The Rolling Stone story about the University of Virginia frat gang rape has fallen apart. Now come the recriminations.
Those who care about stopping campus sexual assault, as I do, are outraged by the Rolling Stone story for all the right reasons. The shoddy journalism and questionable complaint will damage true victims of sexual assault, who may be more hesitant to come forward, and less likely to be believed.
There also are those standing up for journalistic standards and the rights of innocent fraternity members, individually and collectively, accused of a horrific sex crime. But there is another strain of reaction, which refuses to acknowledge that the Rolling Stone story is a symptom of a larger problem of radical feminism on campuses, where agenda trumps evidence and individual rights.
That strain of reaction holds that it is more important than ever for even questionable accusations of sexual abuse and rape to be presumed true regardless of the evidence and not be questioned. In that view, the Rolling Stone story’s falling apart reinforces the belief that the burden should be on the accused male to prove innocence, even if campus quasi-judicial systems provide few procedures to do so.
Increasingly, university administrations under pressure from the federal government take that attitude of presumptive guilt based on a mere accusation.
The dubious, if not completely discredited, statistic that one in five college women is a victim of rape or sexual assault feeds the frenzy. What are a few ruined young male lives if it serves the greater good of fighting “rape culture” and the patriarchy?
Blackstone’s famous formulation of justice has been turned on its head. No longer is it “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” Now it is “better ten innocent men suffer, than one guilty man escape,” as Amy Miller wrote of the current state of campus affairs.
That’s the attitude of Zerlina Maxwell, writing in the Washington Post. The title of the column originally was “No matter what Jackie said, we should automatically believe rape claims.” The word “automatically” was replaced with “generally” after an Internet uproar.
“Incredulity hurts victims more than it hurts wrongly accused perps,” the subhead to the Maxwell column, gave away the game:
Now the narrative appears to be falling apart: her rapist wasn’t in the frat she says, the house held no party on the night of the assault, and other details are wobbly. Many people (not least UVA administrators) will be tempted to see this as a reminder that officials, reporters, and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases. This is what we mean in America when we say someone is “innocent until proven guilty.” After all, look what happened to the Duke lacrosse players.
In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist. Even if Jackie fabricated her account, UVA should have taken her word for it during the period while they endeavored to prove or disprove the accusation. This is not a legal argument about what standards we should use in the courts; it’s a moral one, about what happens outside the legal system.
The accused would have a rough period. He might be suspended from his job; friends might de-friend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching, consuming his books, or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. But false accusations are exceedingly rare, and errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.
How easily Maxwell minimizes the impact of a false or questionable accusation.
Just ask the Duke lacrosse players whether an accusation is no big deal. Or the dozens of men suing universities after being found “responsible” (not necessarily “guilty”) for situations involving mixed signals and intoxication of males and females in equal measure, the accusations frequently made months or even years later.
Just ask the men falsely accused in the Hofstra University rape hoax in 2009 how inconsequential the mere accusations were. They were arrested and subjected to threats in prison from other inmates, as often happens to those accused of sex crimes:
The Hofstra freshman who had a raunchy restroom romp and then cried rape made up the twisted tale because she didn’t want her schoolmates — particularly her new boyfriend — to think she was easy, the beau told The Post yesterday.
Publicly branded as rapists, the men said they were hounded as the lowest type of criminal in prison and feared for their lives.
“They were harassing me more than anybody else, just because of what I was in there for,” Felipe said. The guards “were badgering me. They would push me and shove me.
“I thought I was dreaming. The worst part was hearing that I could do 25 years. I’m not even 25 years old. I’m just 19.”
Ortiz was forced to ask for protective custody, because “the inmates were referring to him as the rapist,” his lawyer Carlos Cruz said.
“In school, they are calling my daughter the sister of the raper,” said Taveras’ father, Ramiro, 43. “Unfortunately, everything doesn’t stop because the DA says go home and drops the charges.”
The father also said his son had received a letter from his employer, Cablevision, telling him he had been fired. But late last night, a Cablevision spokesman told The Post he would be reinstated.
There is no reliable statistical measurement of the quantity of false accusations, but there is a mountain of anecdotal evidence of the problem, including the Rolling Stone story. The problem is only likely to get worse owing to the “yes means yes” trend, where even objectively consensual sex may give rise to a claim of sexual assault for failure to obtain the necessary affirmative consent.
As Dr. Helen Smith notes, the University of Virginia case “is just another example of how male space is being destroyed step-by-step. . . . If there are males out in society or even playing video games in the privacy of their own basement, the totalitarians are there in full force to make sure that they have nowhere to hide.”
With the Rolling Stone story, it was a hunt for the most despised male or group of males, and most sympathetic victim, to tell a larger story. Chris Bray, one of the first people to question the veracity of the Rolling Stone article, writes at The Daily Caller how the Rolling Stone author sought out the best victim narrative to fit the larger “rape culture” narrative (boldface and italics in original):
She was rape shopping: going from campus to campus auditioning rape victims, contacting advocacy groups and asking for introductions. But the rapes she found at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn didn’t have the right narrative feel. They were just rapes, and she needed a cover-worthy rape. So she kept shopping until she found someone who would tell her a version of the story she had already decided to tell. She needed a big rape — something splashy, something with wild details and a frat house. She needed a rape that would go viral. You can’t do that with just some regular boring rape.
Radical feminists on campus, driven by theories about “patriarchy” and “rape culture,” are the new hunter-gatherers, seeking out accusations to prove a theory, not evidence to fairly adjudicate guilt. Hence, any accusation, no matter how improbable, must be treated as presumptively true, thereby ensnaring college men in a net from which it is difficult to escape. Even when found not “responsible” by a campus tribunal, men at Columbia University, for example, are liable to have their names scrawled as perpetrators in bathrooms, on flyers, and online.
That may yet happen with the UVA frat members, as Hanna Rosin at Slate.com notes that their names are circulating:
In the last few days, the names of the fraternity members started to leak out, and many of us began to look up their Facebook pages. I found myself playing the profiling game: Is that the kind of haircut a rapist would have? Are those the kinds of girls he would have hanging all over him? Oh, yeah, that bro is totally a rapist.
The lack of a finding of male culpability in a given case is used as just further proof that the net needs to be tightened, and the hunt pursued with greater vigor.
Mothers, how much longer will you allow your sons to live as hunted people on campus? Must their lives be ruined so that feminist “rape culture” and other theories can be validated in a real-world testing laboratory?
Certainly, some mothers have spoken out, as reported in early August 2014: “Moms band together to protect sons’ due process rights on campus.” The group, Families Advocating for Campus Equality, or FACE, is spearheaded by the mothers of several male students who were falsely accused of sexual assault while at their universities, but even its statement had to be defensive:
The women who have come together to organize FACE are emphatically not anti-women; they are, in fact, self-defined ‘feminists.’ Protecting students — whether male or female, and regardless of sexual orientation or identification — from assault, and the proper and effective prosecution of those who would prey upon them are issues of vital concern to FACE.
However, of equal importance to the women of FACE is our sacred heritage of justice and due process of law. Establishing a system that is fair and impartial, and that affords the accused the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Bill of Rights is hardly a gender-based issue. Under present circumstances, colleges and universities, while striving to protect alleged victims, colleges and universities are inadvertently creating new victims — the unjustly/falsely accused.
Other mothers have taken to writing. In “A Mother, a Feminist, Aghast,” Judith Grossman in the Wall Street Journal declares:
I am a feminist. I have marched at the barricades, subscribed to Ms. magazine, and knocked on many a door in support of progressive candidates committed to women’s rights. Until a month ago, I would have expressed unqualified support for Title IX and for the Violence Against Women Act.
But that was before my son, a senior at a small liberal-arts college in New England, was charged — by an ex-girlfriend — with alleged acts of “nonconsensual sex” that supposedly occurred during the course of their relationship a few years earlier.
What followed was a nightmare — a fall through Alice’s looking-glass into a world that I could not possibly have believed existed, least of all behind the ivy-covered walls thought to protect an ostensible dedication to enlightenment and intellectual betterment. . . .
There are very real and horrifying instances of sexual misconduct and abuse on college campuses and elsewhere. That these offenses should be investigated and prosecuted where appropriate is not open to question. What does remain a question is how we can make the process fair for everyone.
I fear that in the current climate the goal of “women’s rights,” with the compliance of politically motivated government policy and the tacit complicity of college administrators, runs the risk of grounding our most cherished institutions in a veritable snake pit of injustice — not unlike the very injustices the movement itself has for so long sought to correct. Unbridled feminist orthodoxy is no more the answer than are attitudes and policies that victimize the victim.
Restoring fairness and balance to a system run amok is not a matter of gender division.
Christina Hoff Sommers, who has written extensively about the problems facing men on campuses, tweets about her concern as the mother of sons: “As a former philosophy professor and mother of sons, @ZerlinaMaxwell’s logic frightens me.”
These voices of mothers standing up for all sons are important, but not enough. There needs to be realignment of the culture on campus, away from the radical feminist inquisition, in which men and women alike who dare question orthodoxy are punished and exiled.
Accusations of sexual assault and rape must be taken seriously and investigated, but taking accusations seriously also requires serious consideration of the evidence and the rights of the accused. Otherwise you end up with a Rolling Stone situation, which causes great harm to the cause it purported to advance.
Do not expect university administrations to adjust that imbalance. In a statement, University of Virginia president Teresa A. Sullivan – who suspended all fraternities and sororities immediately after the Rolling Stone story — accepted no need for a change in approach:
The University of Virginia is aware of today’s reports from the Washington Post and the statement from Rolling Stone magazine.
The University remains first and foremost concerned with the care and support of our students and, especially, any survivor of sexual assault. Our students, their safety, and their wellbeing, remain our top priority.
Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses. Today’s news must not alter this focus.
We will continue to take a hard look at our practices, policies and procedures, and continue to dedicate ourselves to becoming a model institution in our educational programming, in the character of our student culture, and in our care for those who are victims.
We are a learning community, and we will continue our community-wide discussions and actions on these important issues in the weeks and months ahead. We remain committed to taking action as necessary to bring about meaningful cultural change in our University community.
At the University of Virginia, and elsewhere around the nation, it will be business as usual, in which there are few advocates for the wrongly accused, because of fear of being labeled “anti-woman” or “pro-rape.” Part of the imbalance on campus is that while both mothers and fathers can, and should, speak up for their daughters, only mothers can effectively speak up for their sons. Fathers speaking up will be denigrated as “mansplaining” and used as just more proof of the supposed patriarchy.
Mothers, it’s up to you. Will you continue to be silent as your innocent sons are used as cannon fodder for the radical feminist agenda? If you care about your sons and your daughters, speak up.
— William A. Jacobson is a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and the publisher of Legal Insurrection Blog.