Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Anthropology tackles sexual harassment April 30, 2016

So much is so familiar.  But there are some good ideas we haven’t tried.  In particular:

Meeting registrants were required to agree to AAPA’s code of ethics, which forbids sexual harassment and discrimination, and many attendees sported ribbons with antidiscrimination slogans.

Really interestingly, their problems seem just like ours, despite very different numbers.  8 out of 10 of their board members are women, and the association’s members are 56% women.

 

For more, go here.

 

 

Response to AAUP report on Title IX from Faculty Against Rape April 15, 2016

Faculty Against Rape has drafted a response to the AAUP’s draft report on Title IX to submit by the end of the comment period tomorrow, and they are accepting signatures from academics in support of the letter. The full letter is here, and the form to add your name is here.

Here’s a passage from the introduction:

As members of Faculty Against Rape (FAR), a group of more than 300 faculty and civil rights activists from across the U.S., we write to express grave concerns regarding the American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) draft report on Title IX.  We started FAR in the summer of 2014 as an ad-hoc volunteer collective whose mission is to get more faculty involved in preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment and improving campus responses. FAR is also committed to protecting faculty who experience retaliation for doing so. Over the past two years, FAR has provided resources for faculty to learn how to best support survivors, tools for faculty who want to get more involved in reform efforts, and support for faculty who face retaliation. Collectively, our members have supported literally hundreds of survivors at campuses across the country. Many of them have endured significant retaliation from university administrations who want to protect the university brand, even at the cost of the safety and well-being of students. We have seen the crisis of campus sexual violence, and the nature of Title IX enforcement as practiced, often inadequately, across campuses in the United States, first-hand.

Our experiences, as members of educational communities involved in these issues on the ground, have made evident that Title IX enforcement at institutions of higher education is, indeed, a matter of pressing concern. However, if the AAUP seeks to adequately understand, and competently comment on this issue, it must take care to, at the very least, attend to the body of existing expert scholarship— including scholarship by some of its own members— on this topic. As it stands, we are troubled by much of the framing, content, unrepresentative nature of, and failures of accuracy within, the draft report.

The overall impression given by the report is that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is ‘overreaching’ in its mandated mission of providing guidance to universities and ‘abusing’ Title IX; this,  despite the fact that there is broad underreporting of campus sexual assault by universities. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) analyzed DOE data and found that 91% of colleges did not report any rapes in 2014, leading the AAUW to exclaim that “The data reported by the nation’s colleges simply defy reality and common sense,” given that they “don’t reflect campus climate surveys and academic research.”

While we would ordinarily join with the AAUP in resisting the corporatization of institutions of higher learning, we are deeply concerned that the AAUP’s analysis of this issue as it pertains to Title IX, by pitting student concerns for campus safety against faculty interests, reinforces the symptoms instead of addresses the problem. Students and faculty alike are rightfully alarmed by universities and colleges placing the protection of their reputation before the integrity of their campus communities — but these concerns ought to unite, rather than divide us. The AAUP is right to remind us that administrative overreach into the classroom may be driven by a misguided focus on public relations, but we should also acknowledge that it is this very feature of the contemporary university that victims of campus sexual misconduct have been decrying as they witness justice, safety, and prevention sacrificed time and again for the sake of the bottom line.

 

What’s Wrong with the AAUP’s Report on Title IX: Preponderance of the Evidence Standard Redux March 31, 2016

I posted a couple of days ago about some of the problems with the AAUP’s recent report on Title IX. I think there are others, but for considerations of space, just mentioned two: one of which was the AAUP’s resistance to the preponderance of the evidence standard, the other was the AAUP’s confusion regarding the increase and manner of OCR investigations. At some point, I think it would be valuable to discuss some of those other issues (I’ll draw on a couple of points from this letter from the National Women’s Law Center below, but I encourage you to read it in full as it pertains to some of the other issues in the report as well), but first, more on the justification for the preponderance standard.

Brian Leiter wrote a reply to my post, taking issue with this passage:

But, more to the point, if Title IX complaints were held to a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence when other civil rights claims are adjudicated by exactly that standard, then it would follow that complainants would be held to a higher standard, i.e., disadvantaged, on the basis of sex, i.e., they would be subject to sexual discrimination.

I cited Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education in the explanation of my thinking, and in an update on his post, Leiter writes, “that retaliation for reporting sex discrimination is actionable sex discrimination for purposes of Title IX does nothing to establish that a higher standard of proof to prevail on a sex discrimination claim is sex discrimination.” Leiter is right that, in itself, that retaliation in the context of Title IX constitutes sex discrimination says nothing about standards of proof, but I didn’t say that it did. What I did say is that I think the courts’ reasoning in the course of determining whether or not retaliation constitutes discrimination – i.e., how the court defined what it is for something to constitute “discrimination on the basis of sex” – does.

Here’s that language again (emphasis mine):

In all of these cases, we relied on the text of Title IX, which, subject to a list of narrow exceptions not at issue here, broadly prohibits a funding recipient from subjecting any person to “discrimination” “on the basis of sex.” 20 U. S. C. ß1681. Retaliation against a person because that person has complained of sex discrimination is another form of intentional sex discrimination encompassed by Title IX’s private cause of action. Retaliation is, by definition, an intentional act. It is a form of “discrimination” because the complainant is being subjected to differential treatment. See generally Olmstead v. L. C., 527 U. S. 581, 614 (1999) (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment) (the “normal definition of discrimination” is “differential treatment”); see also Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U. S. 669, 682, n. 22 (1983) (discrimination means “less favorable” treatment). Moreover, retaliation is discrimination “on the basis of sex because” it is an intentional response to the nature of the complaint: an allegation of sex discrimination. . .

The import of the Jackson language quoted is not that the retaliation was a response to the person (Roderick Jackson) but to the claim (in Jackson’s case, a series of complaints about unequal treatment that he felt were prohibited by Title IX).  It can be analogized to campus responses to sexual assault cases in the following way: when a victim makes a complaint that s/he was sexually assaulted, under Title IX that is a claim of sex discrimination, because sexual assault is a severe form of sexual harassment, and sexual harassment has been confirmed by SCOTUS to be a form of sex discrimination.  Therefore, if the school responds to that claim using a process that requires a higher standard of proof than the standard of proof that the school uses for other claims, ones that do not implicate Title IX and do not allege sex discrimination, that is, in the words of the Court in Jackson, “differential treatment.”  So if a student made a complaint that s/he was the victim of harassment based on his/her race, the school would be required under Title VI to use a preponderance of the evidence standard.  If the school were still using “clear and convincing evidence” for sexual assault cases, this would mean that claims of sex discrimination (severe sexual harassment in the form of sexual assault) would be treated differently, and less favorably, by the school from claims of race discrimination (racial harassment).

Similarly, if one white, male, heterosexual student accused another white, male, heterosexual student of punching him in the face and the school used a preponderance of the evidence standard in its process for responding to that assault, but was still using “clear and convincing” in its process for sexual assault, that would be differential treatment based on the nature of the claim, where the claim alleging discrimination based on sex got “‘less favorable treatment” (see language from Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. EEOC, 462 U.S. 669, 682, n. 22, 103 S.Ct. 2622, 77 L.Ed.2d 89 (1983) included in Jackson) than the claim not alleging discrimination based on sex.

The National Women’s Law Center (lead counsel in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education) seems to agree that parity with other claims justifies the use of the preponderance standard in Title IX claims: Given that Title IX was modeled after Title VI, and preponderance of the evidence is the standard used in claims brought under Title VI, it is also the standard that applies to Title IX claims. The preponderance standard is also used in litigation of claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regarding sex discrimination in employment. Thus, it is the correct standard for allegations of sexual harassment, including violence.” (If you doubt that courts have taken up this standard, note the footnotes to this passage in their letter.)

Likewise, Nancy Cantalupo, in the piece I linked to a few days ago, writes,

Allowing schools to adopt a criminalized standard of proof such as “clear and convincing” evidence or “beyond a reasonable doubt,” . . . would also create legal and administrative barriers for student survivors of gender-based violence that do not apply to the vast majority of comparable populations involved in civil or civil rights proceedings, all of which use the preponderance standard. To name just a few, these groups include: other students alleging other kinds of sex discrimination; students alleging discrimination based on other protected categories, like race or disability; gender-based violence survivors seeking protection orders in civil court; students alleging other forms of student misconduct; and students accused of sexual or any other misconduct who sue their schools in civil court. In reality the preponderance standard is used in the vast majority of cases, not only in internal disciplinary proceedings but also in other administrative or civil court proceedings and under other civil rights statutes that protect equality . . . Indeed, separating out sexual violence victims for different procedural treatment would enact a new kind of damaging “exceptionality [for] rape,” as Michelle Anderson discusses in her paper for the September 25 Conversation. Using anything more stringent than a preponderance standard would symbolize that we as a society are comfortable with giving one group of women and girls, as well as men and boys who are gender-minorities and victimized because of it, unequal treatment when compared to everyone else.

In a footnote on this passage, Cantalupo notes:

Research shows that the majority of higher education institutions had voluntarily adopted a preponderance of the evidence standard for all student conduct proceedings by the early 2000s. See Michelle J. Anderson, Sexual The Legacy of the Prompt Complaint Requirement, Corroboration Requirement, and Cautionary Instructions on Campus Assault, 84 B.U. L. Rev. 945, 1000 (2004); Heather M. Karjane et al., Campus Sexual Assault: How America’s Institutions of Higher Education Respond 122 tbl.6.12 (2002), http://www.hhd.org/sites/hhd.org/files/mso44.pdf  [http://perma.cc/9Z57-PHR5]. Therefore, using a different standard from the preponderance standard in cases involving sexual or other forms of gender-based violence would mean that student victims of gender-based violence would be less protected than students who are victimized by another student in any other way.

Now, Geoffrey Stone has argued against the preponderance standard as follows (emphasis mine):

To justify its insistence on the preponderance of the evidence standard, the Department of Education draws an analogy to civil actions in court. In the typical civil law suit for damages, whether the issue is a car accident, a breach of contract, or an assault, the standard is preponderance of the evidence. But this is a bad analogy. For a college or university to expel a student for sexual assault is a matter of grave consequence both for the institution and for the student. Such an expulsion will haunt the students for the rest of his days, especially in the world of the Internet. Indeed, it may well destroy his chosen career prospects. This is especially likely, for example, for law students.

To the extent that analogy between internal Title IX complaints at an educational institution and action in courts is apt (there is a substantive difference in that what happens in court is thereby public record), the analogy to civil action is far more apt than an analogy to criminal proceedings. In addition to the fact that in criminal cases it is the state, and not the alleged victim, who is party to the proceedings, as Stone writes, civil law adjudicated by a preponderance of the evidence standard provides relief for assault. Again, from the National Women’s Law Center:

The preponderance of the evidence standard is appropriate even in cases where there could be criminal sanctions for the defendant’s actions. For example, it is used in civil proceedings between two private parties, where—like a campus grievance proceeding for a complaint of sexual harassment—each party “has an extremely important, but nevertheless relatively equal, interest in the outcome.” This includes civil proceedings arising out of conduct that can also be criminal, but where there is no authority to impose criminal sanctions, such as a civil tort action for battery, robbery, or murder.

This goes, too, for civil cases regarding sexual violence. For instance, cases brought under California Civil Code Section 52.4, or Illinois’ Gender Violence Act.

Of course, Stone is right that expulsion may haunt a student. We should absolutely take that seriously, and I do. At the same time, let’s not forget how many students are expelled for infractions like plagiarism as compared to sexual assault; let’s not forget having been subject to sexual violence may haunt a victim; let’s not forget that being subject to sexual discrimination (including sexual harassment and assault) might, and in a number of cases has, destroyed victims’ chosen career prospects; let’s not forget that victims are often forced to transfer schools, or drop out; let’s not forget that victims have also been dragged through the nasty trenches of the internet, nor that some have been driven to suicide as a result. Moreover, let’s not forget that it is exactly these kinds of effects that educational institutions are legally obligated to address insofar as they impact one’s access to education; that is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

 

Title IX: (Some of) What the AAUP Left Out (Updated) March 29, 2016

The AAUP recently released a report on Title IX for a comment period (summary version here). There are two points in particular where it appears as if myth and speculation are presented under the guise of fact, and I think it’s incredibly important for the academic community to be clear on where things actually stand.

First, from the AAUP’s report on the issue of the Office for Civil Rights’ interpretation of Title IX as requiring sexual discrimination complaints be adjudicated according to a preponderance of the evidence standard:

OCR’s 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) went further, mandating an evidentiary standard that conflicts with due process protections of faculty and students. In a shift of enormous significance the DCL prohibited the use of the standard calling for “clear and convincing” evidence (highly probable or reasonably certain), and replaced it with a lower standard: that there need be no more than a “preponderance of evidence” (more likely than not) to assess sexual violence claims and all sexual harassment claims. The DCL explicitly noted that university procedures using a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard were “not equitable under Title IX.” Although it marked a substantial change in procedures, OCR did not engage in the federal administration rulemaking public notice and comment process prior to issuing this 2011 DCL. The “preponderance of evidence” standard is a new mandate, however, even though the OCR describes the DCL only as a clarification of its 1997 and 2001 Guidances, which had followed federal rulemaking requirements.

The OCR has done more than merely “describe” the 2011 DCL letter as a clarification, though. Rather, Catherine Lhamon explained why the OCR believes the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter was not a substantial change of procedure as follows:

The standards outlined in the 2011 DCL stem from the Department’s Title IX regulations, including but not limited to, the requirement that educational institutions adopt “grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution” of complaints. Prior to the 2011 DCL, OCR had determined in letters of findings issued during multiple Administrations that in order for a recipient’s procedures to be “equitable,” they must use a preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., more likely than not) to determine whether sexual violence has occurred. As OCR’s practice in these cases confirms, it is Title IX and the regulation, which has the force and effect of law, that OCR enforces, not OCR’s 2011 (or any other) DCL. OCR’s 2011 DCL simply serves to advise the public of the construction of the regulation it administers and enforces.

But, more to the point, if Title IX complaints were held to a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence when other civil rights claims are adjudicated by exactly that standard, then it would follow that complainants would be held to a higher standard, i.e., disadvantaged, on the basis of sex, i.e., they would be subject to sexual discrimination.

Why are civil rights claims adjudicated by a preponderance of the evidence standard? Nancy Cantalupo explains:

(more…)

 

Ghomeshi, Sexual Assault, and the Right to Silence March 24, 2016

Filed under: law,sexual assault,Uncategorized — Lady Day @ 8:44 pm

By now, even if you’re not in Canada, you have likely heard the collective cry of pain that that has arisen among Canadian women and feminists in response to today’s not guilty verdict for Jian Ghomeshi. (Audrey wrote about it here.)

Elsewhere in Canadian social media land, folks have been weighing in on the apparent tension that obtains between affording sexual assault defendants fair trials while at the same time trusting sexual assault victims’ testimony. For every #IBelieveSurvivors tweet, there are countless tweets exaggerating the incidence of false sexual assault accusations and/or bemoaning the criminal justice consequences of taking the victim’s word as gospel.

The thing is, leaving aside the motives of those who are busily concern-trolling #IBelieveSurvivors, there is a genuine tension between believing survivors and ensuring full and robust defenses in criminal trials — two goals that we should all enthusiastically embrace. Much of the difficulty here hangs on defendants’ right to silence.

The media has sometimes referred to the Ghomeshi case as a “he said/she said” case. This isn’t quite right since Ghomeshi didn’t testify. Thus, the case was reduced to a “she said” with no corresponding “he said.”

It seems to me that the clearest positive defense Ghomeshi could have offered would have been to testify, and in that testimony to explain his understanding of consent, and explain what he does to obtain consent before engaging in violent sex with his “partners” (or, at least, with those who have pressed charges). Any responsible BDSM practitioner thinks very carefully and communicates very clearly about consent. It would have been helpful to hear Ghomeshi’s account of his thoughts and communications around the alleged events.

Of course, such a “positive defense” was never going to happen. The Canadian legal system, like many others, guarantees defendants the right to silence. There is no obligation for defendants to testify in their own criminal trials. And, no defense counsel worth her salt would have advised Ghomeshi to waive this right. In a case that rests entirely on competing testimony, there is considerable advantage to defense counsel in being able to cross-examine plaintiffs’ testimonies without having to expose the defendant to similar cross-examination.

I understand the value in the right to silence. This right is in many respects central to ensuring procedural fairness in criminal proceedings.

However, in those sexual assault cases in which the only available evidence is the testimony of the accuser and the accused, the right to silence exposes the accuser to standards of credibility that are not experienced by accusers of any other crimes. No defense counsel ever enquires into the moral fiber of the robbed shopkeeper. In a broader social context in which, as we know, sexual assault is endemic, its rate of prosecution is very low, and the rate of false accusations is extremely low — on par with all other crimes, despite myths to the contrary — this special burden that sexual assault accusers bear is an injustice piled on antecedent injustices.

I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t think we can force defendants to testify at their own trials; nor should we penalize them for failing to testify. However, it is wildly unjust that, as a downstream effect of the right to silence, sexual assault plaintiffs are routinely raked over the coals, their privacy and dignity violated, their character, lifestyle and associations held up to public scrutiny. (And, inevitably, it’s even worse when the plaintiff is racialized, poor, LGBTQ, disabled, etc.) I have no idea what to do about this, but as long as we do nothing, our judicial system remains an accomplice in the brutal, systematic revictimization of survivors.

 

Firing Melissa Click was messed up, and you don’t have to like what she did to think so. February 29, 2016

As I’m sure you already know, Melissa Click was fired from the University of Missouri on account of her conduct during the student protests last fall.  Faculty at Mizzou have already raised concerns about due process. I think those concerns are legitimate and worrisome irrespective of whether or not you think, at the end of the day, firing would have been the right thing to do.

But forget, just for a moment, about whether or not you think Click’s behavior contravened her duties as a professor, or what would have happened were her due process rights fully respected and consider this, from earlier this month, by way of contrast:

“A UCLA history professor involved in an ongoing Title IX lawsuit reached an agreement with UCLA that will allow him to return to teach.”

And what exactly is this lawsuit about? Two students accused a professor of sexual assault. Here’s what happened before UCLA decided to help him return to teaching:

[A]n earlier, independent investigation by UCLA found enough evidence to warrant a litany of punitive actions for Piterberg. Yet according to the settlement agreement that Takla and Glasgow’s lawyer released last week, Piterberg was given only a slap on the wrist – he paid the UC Board of Regents $3,000, was suspended last spring quarter and participated in a sexual harassment training session. The only other punishments set for Piterberg were just as inconsequential: He may now only speak with students during open-door office hours and cannot try to establish any romantic or otherwise inappropriate relationships with students.

But, as it turned out, the punishment was even less stringent than it sounds. Piterberg’s spring quarter suspension was spent in Europe as a fellow at the European University Institute. While it is unclear if UCLA knew of this fellowship before administering the punishment, the fact remains that a professor accused of sexually assaulting students got to spend his quarter off in Europe and return to the university 10 weeks later.

Well, that’s at UCLA, you might say — and Click was at Mizzou. Yes. But then there’s this story. And this one. And this one. Oh, and this one (I’d keep going, but this could quickly get very depressing).  As for Mizzou itself, it doesn’t have a great record of appropriately handling sexual misconduct. In the recent AAU survey, students at Mizzou reported the third highest rate of having been subject to sexual misconduct. They’ve received attention from Outside the Lines for their handling of misconduct by student athletes, including violence against women. And the university itself admitted in 2014 that it screwed up by failing to investigate the alleged rape of Sasha Menu Courey, who committed suicide a little over a year after the alleged incident. None of that resulted in a national outcry. None of that resulted in the state legislature threatening to cut the university’s budget.

In academia, students’ cameras are treated as more sacred than students’ bodies. And whether or not you think Melissa Click was in the wrong, that seems pretty messed up.

 

Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy February 27, 2016

An anonymous guest post:

 

Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.

 

But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.

 

Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.

 

For the survivors:

 

The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.

 

It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, https://rainn.org/get-help/help-a-loved-one ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.

 

For the speculators:

 

Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.

 

So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.

 

It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

 

On writing about the Cologne attacks February 10, 2016

Filed under: bias,sexual assault,Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 7:03 pm

Excellent piece by Helen Lewis.

And that brings me to the other reason I didn’t want to write about the Cologne attacks. All the people who piously enquired as to whether I, as a feminist, had “anything to say” about them didn’t really care whether I did or not. They wanted me to say what they wanted to hear: that Muslims are uniquely sexist, and that letting in refugees from Muslim-majority countries will mean rolling back women’s rights and importing the worst excesses of sharia law to the streets of Coventry. Unless Western liberals wake up, Islamists will be chopping off hands outside Pret A Manger by 2018.

To put it politely, this is not the framing in which any reasonable conversation about women’s rights can happen…

A note: Before commenting, please actually read the piece.  She does in fact write about the attacks.

 

The Question of Rehabilitation and Resources in the Aftermath of Sexual Assault December 31, 2015

Filed under: consent,education,masculinity,rape,sexual assault,Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 4:47 pm

[Discussion of sexual assault and it’s effects on people below.]
This past summer, Buzzfeed published a long-form article about Hanna Stotland, a lawyer who helps students accused of “sexual misconduct” re-apply to other universities. You can read it here.

In response to the article, Abby Woodhouse, a rape survivor, published an open letter. You can read it here.

There are two big issues that caught my attention from these articles:

(1) The way we culturally conceive of rape is often that it is either (a) an unforgivable, unintelligible act of evil, or (b) it’s not really rape, aka rape-rape, so it’s something like “gray rape” or “a mistake” or “an unfortunate miscommunication involving not-fully-consensual sex,”

I think the “unintelligibly” of committing rape is in one way a hindrance to seeking justice for those who experience it. In a way similar to how mass shooters are often portrayed as crazy and unintelligible, the sociopathic, evil rapist is not something we need to try to understand–thankfully. Because, if rape were a perfectly intelligible result of cultural suggestions that men’s value comes from their power of control and mastery over the world, and that a major reward for being powerful is entitlement to sex, (and that being a man is the best thing you could be),  well then, we are all awash in images and messages that condone rape, and we ourselves condone messages that are on a spectrum whose extreme ends in rape–so we are all potential rapists. There but for the grace of my blood alcohol levels go I.

What is really unintelligble to us, I think, is that the word of a woman, the way that a single woman perceives and experiences an event, could be the arbiter of whether another human deserves to be ostracized or punished.
A woman having that much authority in the world? Talk about inconceivable. The poor souls who would be subjected to such standards of ‘justice’…

…which leads me to a second major issue:

(2) It is striking that there often seems to be more resources and public empathy available for those who are accused of committing sexual assault than there is for those who experience it.

I myself feel the tug on my heartstrings when I hear a story about a young man who may have been falsely accused of a crime, and he contemplates how many less opportunities he may now have in life.

I feel more numb when I read Abby Woodhouse’s account of the “trauma and pain” that she has been left to deal with. We are often asked to consider what it would be like for a single mistake to potentially ruin a young person’s chances at a normal, happy life. We are rarely asked to consider what it would be like to not have not made any mistake, but being made to live potentially with haunting memories, broken trust in your fellow human beings, and an inescapable sense of feeling wholly unsafe in your own skin.

Stotland makes a valid point that, unless we think a person should suffer social death when they commit sexual assault, we need to figure out what the process should look like for reincorporating them into higher education.

But a sad and shameful aspect of this story is that survivors of rape and sexual assault also struggle with various degrees of social death. Many struggle to stay in school, stay connected with their families and social circles, etc. due to the effects of PTSD, depression, unshakable feelings of shame, and our deep cultural insensitivity to those who are brazen enough to be taken advantage of and insist on reminding us it–reminding us of their vulnerability (and ours) with their presence.
There but for the grace of the skirt I wear go I.

So where are the counselors to help them switch schools or rebuild their resume? Why is that not something that we prioritize?

 

The Politics of Sympathy October 12, 2015

“Of course, this is hardest for Geoff in this moment. For those who are willing and able, he certainly can use any understanding or support they can offer (this wouldn’t include endorsement of the mistakes he acknowledges in an open letter on his website). I ask that those who have the room for it (now or later), hear him out and judge whether there is room for redemption in all that will transpire.”

That quote is from an email sent out by Geoff Marcy’s department head, in the wake of it being made public that he has been found responsible for sexual misconduct, and that Berkeley decided in lieu of sanctions, to sign an agreement with him about what would happen if he was found responsible again.

Sympathy is complicated. I’m not a moral psychologist, so I won’t pretend to be one — but I am a philosopher who thinks about the way social and political structures can influence our beliefs. And in view of tense and complicated conversations following several cases of issues of discrimination and violence related to members of our professional communities, I haven’t been able to help but think for awhile now about how, like credibility, distributions of sympathy are political.

This seems perfectly predictable, in a certain sense. We’re ready to lend a sympathetic shoulder to our friends. We tend to consider the interests of those in our own social circles more readily than those of others at a distance. Nonetheless, the experience of it can be unexpected. The first time I was ever told that a friend had been sexually assaulted by someone I knew, my reaction was — to me — utterly surprising. Though I knew the wrong-doer, he wasn’t a friend. He wasn’t someone I cared for. The only time I ever spent around him was not of my own choosing, but rather the begrudging result of our having multiple mutual friends. Yet, when I found out that he had assaulted my friend, I found myself absolutely weeping. First, for her – that wasn’t the surprising bit – but then, for him too.

I felt more deeply for him, suddenly, and unexpectedly, than I ever had before I knew what kind of wrong-doing he was capable of. That feeling, I think, was borne out (in part) of the recognition that even in the best of possible futures, there would be no undoing what he had done. If things went as well as they could, given what had already happened, he would recognize the wrongness of his actions, and seek to make what recompense there might be. And how painful would it be to live with that knowledge? How would you cope with knowing that you have irrevocably changed someone’s life by harming them so severely? I also think this was, in part, simply because I knew him.

To be clear, I blamed him. I was angry. I wanted him to be held responsible. At the same time, I felt deep lament and sympathy. My heart ached. I wished that it weren’t true. It didn’t take much reflection to understand a little better why we can be so recalcitrant and resistant in the face of claims to harm against our friends. If I could feel so much sympathy for someone who I didn’t even like, how would I feel had he been a friend? Family?  What would I think, if I didn’t also know the victim, or the extent of the evidence? What if I were his department chair, and he were one of my department’s star researchers? 

All of this is to say, I get it. I can understand how the pull of sympathy might disrupt our priorities in a harmful way. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

Of course it’s fine — perhaps good hearted, even — to feel sympathetic to those among us who have acted wrongly. Sympathy for those who have acted wrongly need not necessarily conflict with an appropriate sense of justice (indeed, I think it can enrich it). But we do need to be careful about what follows. When we’re not so careful, victims can be harmed by the politics of sympathy in many ways. It isn’t news that those who attempt to come forward with allegations against the powerful, well-connected, or socially-established, often find that with friends so well-placed to offer protection and so ready to offer understanding to the perpetrator, evidence simply isn’t enough. Perpetrators may be easy to sympathize with for other reasons (like their gender, being central to a department’s research profile, their interests being closer to our own, their being well-meaning, or sincere). Victims are unjustly harmed when this translates into a resistance to the belief that a perpetrator could be guilty, or results in, once again, concern for victims’  well-being having been sacrificed for the sake of the one who harmed them as we consider the (real or imagined) difficulties that they face while setting the victims’ to the side.

All of this, of course, can be exacerbated by the fact that it’s just easier to look the other way in the first place. As Judith Herman writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

Sympathy can be valuable, but when readiness to feel it is tied up in our social relationships, it will also, inevitably, have a political element — and that’s something we need to be especially careful with in view of the possibility of mistaking our fellow-feeling for evidence of innocence, or when it signals that we prioritize justice and care for the perpetrator over justice and care for their victims. 

It is precisely that prioritizing that is so offensive in the email quoted above. These women who came forward risked their reputations, professional prospects, being subject to public scrutiny, to seek redress for harms they never wanted to be subject to in the first place. The university responded, having found their allegations justified, by doing (roughly speaking) nothing. I am sure Geoff Marcy is having a difficult time right now, and it’s fine to recognize that. But let’s not add insult to injury for his victims.

 

 
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