Good reporters are seeking to “re-report” the stories, in the hopes of setting the record straight and minimizing some of the incredible damage the accusations have done. Cathy Young is one such reporter, and she has a disturbing story at the Daily Beast today that is about more than just flimsy accusations; it’s a chilling example of a United States senator’s abuse of power.

Young re-reports the story of Paul Nungesser, a German student at Columbia University accused of sexual assault by a former friend, Emma Sulkowicz. The case has become one of the more famous of this crop of stories for two reasons. The first is that Nungesser was cleared of all charges even in a campus disciplinary process weighted against him, so Sulkowicz has taken to trying to bully Nungesser out of school by carrying a mattress around campus. (It is ostensibly an “art” project, but Sulkowicz has said she’ll stop if Nungesser leaves school.) The second is because Sulkowicz was embraced by New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who targeted Nungesser precisely because he was found innocent and even invited Sulkowicz to this year’s State of the Union as her guest.

By any remotely reasonable standard, Gillibrand’s actions should horrify those who care about basic rights. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is that this kind of mob mentality will only help her career, since the left has fully embraced turning its declared enemies into “former people,” whether they are philanthropic libertarian business leaders or male college students.

It’s important to note that these stories should not lessen anyone’s sympathy for victims of sexual assault. And one irony of this particular case is that Nungesser agrees: “My mother raised me to be a feminist,” he had previously told the New York Times. Young’s report makes it easy to believe that. It’s also easy to see why Nungesser was cleared. I recommend reading the whole article, which lays out the timeline quite clearly.

The facts were on Nungesser’s side to such an undeniable degree that even a university hearing rigged in the complainant’s favor had to rule for Nungesser:

Nungesser has his own gripes about the hearing. Among other things, he says he was never allowed to present the Facebook exchanges, which he regards as strongly exculpatory, to the panel: The hearing, he claims, had to focus exclusively on the facts of the alleged attack in an attempt to decide whose version of this event was more credible. Despite this, and despite a low “preponderance of the evidence” standard which requires adjudicators to find in favor of the complainant if they believe it is even slightly more likely than not than the assault occurred, Nungesser was cleared. In late November, the university upheld that decision, rejecting Sulkowicz’s appeal. Nungesser says he now felt free to pursue his earlier plans to spend a semester in the Czech Republic studying at a Prague film school. But he was about to face a new trial—in the media and in the court of public opinion.

He has been the subject of threats, of course, but has been able to retain some anonymity. That anonymity doesn’t help as much in personal relationships, however, where he comes clean about the process he’s been going through. He has a new girlfriend, who Young also talked to for the story. “It’s not like an easy decision for me, to stay with Paul,” she told Young. “But I do because I have overwhelming trust in him.” Even when cleared, the charge carries a stigma. (This is true also because he was cleared of two additional such accusations by women who were encouraged by Nungesser’s critics to lodge similar charges against him.)

And that stigma is something that Gillibrand seems only too happy to facilitate. So much for the rights of the accused, innocent until proven guilty, etc. Gillibrand is participating in a particularly atrocious attack on basic justice in which activists are aiming their fire at those cleared of charges so they can discredit even the innocent. As Young writes:

Last April, a press release from the office of Sen. Gillibrand on the problem of campus sexual assault quoted Sulkowicz as saying, “My rapist—a serial rapist—still remains on campus, even though three of the women he assaulted reported him.”

That is an incredible charge, especially when he was already cleared. But Gillibrand amplified it. Such acts are unimaginably irresponsible when undertaken by ordinary citizens. When you put the power of the state behind them–which is what Gillibrand was doing, since she’s been drumming up support for her preferred government action on the issue–they become cruel and authoritarian. Nungesser has been cleared of wrongdoing and yet Gillibrand is still using the power of the United States Senate to ruin his name. It’s shameful, and it should stop immediately.

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Harvard Law Pushes Back

Last summer Harvard University adopted a new policy for how to handle charges of sexual harassment, following the demands of the U.S. Department of Education. As at most schools, the new policy is grotesquely slanted in favor of accusers and against the accused. That is not surprising. With the government using the club of possible loss of federal funding, most schools feel they have no choice but to knuckle under. And, of course, on many, perhaps most, college campuses uber-feminist misandry is as thick as fog.

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Last summer Harvard University adopted a new policy for how to handle charges of sexual harassment, following the demands of the U.S. Department of Education. As at most schools, the new policy is grotesquely slanted in favor of accusers and against the accused. That is not surprising. With the government using the club of possible loss of federal funding, most schools feel they have no choice but to knuckle under. And, of course, on many, perhaps most, college campuses uber-feminist misandry is as thick as fog.

But a strange thing has happened at Harvard. It seems that 28 members of the faculty at the Harvard Law School think that due process and basic fairness have a place in academia after all.

They have published an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe: “As members of the faculty of Harvard Law School, we write to voice our strong objections to the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures imposed by the central university administration and the Corporation on all parts of the university, including the law school.” Among their objections are:

Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation. Here our concerns include but are not limited to the following:

■ The absence of any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing.

■ The lodging of the functions of investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review in one office, and the fact that that office is itself a Title IX compliance office rather than an entity that could be considered structurally impartial.

■ The failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused, particularly for students unable to afford representation.

They also fault “Adopting rules governing sexual conduct between students both of whom are impaired or incapacitated, rules which are starkly one-sided as between complainants and respondents, …” In other words, they’re both drunk, but she gets a pass and he gets hanged

It will be most interesting to see how this plays out. My guess is that the powers-that-be at Harvard, such as President Drew Faust, will respond with “thanks for your input,” and drop the subject.

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Hyping the Horrors of Military Service

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, thankfully, do not have to face the kind of opprobrium that an earlier generation of Vietnam veterans encountered. But there is still a tendency to pathologize vets, to assume that they are victims of a sinister system, innocents who have been sent into battle against their will and forced to pay a high cost.

Take the surge of concern about military suicides. The problem is a real one—the suicide rate is rising in the ranks of the military—but let’s not get carried away. Given the demographics of the military (young white males are one of the population groups most likely to commit suicide) and the easy availability of lethal weapons, one might expect that the suicide rate in the military would at least be higher than in the general population. That’s not the case. As this New York Times article notes: “In 2002, the military’s suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 troops, well below the comparable civilian rate. But today the rates are nearly the same, above 18 per 100,000 people.”

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Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, thankfully, do not have to face the kind of opprobrium that an earlier generation of Vietnam veterans encountered. But there is still a tendency to pathologize vets, to assume that they are victims of a sinister system, innocents who have been sent into battle against their will and forced to pay a high cost.

Take the surge of concern about military suicides. The problem is a real one—the suicide rate is rising in the ranks of the military—but let’s not get carried away. Given the demographics of the military (young white males are one of the population groups most likely to commit suicide) and the easy availability of lethal weapons, one might expect that the suicide rate in the military would at least be higher than in the general population. That’s not the case. As this New York Times article notes: “In 2002, the military’s suicide rate was 10.3 per 100,000 troops, well below the comparable civilian rate. But today the rates are nearly the same, above 18 per 100,000 people.”

Nor is it the case, as widely assumed, that most service members who commit suicide are traumatized combat vets. As the Times article further notes: “Pentagon data show that in recent years about half of service members who committed suicide never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. And more than 80 percent had never been in combat.”

Then there is the problem of sexual assault in the military. No doubt the issue is a serious one, but is it really the case that women in the military are more likely to be assaulted than those in civilian life? It’s hard to say for sure because statistics in this area are suspect, but isn’t it possible—even likely—that the military is simply better about tracking the problem than is civilian society?

I do not mean to minimize the problems of suicide and sexual assault, nor do I mean to deny the problems caused by post-traumatic stress syndrome. There is no doubt that many who have been in combat will bear the psychological scars for years to come and they deserve our sympathy and compassion along with the best treatment available. But I worry that by hyping these issues—while neglecting by comparison the daily acts of heroism and self-sacrifice performed by our service personnel—the media foster the image of soldiers as crazy or criminal. That is about as far from reality as it is possible to get.

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