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Philosophy professor argues against ‘sexual’ ‘assault’ ‘awareness’ April 19, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — redeyedtreefrog @ 10:31 pm

From Jezebel:

“Dr. Theodore Everett, a philosophy professor at SUNY Geneseo, is honoring the campus’s Sexual Assault Awareness week in an unconventional way: by holding a lecture about how sexual assault is not a real issue on college campuses or the nation in general. The talk is entitled “Against ‘Sexual’ ‘Assault’ ‘Awareness’” — infuriatingly, it has not one but three sets of air quotes in its name. Because, you know, infringing on a woman’s bodily integrity and sense of safety and self-worth in a sexual manner is neither sexual nor assault; it’s mostly just women making a big deal out of nothing and/or lying for the fun of it. Against ‘Sexual’ ‘Assault’ ‘Awareness’: The Lecture is set to take place this Monday at 7:00 — which, not coincidentally, is also half an hour into the Womyn’s Action Coalition’s Take Back The Night walk. Awesome.”

Read the full story here,
http://jezebel.com/malignantly-dense-prof-lectures-against-sexual-assau-476428570

 

78 Responses to “Philosophy professor argues against ‘sexual’ ‘assault’ ‘awareness’”

  1. ChrisTS Says:

    My first (hopeful) thought was that this was a good philosophical demonstration of presenting arguments for any position. After looking through the links, I gather I was mistaken.

    I do not support the petition [and why is it done?] for his university to ‘condemn’ him, but I certainly would encourage all students, faculty, and staff who find this repulsive to make their view clear.

  2. ChrisTS Says:

    I am sorry to go OT, but I have been waiting to see if FP picked up on the report of an NH politician referring to women as ‘vaginas.’ Here, for one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/peter-hansen-new-hampshire-vaginas_n_3095135.html

  3. He’s a typical right-wing academic dickhead provocateur. Every campus has them. He likes to give speeches against “political correctness,” universal healthcare, and Obama, and in favor of economic inequality. Probably thinks he’s being bold and courageous. Some of his stuff is here: http://www.geneseo.edu/~everett/

  4. wileywitch Says:

    The man is poison. I disagree with the idea that rape is not pathological. Of course it is. Rape is pathological, as is rape culture, misogyny, and patriarchy. Oppression occurs when one or more groups of people feels that the pathological things they do to another group or groups aren’t pathological and scoff at the idea that it’s even a problem at all that people (like them) need to concern themselves with (even as they do these things.)

    The fact that psychiatry would rather label victims as being ill than challenge predation and abuse doesn’t mean that people who enjoy hurting others aren’t sick.

    Human pathology has become so powerful that two nations on our little planet have the power to destroy us all in twelve minutes. The fact that it’s “normal” and largely accepted doesn’t make it any less pathological.

    Pathology is the disease that maims and kills us, and tries to break us.

  5. shira Says:

    i would very much hope that some activists confront him publicly in a truly ‘civil’, dignified way with this offer: a challenge to participate in a monitored experiment of ROLEPLAY: he plays a woman, someone else, a man assaulting the ‘woman’ …….

    avoiding, of course, actual physical harm, there’s likely no better way to offer a sense of what a victim experiences……most of all, emotionally/mentally…….

    such experiments often succeed, as noted in therapeutic work with abusers…….

    naturally, a willingness and minimum openness is needed from the person in question, therefore a respectful approach to him is required of the activists.

  6. Heidi Savage Says:

    I will be speaking at this event as a feminist and a victim. This came kind of late. But now that this has become a public event at our institution, I felt this was necessary.

  7. Heidi Savage Says:

    Also, the story at jezebel is based on a reaction to just the title alone. I hope by situating the issue within feminist literature, and by looking at the issue from a victim’s perspective, that the content will become the focus, rather than the character of the person raising the issues about the nature of consent and of the nature of sexual assault. This has all been blown out of proportion.

  8. Adele Mercier Says:

    Let the idiot say what idiots will say. And, yes, idiots will believe him.
    The important thing is never to shut up about the things idiots say.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/education/swarthmore-and-occidental-colleges-are-accused-of-mishandling-sexual-assault-cases.html?ref=todayspaper

  9. philodaria Says:

    Heidi, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be unsupportive, but I’m having trouble understanding why you think the Jezebel story is only based on a reaction to the title alone when it includes an email (the content of which I find deeply troubling) from Dr. Everett?

  10. Heidi Savage Says:

    First, prefacing your remark, with “I don’t mean to be unsupportive” doesn’t necessarily negate your implication. All I can say is that, as a victim of rape, I don’t see anything wrong with analysing the results of a particular empirical study of said phenomenon.

  11. philodaria Says:

    I know it doesn’t necessarily negate the implication–and I am deeply sorry for the implication (which is why I also said I was sorry, but again, I am sorry). I know it’s really hard to have discussions like this online where you don’t have access to tone, facial expression, body language and the like. So, I knew there was reason to worry that my question would be taken the wrong way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with analyzing the results of a particular study either. I am just trying to understand what you meant about the title.

  12. ajkreider Says:

    There may well be an issue here, though the timing an manner in which it is apparently being raised is questionable to say the least. I think it hurts the cause of those devoted to promoting respectful, free and safe campus environments for women, to use statistics in a way that lumps together very different kinds of behavior. It makes the cause appear less serious than it should.

    Should women be able to go to college free from “continued arguments and pressure” to have sex? Yes. Is such sex coerced sex? Well, under one view coercion, I suppose. Is it rape? Probably not, and certainly not in the minds of the general public – whose opinion we need on this. Is an unwanted kiss sexual assault? Yes. Is it rape? No.

    Some have used these kinds of cases for the headline-grabbing “one in four college women are the victim of rape”, or the only slightly less bad “one if four college women are the victim of rape or sexual assault”. The discovery that these things are all counted together prompts lots of eye-rolling, which then leads to dismissive attitudes towards the problems women face on campus.

    Though somehow I doubt that this professor’s bringing up the issue is primarily motivated by concern for the interests of women on college campuses.

  13. swallerstein Says:

    Throw a cake in his face. Give him a big dry cleaning bill.

    Some people have prejudices out of ignorance and should be treated with care in the hope that they can be educated, but this character is perverse. There’s no hope for him.

  14. Heidi Savage Says:

    philodaria,

    I didn’t take the question in the wrong way at all. Just pointing out a fact about how you cannot preface your comments with “I don’t mean to be x” and have that make it true that you are not being x, no matter what comes next. Indeed, as I have noticed myself, usually saying “I don’t mean to be x” really means “I am going to be x now, and I hope you won’t mind.” At any rate, I would like to thank ajkreider for offering a charitable understanding of what is really going on here. Yes, the tIming, provocativeness of title, and cetera are problematic. But the issues being raised are perfectly legitimate, and do in fact concern women’s interests on campus, or at least mostly white educated females who can afford to go to a state U, or at least mine as a victim of 1st degree rape and pretty much every other form of negative sexual interactions that a woman can experience.

  15. Heidi Savage Says:

    ps: the talk will now occur on Wednesday of this coming week instead of Monday.

  16. Heidi Savage Says:

    This is a call for support from all feminists who read this blog for presenting multiple feminist perspectives on the topic of the nature of consent, and for listening to a rape victim’s testimony during SAA week. I have received little to no support from what I thought of as fellow feminists on campus (well, except tokens of support by email), and now they are using one of my students (PHIL/WMST minor) as a political pawn in all of this who is known to be attending to talk. I won’t go into the details. This is completely out of hand, and I have almost exhausted my own coping resources for dealing with this at all. I don’t care about myself. I walked in to this freely. But to pressure my students because they want to attend the talk? That seems to me to be outrageous. Am I complete moron for thinking that there is indeed controversy within feminist circles about what we should understand as consent? I am beginning to doubt my own perceptions at this point. Any advice from those who read this blog would be greatly appreciated.

  17. swallerstein Says:

    Heidi Savage:

    Leading forward a march and then realizing that no one is marching behind you is a terrible sensation.

    Maybe you could describe what is happening with a bit more detail so that people could give you specific suggestions in the blog or email you personally.

  18. Heidi Savage Says:

    I don’t see myself as leading any march, but I did, apparently erroneously, expect some support from those who claim to have an interest in sexual assault awareness, and who know that there will be a feminist analysis and first hand account of the phenomenon to be interested in hearing what I have to say. I can’t go into more detail than that. My main concern is not for myself, but for my students. I want them to at least know that there is a wider feminist community out there for them with multiple perspectives, that debate within feminist circles is allowed, and cetera.

  19. swallerstein Says:

    Without more details, my tendency would be to suggest that if you state your case as clearly and rationally as possible, you will convince lots of people, who given the general climate, do not dare to publicly support you. Lots of people, as you know, are very conformist and cowardly. Good luck.

  20. Heidi Savage Says:

    I don’t understand. This blog immediately posts something against the talk without details about the talk itself. Many are outraged without details about the talk. But it’s on me to provide more details to get support after having stated that I am a feminist, and a victim and will be giving a commentary? Seriously?

  21. I am a liberal feminist like the rest of you, and I am as outraged by sexual assault as anyone, but Jezebel presents this in a very slanted way, and, as Heidi says, Jezebel and others are jumping to conclusions about what Everett believes before he has even given his talk. Those of us who are committed to opposing prejudice (prejudging) and bias, should try to set an example by not prejudging the content of a talk with a provocative title. I read the actual quotation of what Everett says, and then I read the study he is talking about, and Everett has a point.

    Looking at the survey questions in the Geneseo study, their characterization of sexual assault is very broad. Lack of consent supposedly includes consent “because you were overwhelmed by another person’s continual arguments and pressure” and “assault” includes unsuccessful attempts at intercourse where some degree of force was threatened (30). Many types of encounter that would not normally be considered sexual assault fit these descriptions. And since the majority of these cases are reported by women, to characterize some of these encounters as sexual assault perpetuates the idea that women are fundamentally always helpless victims even when they agree to unwanted sex and even when they successfully repel an aggressor.

    Furthermore, the 25% statistic completely obscures the fact that 80% of the people they are counting do not regard themselves as having been sexually assaulted (27). Here is how the author explains this fact: “Many students define terms like “sexual assault” in a narrow, stereotypical way (e.g., Anderson, 2007) and are reluctant to apply these terms to their own experiences, in part, because victims are routinely devalued (e.g., Valenti, 2010)” (5). But this argument begs the question about what constitutes sexual assault. The fact that most respondents did not regard the encounters asked about as sexual assault might mean that the respondents have an inappropriately narrow conception of sexual assault, but it also might mean that the survey author has used an abnormally broad conception of sexual assault. If you look at the free response comments at the end (31-36), many of the reported incidents that are being counted by the study are described in ways that warrant agreeing with the respondents that they are not cases of sexual assault, e.g. “It wasn’t a big deal, she just drunkenly kissed me. I told her to stop, she did,” and “It wasn’t rape, it was a personal choice, which i viewed as a mistake.”

    And I don’t think the Geneseo study is anomalous in generating alarming statistics by using very broad definitions of rape or sexual assault. Nor can it be said that the end (of raising awareness) justifies the means here. Sexual assault is a genuine and serious problem that is made much worse by the frequency with which reports of sexual assault are not taken seriously. By encouraging an overly broad definition of sexual assault we actually give fuel to those who believe that the victims are probably just exaggerating, or claiming they were raped or assaulted when in fact they fully consented and just regretted it afterwards. By counting exactly those kinds of cases as cases of sexual assault, this study encourages both exaggeration and the expectation of exaggeration. If we really want to raise awareness of the many genuine cases of sexual violence, then we need to stop confusing sexual assault with lesser types of wrongful behavior.

    In response to earlier comments, a careful and unbiased reading of Everett’s quoted words shows that he is affirming, not denying that rape is pathological. He says, “the presentation of sexual assault as systemic to American culture rather than pathological behavior… [does] more harm than good to college women…” He is saying that rape is pathological but when we bury it in the same category with widespread patterns of behavior which, although objectionable, are not pathological, we are doing women a disservice.

    Rape, including acquaintance rape, is a serious pathological behavior, and it is not helpful to rape victims when even those who are working to end sexual violence lump rapists together with mere assholes who make unwanted sexual advances, pressure their partners for sex, or who sleep with drunkenly uninhibited women (or men) at parties. And while it is good to have programs that discourage college students from behaving like assholes, it is a mistake to think that by doing so we are doing anything to raise awareness about sexual violence.

  22. Jender Says:

    I think there’s a lot of confusion here. At least on my part. I don’t see that anyone here is against your talk.

  23. Jender Says:

    I’m very puzzled– I don’t know what your talk is, or how it relates to the talk that was criticised.

  24. Heidi Savage Says:

    I’m a participant in what was supposed to be a simple philosophy colloquium.

  25. Heidi Savage Says:

    Sigh of relief! I am not crazy.

  26. swallerstein Says:

    Heidi Savage:

    I asked for more details, not out of a lack of solidarity because without more details, it would be hard to give you any specific advice on the situation.

    I live many thousands of miles from you, so the only gesture of solidarity I can offer is by email.

    Perhaps we can email the university or the philosophy department. If so, what would be appropriate to stress, given the situation which you know in detail and few of us know except in the most general terms?

  27. Heidi Savage Says:

    Thanks Swallerstein. Sorry for being defensive, but well, I feel like I’ve gone down the rabbit-hole here. I’m OK now that I know I am not crazy. Big thanks to Brassfield. The blog, however, might think about posting a new thread on this that makes it clear that this is not an instance of rape apologism. That would really be appreciated.

  28. Jenny Saul Says:

    Hi Heidi– I’d really like to post something. Can you give me a factually accurate description of what will take place at the colloquium so that I can post that? E.g. a list of speakers and titles, abstracts if possible, etc?

  29. Heidi Savage Says:

    Jenny, thanks, that would be great. The talk is tonight at SUNY Geneseo 7pm Kuhl Gymnasium. The speaker is Dr. Theodore Everett who will be giving a talk entitled “Against “Sexual” “Assault” “Awareness.” Dr. Heidi Savage will deliver a commentary entitled “”No” means “no:” feminist and victim understandings of sexual assault awareness.” I’ll get rest of the details and send them to you via email?

  30. Jenny Saul Says:

    Would also appreciate any information on how you think the talk has been misrepresented, and so on.

  31. Heidi Savage Says:

    Done. Also, I should say that my participation in this was entirely initiated by myself in the interests of my dept, feminism, victims, and intellectual freedom.

  32. Matt Drabek Says:

    I think Shoshana helped shed some light above, though I think I disagree with the substance of the post. Shoshana writes:

    “Looking at the survey questions in the Geneseo study, their characterization of sexual assault is very broad. Lack of consent supposedly includes consent “because you were overwhelmed by another person’s continual arguments and pressure” and “assault” includes unsuccessful attempts at intercourse where some degree of force was threatened (30).”

    I think one of the most important contributions feminism has made in the last few decades is that these examples DO constitute lack of consent and DO constitute assault. As a result, the alarming stats are alarming BECAUSE they’re real, not because people are trumping them up. If this serves to denigrate the experience of so-called *real* victims, as Everett is claiming, then that’s because of patriarchy, not because of trumped up stats. The stats are real. I suspect what folks are reacting to is Everett’s apparent attempt to deny the positive contribution of decades of good feminist work.

    And also:

    “In response to earlier comments, a careful and unbiased reading of Everett’s quoted words shows that he is affirming, not denying that rape is pathological..He is saying that rape is pathological but when we bury it in the same category with widespread patterns of behavior which, although objectionable, are not pathological, we are doing women a disservice.”

    I agree that this is the claim Everett is making. I also think he’s wrong again. What’s frightening about rape – and what the recent feminist work tells us – is that rape, in fact, *is* buried with widespread patterns of behavior. That’s what the entire notion of ‘rape culture’ is picking out.

    I do have one reservation. I hedge a bit because I think there’s a confusion that commonly gets slipped in at this point, and it’s one that I imagine Everett might be pointing out. It’s this: theories of affirmative consent are not supposed to be legal theories (note: unfortunately some defenders of positive consent – notably Jessica Valenti – are confused on this point). Everett might be pointing out that we can’t organize the *law* around positive consent. I agree. But it’s perfectly acceptable for universities to organize educational programs around affirmative consent, and even better for activist or consciousness-raising groups to do so.

  33. Heidi Savage Says:

    “I think one of the most important contributions feminism has made in the last few decades is that these examples DO constitute lack of consent and DO constitute assault.”

    Question: which version of feminism are you referring to sex negative or sex positive feminism?

    “But it’s perfectly acceptable for universities to organize educational programs around affirmative consent, and even better for activist or consciousness-raising groups to do so.”

    Comment: no one is denying that sexual relations are twisted by patriarchy, and that *something* should be done about it. But to call all of the instances of negative sexual experiences women go through assault is a problem. Why? Because assault is conventionally understood as a criminal activity, and this assumes a particular way of dealing with all of women’s negative sexual experiences, which is indeed controversial. Nothing wrong with sexual exploitation awareness, sexual harassment awareness, etc. No need to think that one size fits all here.

  34. Matt Drabek Says:

    I don’t think anyone has ever suggested calling “all of the instances of negative sexual experiences women go through assault.”

    I mean, if *that’s* the view Everett is addressing, he’s surely addressing a strawman.

  35. Heidi Savage Says:

    The study we are addressing includes being overwhelmed by verbal pressure into any kind of sexual interaction. Sorry for the vagueness. You’re right in what you say. I was working with a tacit definition in mind of all of my own negative sexual experiences that according to the survey count as sexual assault, but I don’t so count them all in that way myself.

  36. Matt Drabek Says:

    But I think we agree on the point about the confusion of legal versus moral/political/activist uses of ‘assault.’ That confusion pops up all over the place (and not just on this issue – some of the same issues come up in abortion debates, drug legalization debates, etc.).

    More broadly speaking, my main impression here has just been that Everett seems to be discussing things in the vicinity of legitimate issues. My worry is that he comes off as a social conservative provocateur: someone who raises legitimate issues in a glib and offensive way. It’s not obvious that this is what’s going on. But it’s a not unreasonable inference by some of the folks on campus.

  37. Matt Drabek Says:

    Thanks for sharing, Heidi. I’m sure your perspective will add to the discussion that results.

  38. [...] we have been hearing from Heidi Savage, a feminist philosopher at SUNY Geneseo about the talk many have recently posted on by Ted Everett. She tells us that the event has been very much [...]

  39. Anonymous Says:

    Maybe the second attempt will shorten my post.

    I agree that in some ways the rape awareness movement has overshot to the degree that some young women are confused about whether or not they’ve been raped. Rape culture also confuses and obfuscates whether or not a woman has been raped by narrowing the definition to a stereotype of rape and rapists, such that women who have certainly been raped, and have internalized the cultural view of “legitimate rape” will be confused about whether or not they’ve been raped— especially when the rapist is an acquaintance.

    I fought off a rapist who made a game of it— it wasn’t going to be “rape” because I was going to “consent.” Had I not rather died trying to kill him than be raped, the chances that a jury would have determined that I gave “consent” (even after he punched me) would have been much more likely than the jury convicting him of rape.

    Whether or not his intention was to benefit women who have been or might be victims of sexual assault, his smart-assed title— Against “Sexual” “Assault” “Awareness”— is demeaning and rhetorically no different from the things the rapist who tried to rape me said in order to secure my “consent” . Of all the times to be “provocative,” to do so with a subject that is so culturally denied is really dick-ish.

  40. swallerstein Says:

    Given that lots of these situations occur when people have used alcohol or drugs and with people who are young and often have not entirely resolved issues of sexual identity and that one party involved (the male) is generally much bigger and stronger than the other one (the female), which means that fear is present even when no explicit threat of harm is present, it’s better to err on the side of considering as sexual assault some things that are not “really” sexual assault rather than not considering as sexual assault some things which are “really” sexual assault.

    Late at night after a party, etc., it is a time when clear and strict guidelines are appreciated more than philosophical subtleties.

  41. Heidi Savage Says:

    And now we’re engaging in intellectual debate. I agree with your point. Nevertheless, how those guidelines are theoretically informed matters. I’d rather see guidelines coming from a bottom up approach to sexual assault rather than being imposed top down based on certain feminist theoretical commitments.

  42. swallerstein Says:

    Theoretical commitments (in theory) should be based on and respond to people’s actual day to day experiences.

  43. Heidi Savage Says:

    We are in entire agreement.

  44. swallerstein Says:

    Let us know how things go this evening.

  45. Heidi Savage Says:

    Eeek. Will do.

  46. swallerstein Says:

    You’ll do fine.

  47. Anonymous Says:

    I certainly agree with Matt that continual arguments and pressure are a factor that diminishes the freedom of one’s consent. And I agree alcohol and drugs also diminish the freedom of one’s consent by compromising one’s judgment. Sex or sexual advances in both of these situations can be unethical. But in cases where the pressure did not amount to a threat and the intoxication was not incapacitating, then we should resist labeling the incident as assault. We should not equate diminished freedom with no freedom at all. Women can and do make decisions for themselves in these situations.

    Here’s why I think this distinction matters. One problem with encouraging an overly broad conception of sexual assault is that it perpetuates the conception of women as essentially passive and helpless. Women are in fact capable of resisting pressure and capable of declining sex while drunk, and often do. They are also capable of choosing to have sex in those situations. To indiscriminately say that women who choose to have sex while pressured or intoxicated have been sexually assaulted is to deny them any autonomous role in their sexual behavior. It treats them like children.

    Treating minor incidents that are easily repelled as cases of assault has the same effect. The person who answered the survey saying “It wasn’t a big deal, she just drunkenly kissed me. I told her to stop, she did,” was in control of his or her situation. To say that that person was assaulted would also be to treat them as helpless and fragile and to ignore the degree to which they are able to prevent both physical and psychological harm to themselves. When you treat people who are not victims as though they are, you degrade and disempower them.

    More importantly an overly broad characterization of sexual assault has the effect of portraying acquaintance rape as a kind of misunderstanding. It is dangerous to include in the category of sexual assault situations where someone (without threat or severe incapacitation) indicates their desire and consent. One of the principal reasons why reports of sexual assault by acquaintances are not taken seriously is that others imagine that the victim must have indicated desire, invited sexual contact, and then simply regretted it afterward. We should find this response offensive. Being sexually assaulted is not even in the same category as that type of situation, and we should not encourage the idea that it might be difficult for either party to distinguish between cases of where consent was given and cases where it was not. It is not difficult at all, and acquaintance rape is not the result of perpetrator’s being unsure about whether the victim was fully consenting. But in order to take a stand on that, we have to insist on a narrow definition of sexual assault.

    I would have no problem with swallerstein’s erring on the side of considering something sexual assault if it came down to a few borderline cases. It’s just that the SUNY Geneseo study has an unreasonably large margin of error. The vast majority of the respondents who were counted as victims of sexual assault did not regard themselves as such. That indicates a significant area of disagreement about what constitutes sexual assault.

    Anonymous, the experience you describe is awful. It seems clear to me that that was an assault, and that regardless of what words you might have been forced to speak, neither one of you could have had any doubt about wether you were really consenting. It is so important that we regard those situations as the serious crimes that they are.

  48. OK, on reflection I want to take back the claim that it is not difficult at all to tell whether consent was given. It can be difficult for victims of sexual assault to know whether they have given consent. For example, someone who is in a long-term sexually abusive relationship may not be sure whether they have consented or whether what happens constitutes rape. There are other examples. The fact that they constitute assault is often clearer to someone on the outside than it is from the victim’s perspective. And I do think it is important to help victims recognize that they have been sexually assaulted.

  49. Kathryn Says:

    Anonymous 1:26, I’m confused about whether you just think we should avoid overly broad definitions of assault or whether you think the survey in question failed to do that. The survey used asked respondents if they had been “overwhelmed by continual arguments and pressure” and if they were “incapacitated by alcohol or drugs and not able to prevent it.” Neither of these descriptions seems to me to fit the scenarios you described.

  50. (I’m anonymous 1:26. For some reason I wasn’t signed in.) I think the survey failed to avoid an overly broad definition, and I also think that feminists and those committed to raising awareness of acquaintance rape should avoid an overly broad definition, as I have seen in some sexual assault awareness campaigns.

    You raise a good point about the survey questions. I agree that they were not intended to capture the kind of cases I describe as clearly not assault. But the problem is that they leave a lot of room for interpretation. What constitutes “pressure”? What constitutes being “overwhelmed”? And, of course, what constitutes “consent”? And the interpretation is being done not by scholars but by students who may not know words like ‘incapacitated’ or distinguish them from words like ‘intoxicated.’ All of this might not be problematic if the respondents knew that these descriptions were intended to be descriptions of sexual assault. If the survey asked, “Have you ever been the victim of the following kind of sexual assault…?” then respondents would have interpreted the descriptions accordingly. But the survey purposely does not describe these occurrences as sexual assault. It describes them as “sexual experiences” because it is simultaneously trying to find out how many students have been sexually assaulted and also whether they self-identify as sexually assaulted. That makes the vagueness of the descriptions problematic.

    If this were all that was the matter with the survey, I would still probably assume that the questions were clear enough and that the survey came pretty close to an accurate measure of the number of sexual assaults. But then the survey gathers additional information which gives us a very good idea of how the respondents actually interpreted the questions. It asks them whether they have ever been sexually assaulted, and it asks them the free response question about why they did not report their experiences, which, perhaps unintentionally, also provides an answer to the question of why they did not identify themselves as being sexually assaulted. Together, the answers to these two questions show quite clearly that some non-negligible proportion of the “yes” responses to earlier questions included situations which the respondents regarded as minor/not violating, not threatening, or in which the acts were entirely or mostly consensual.

    So, even if the survey did not intend to include these things, the responses indicate that the questions were interpreted broadly by respondents. Given that fact, it is inappropriate for the author to draw the conclusion that 25% of the sample experienced some kind of sexual assault, and it is inappropriate for the author to universally dismiss as inaccurate the respondents’ failure to self-identify as being assaulted.

    But at least the report provides the careful reader with all of the mitigating information. When those who want raise awareness of sexual assault report that 25% statistic without context, it simply becomes an exaggeration. If we want sexual assault to be taken more seriously by our society, we need to be able identify the problem and its magnitude without exaggerating.

  51. Kathryn Says:

    I did read through the narrative responses but I rather interpreted them as indicating that many respondents had internalized rape culture to some degree and not as an indication the majority of their experiences did not constitute sexual assault.

  52. Heidi Savage Says:

    Kathryn,

    I have to say that this interpretation of the testimony of victims is truly pernicious. That’s what I was trying to point out by giving testimony myself. Unless this post was meant tongue in cheek. Was it? At any rate, the view expressed by you tells me that you are all for “gaslightiing” the victim and is a truly terrible form of psychological abuse. Not to mention that it makes the theory in question immune to falsification.

  53. Kathryn Says:

    Hi Heidi,

    I am certainly not for gaslighting victims–what I am afraid of is that many victims are already being psychologically abused by their culture, by their “friends,” and by unhealthy sexual norms especially prevalent in many student communities. Some of the responses on the survey I do take to indicate that what occurred was not really assault but the responses such as “It wasn’t really a big deal,” or, “I thought it was my fault” echo all too well the minimization and the guilt that many women I know have experienced in the wake of assaults. A significant number of women I know who now believe they were assaulted had trouble thinking of their experiences as such while under the particular cultural pressures of college life (though I think the phenomena is acute in college, it spreads beyond it as well) and had trouble resolving the tension between feeling unsafe and harmed by their experiences on the one hand, and the interpretation of those kinds of experiences by their friends and community on the other.

  54. Heidi Savage Says:

    Of course I agree that some of the minimization may be the result of the forces you are claiming, but to take all such minimizations in this way is a mistake and treats women as if they can’t define for themselves when they have been violated. This is why my abstract said that feminists must develop notions of consent in tandem with victim’s own understandings of the notion of the notion of consent.

  55. Heidi Savage Says:

    Apology to Kathryn for the accusatory tone. I am reacting to a particular study which did indeed dismiss the numerous, and I mean numerous claims that what happened (and that includes being badgered for any kind of sexual activity) was no big deal, that they claimed that they dealt with it themselves by deterring the person. The preamble simply denies outright that ALL of those responses are merely instances of false consciousness, which for me at least does not accurately represent my own experiences and understandings a victim of sexual assault. Sorry about the post being accusatory. It’s hard to explain all the background going on in the blog.

  56. Heidi Savage Says:

    Sorry the study claims outright that they are victims of false consciousness.

  57. shira Says:

    this subject is possibly the most complex and challenging in our human civilization.
    it seems to affect every level of education and wealth, race, religion, age, and even every individual family’s fabric.

    it questions most of the painful and thoughtless assumptions whole societies are built on, and therefore forever gets neglected, avoided, denied and even forbidden to consider.

    and we all are paying a horrible price for that cultural distortion over the ages.

    women’s rights to the most basic of human considerations have been trampled so consistently that even we, some of the most concerned of all people about it, seem to still have trouble clarifying many aspects of this terrible burden so many women (as well as girls of all ages) bear with still so few avenues to turn to for support and help, even for basic protection.

    i appreciate everyone’s efforts here to attempt to deal with the many implications of such upsetting announcements as dr. everret’s which suggests a careless simplification of a dangerous age-old practice of undermining the claims and needs of women as fully human beings deserving of equal respect and dignity as men.

  58. Heidi Savage Says:

    I don’t think Ted is careless, so much as overly optimistic about the current state of affairs. And as before, he takes sexual assault as seriously as anyone else.

  59. David Thoreson Says:

    Well said Ms. Savage. I have known Dr. Everett for more than 30 years and though we have often disagreed about political and social matters, there is no denying his honest, rigorous academic convictions. Beyond that, he is a kind, caring and decent person (funny too).

  60. shira Says:

    whoever this professor is, his projection of his attitude toward a badly needed social improvement can easily and will likely cause many women to rethink their own instincts and hesitate more than needed before reporting sexual assault.

    as was said in this discussion several times, women STILL have enough social pressure at every turn in our society, that creates extreme self-doubt and fear which more often than not curbs and prevents reporting sexual abuse.

    this highly revered professor might have taken that into consideration before labeling his talk with such threatening-sounding words for way-too-many women and girls who’ve been sexually abused or harassed into silence, fear, and extreme shame.

  61. Heidi Savage Says:

    RCT is equally guilty in interpreting women’s denials of having been sexually assaulted by reinterpreting their understanding as an instance of not properly understanding their own experiences and sexual autonomy. Ironic, eh?

  62. shira Says:

    yes, irony, due to the social complexity of the issue.

    the problem is so deep-set and long-been-neglected that at every turn, women find themselves unsure of their rights and afraid of humiliation, accusations and blame.

    my point is, the greatest care is needed in publicizing these kinds of statements, announcements and opinions about this subject. (one of the most insidious accusations we experience when even just discussing this subject is: ‘you are exaggerating…….misinterpreting what was JUST a harmless ”game” ‘)

    i’d love to hear how the event turned out……and i deeply hope that a discussion was held there over the dangerously provocative title of the event……and intent to exercise care when next raising such sensitive, volatile and important topics.

  63. anon Says:

    David Thoreson;

    Ms. Savage

    Dr. Everett

    wtf?

  64. Kris McDaniel Says:

    If we are going to use titles, the proper form of address is either “Dr. Savage” or “Professor Savage”.

  65. Kris McDaniel Says:

    (I take it that this is what anonymous 65 above is alluding to?)

  66. Heidi Savage Says:

    Maybe the comments for this post should be disabled at this point? It seems that all points of view have been covered: feminism, rape victims, sexists, and cetera. Thanks Kris! For a second there, I thought I missed something about the last 10 years of my life.

  67. Shira, titles of talks are supposed to be provocative. I don’t see anything dangerous or threatening about his title. I wouldn’t have chosen that title. I also don’t think that his giving this talk will make anyone less likely to report sexual assault or rape (he doesn’t have that much power of influence). And since Dr. Savage gave a great feminist response, the ‘rape culture’ worry can be put aside in this case.

    Much has been overblown about this, let’s not make it worse.

  68. shira Says:

    it would be a pity to end this discussion without some information shared about how the lecture went.

  69. Anonymous Says:

    I will restrict my comments to those focused on critiques of the survey in question. It seems like one of the problems here is that criticisms of the survey are completely out of context. Instead of seeing that the survey as one foundation for larger campus wide discussions about this topic, the survey is being represented as some kind of final word being imposed on others. But in fact, the survey was used to set up a year long voluntary educational program in which the whole idea was to consider multiple perspectives offered by different people. The philosophy department did not participate, but now, three years later, they have “corrections” to offer.

    The survey asked about objective experiences based on established, validated measures. The meaning of these experiences, certainly, can be discussed. It is argued here that many of these should not be considered forms of sexual assault. That may be. And in fact, the different specific types of experiences are meticulously laid in out, in paragraph after paragraph, table after table, so that the reader can compare across the different types of experiences. Furthermore, on p. 15, it is specifically noted that some of the incidents may well have been perceived as no big deal. A critical point that bears consideration is that the “no big deal” and other minimizing statements were specifically cited as barriers to reporting to campus officials — which is to say not a big enough deal to report it.
    No data were collected as to how the students felt about or reacted to these experiences. But the fact is, many, many students had these experiences.

    An equally critical point is that these comments were offered by BOTH women and men regarding their experiences. This was not a study of women, but of students — women as well as men.

    Another problem with the critique of the survey that the idea of “understanding victims’ conceptions of sexual assault” seems to be viewed as meaning something quite broad. But the specific goal was to compare the rates of behaviorally specific experiences to self-identification as someone who was sexually assaulted. This was not merely an academic goal. Rather, the point was to try and understand why low rates of reporting. At the time of the survey, the campus had precisely zero sex offenses on record. If a student experiences non-consensual sexual activity and if they don’t identify this as a problem or as something that the campus cares about, they aren’t going to report it. If the survey found that Geneseo specifically was not welcoming of reports, this would explain the low rates of reporting. But instead, the survey showed that even among the women (and men) who self-identified as having been sexually assaulted, 82% did not report their experiences to the campus.

    One cannot help but wonder how the philosophy colloquium will affect how students make sense of their experiences and how this will affect reporting. I sincerely hope, as Rachel suggests, it will not.

  70. philodaria Says:

    Rachel, almost no one individual has that much power or influence– but that doesn’t mean that collectively individual actions do not reinforce problematic cultural pressures (isn’t this how many social problems become nearly intractable?). And you may not have found the title offensive to the point of verging on threatening, but others may well have (and it seems they did).

    That said, I am very grateful that Heidi offered her perspective to the event. Heidi are you thinking of posting your talk online? I saw that Everett posted his.

  71. Philodaria: Look, I understand that others perceive the title differently. What worries me is that disagreement is being pushed aside and a single narrative is pushed forward. This seems to be exactly Heidi’s point in her response to the talk. There’s disagreement within feminism about what constitutes consent, sex, sexual assault, and rape. There’s also disagreement in how we ought to handle victims’ perspectives. We’ve already had a hint of gaslighting, getting close to dismissing victim’s claims as being the result of social pressures, thus apparently denying them first person authority.

    When you single out my comment, it makes it seem like challenging current conceptions of sexual assault and initiatives/studies like the Geneseo SAA project is part of rape culture. That can’t be right. Each of the aspects of the title is a legitimate discussion within feminism (which was Heidi’s point in her response). That seems to get ignored when, for example, you say “Rachel, almost no one individual has that much power or influence– but that doesn’t mean that collectively individual actions do not reinforce problematic cultural pressures (isn’t this how many social problems become nearly intractable?). And you may not have found the title offensive to the point of verging on threatening, but others may well have (and it seems they did).”

    Yes, some perceived it as offensive to the point of verging on threatening. How should we deal with the disagreement? Defer to those who found it threatening? That seems to be the suggestion, but then that silences the dissent and misrepresents the situation viz. disagreement.

    Shira: The follow-up was posted a few days ago: https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/suny-geneseo-colloquium-perhaps-not-what-it-seemed/

  72. philodaria Says:

    Rachel, I don’t understand what has just gone on. I wasn’t singling out your comment except insofar as I was replying to it. And I’m not denying that the disagreement matters, or that Heidi’s right that our understanding of consent need to be developed in tandem with victims.

  73. philodaria Says:

    Thanks Heidi!

  74. Heidi’s follow-up presentation to Everett is excellent. I recommend that you follow her link and take a look.

  75. Fair enough: “singling out” wasn’t well-chosen language. But I’m unclear on what the implications of your comment are for my comment. Yes, there’s disagreement about the offensiveness and threateningness (not a word, alas) of the title…but what’s the implication? Given that there’s disagreement, amongst feminists no less, how should we consider the reasonableness of the students’ actions?

    That there’s disagreement seems to support the view that they acted wrongly in initiating the petition and the Jezebel article.


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