He said, She said, and Russian Roulette

Rape is always a bad idea. Let’s start with that. On the other hand, doing “whatever is necessary” to prevent rapes–stop for a moment to consider what actions that standard justifies– is also a bad idea. Where do we go from there?

I would like to take a non-empirical look at policies bearing on sexual activity on university campuses. By “non-empirical,” I mean that this essay would not be affected in the slightest if it turns out that there is one false accusation of rape out of a million truthful accusations of rape or if it turns out that there are even numbers of true and false accusations. [1]  That is not what this piece is about at all.

This article in the New York Times says that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is starting to reconsider some of the Obama-era regulations. Some new balance is going to be attempted, apparently, so this is a good time to look at what “balance” means in this context.

  • Let’s look at the organized side of balance first.

“…advocates for victims and women …have spent the last six years waging a concerted campaign to educate college administrators, and the public, on students’ rights under the law, and how to combat what some have called “rape culture” on campus.”

It’s hard to think of anything good to say about a “rape culture,” which is, presumably, a culture that encourages or at least excuses the abuse of women by men. [2]

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that we now have an “accusations culture” which would also not be good.

“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — 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,’” Ms. Jackson said.

  • Then there is the rhetorical side.

DeVos 1All this is coming to a head now because Ms. DeVos (shown here) is bringing this balance up for reconsideration. The New York Times writers refer to the ongoing conflict as “a maelstrom.” [3] She wants to meet with groups who will be willing to represent the men, the disproportionately accused parties. Predictably, the women are not happy with the men who are being included, some of whom they call misogynists. I think it would be reasonable to assume that the men’s groups are going to call the women’s groups misandrists. English makes that pairing available and given the level of intensity this conflict has reached, it would seem almost odd if both were not used.

There is still the question of whether calling your opponents bad names is an effective political strategy.

  • And then there is the balance between the powers of the the Presidency and the powers of the Congress.

President Obama was fairly aggressive in using the powers of his office—not in changing the Congress’s approach to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act—to put the campuses on notice that they would accept the new federal programs aimed at reducing sexual assaults on campus or they would be rejecting the federal monies that would otherwise flow to the universities.

It would seem odd, I think, if President Trump did not make use of those same powers to try: a) to undo the gains of the Obama presidency or b) to restore at least the rudiments of balance between the accused and the accusers. Obviously, you can say it either way. The difficulty in both cases is that the law stays the same as it was and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, acting in the President’s name, makes whatever changes in interpretation their constituents require.

That is, as my father used to say, no way to run a railroad.

  • And finally, there is the Astroturf side.

In politics, they call it Astroturf if what is supposed to be a “grass roots movement” is entirely artificial. Women’s groups have been asking people to post their personal stories about sexual assault on Twitter, using the hashtag #Dear Betsy.

In the meantime, C. D. Mock, (pictured at the right) whose son was accused, says, “The young men who have DeVos 2been accused have gone through an absolutely horrendous experience,  They have had their entire world turned upside down.” He doesn’t say that he is promoting a Twitter campaign called #DearBarack, but if the Civil Rights Division is flooded with letters from women and men who have had their lives ruined by sexual encounters in college, that will be what I mean by an Astroturf campaign.

I tell my stories. You tell your stories. I ask for the electronic in-boxes of federal policy makers to be flooded by pathetic stories that illustrate my point. You ask for the pathetic stories to illustrate your point. At some point, the inboxes are all full and neither campaign has addressed the other.

If you learn that a friend of yours is spending his out of class hours in college playing Russian Roulette, you will have to decide when to tell him he is making a mistake. He does not begin to make a mistake when he pulls the trigger when there is a bullet in the chamber. That approach produces only stacks of tweets from people who didn’t die while playing the game and other tweets from the parents of students who did die. All the inboxes are full and no one has addressed whether playing Russian Roulette is a good idea.

[1] Ms. Jackson says, “Hundreds of cases are still pending, some for years, she said, because investigators were “specifically told to keep looking until you find the violation” on college campuses even after they found none — a charge her critics strongly deny.” Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s civil rights office from August 2013 through December 2016, called Ms. Jackson’s claims that investigators were told to fish for violations “patently, demonstrably untrue.” What I mean by “non-empirical” is that I am not going to inquire whether it was true or not. This piece is about something else entirely.
[2] The context of this whole discussion presupposes heterosexual relationships. There are difficulties of other kinds in other kinds of relationships, of course, but this article does not deal with them.
[3] No references have yet been made to a “femaelstrom” but the controversy has not yet climaxed so there is still time.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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2 Responses to He said, She said, and Russian Roulette

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