What Can Prevent Campus Rape? Ctd

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

A reader writes:

I have been involved in student affairs at a college campus in some capacity for over twenty years.  I have some, not a lot of, experience with sexual assault investigations.  Police should always be notified, and it is their job to conduct investigations according to their established procedures.  These types of investigations are not the purview of academic institutions.  On this we agree.

However, to suggest that academic institutions have no role is mistaken.  All colleges have their policies regarding sexual assault and, while the police may not have enough evidence to bring charges, they can determine that a policy has been violated and that this violation merits sanction.  Just because the police may not be able to gather the necessary evidence does not mean that institution cannot address the matter for common good of the college community.

You make a persuasive case for the limited impact (if at all) of abstinence programs of many sorts.  However, simply providing the instruction about how to have sex is not enough.  Young people also need to learn and understand how the male and female bodies work.  For males it is often easy to attain physical pleasure.  For females it is often not easy.  Failure to understand this important difference risks contributing negatively to the emotional dimension of sexual relationships that we too often refuse to discuss.

Another expert on the subject:

I am a college student affairs administrator and work at a private university in the US.  I have worked directly for about a decade with the issues you brought up in your recent post on sexual assault on college campuses.  In my current role, I serve as a “Deputy Title IX Coordinator” (a title that is becoming more frequent on campuses nationwide) where I have the responsibility of overseeing our investigations into reports of sexual assault (in addition to sexual harassment, partner violence and stalking, which all fall under the same policies and regulations) as well as the staff that are responsible for investigations and adjudicating cases, should they get to that point.  As I am at a smaller, private institution, this is just one of the hats I wear as part of my position (which also include oversight of all student conduct issues and other student affairs initiatives).

There are a few points that you brought up that I’d like to respond to.  Obviously, I can only speak from my own experience, but I have issues with the perceived assumption that colleges are acting in bad faith.

Speaking as a student affairs professional, those of us in this line of work are doing it precisely because we enjoy working with students.  We see them at their best and at their worst, after exceptional achievements and after terrible traumas.  In any sexual assault allegation, I have been tasked with investigating, adjudicating or overseeing, and my first concern has been student welfare (of all parties). And the professionals I work with conduct their duties to the best of their abilities.  Incidents are not “kept quiet” for PR purposes, as we have an obligation to the parties to protect their privacy (though there are exceptions which may trigger community notification of an incident).

Also, unless the victim has requested it, universities cannot involve law enforcement outside limited exceptions.  I don’t see why we’d want to change this.  It’s important to keep that decision with the victim and give them the opportunity to make their own decision.

In situations I’ve been involved with, none of the students who have been dismissed/expelled for sexual assault have ever been charged with crime.  This fact in no way shakes my confidence that the university did the right thing in each situation.  Our campuses were safer without those students, something I say unapologetically. What I don’t understand is why people are shocked that these disparities happen.  In conversations with colleagues at my current institution, they can go back almost 20 years and note that not a single sexual assault allegation a student has brought to the local police has resulted in a charge, never mind a conviction (we do not have a sworn police department on my campus and rely on the local PD when an arrest has to be made).  Yet people are surprised when the university is asked to take steps, or why a victim feels more comfortable discussing these issues with a college administrator or counselor who will actually listen and provide options, as opposed to getting poor treatment at the local PD (of which I have plenty of stories).

Which leads to another area of disagreement: the belief that if something is a crime, then it should only be dealt with by law enforcement.  Putting aside the assumption of law enforcement expertise in incidents of sexual violence that I do not share, colleges and universities deal with students who commit crimes all the time.  Underage alcohol possession is a crime.  Two roommates who get into a fistfight is a crime.  Someone stealing a video game from a residence hall room is a crime.  Giving alcohol to minors is a crime.

The list goes on an on, and universities have been dealing with these issues for decades and longer.  What makes sexual assault different?  Is it the discomfort for all involved?  I know plenty of universities, especially “elite” universities, would like to get out of the sexual assault response business because it’s unpleasant, but why would a university provide all sots of services and assurances of a safe community but just stop at sexual assault?  Keep in mind that this obligation to address student behavior is not a new thing, and has been supported by state and federal courts for decades.  There is even a professional association for student affairs professionals who do this work, the Association for Student Conduct Administration.  I’d like to direct you to an oft-cited federal court opinion from the 1960s that other courts cite as a foundation for this obligation, the General Order on Judicial Standards of Procedure and Substance in Review of Student Discipline in Tax Supported Institutions of Higher Education.  It says in particular:

The discipline of students in the educational community is, in all but the cases of irrevocable expulsion, a part of the teaching process.  In the case of irrevocable expulsion for misconduct, the process is not punitive or deterrent in the criminal law sense, but the process is rather the determination that the student is unqualified to continue as a member of the educational community.  Even then, the disciplinary process is not the equivalent to the criminal law process of federal or state criminal law.  For, while the expelled student may suffer damaging effects, sometimes irreparable, to his educational, social, and economic future, he or she may not be imprisoned, fined, disenfranchised, or subjected to probationary supervision.  The attempted analogy of student discipline to criminal proceedings against adults and juveniles is not sound.

I can agree, however, that the web of regulations is becoming incredibly difficult to navigate, particularly at smaller institutions that do not have separate offices that handle diversity and equity, regulatory compliance, etc.  I have become the de facto compliance officer on my campus, because I have a good knowledge of our obligations, speak about them effectively, and my pre-higher education background.  While you listed many of the federal mandates universities are dealing with (Title IX, VAWA, the Clery Act, FERPA, etc.) and one that may come our way if it makes it through the legislative meat grinder (CASA), keep in mind that several states have individiually enacted their own laws (for many of the same political reasons your post assigned to the feds).  At least four states that I know of have either enacted or are looking to enact their own legislation (CA, CT, NJ, and NY).  This, plus proposed increased enforcement, makes our jobs much more difficult.  I’ve been involved in an OCR investigation.  It’s an incredibly difficult experience, and when OCR sets up shop, it makes it almost impossible to do your actual job, because of the amount of time and amount of data they demand.

Sorry for the long-winded response, but while I cannot write from the perspective of a survivor or an accused student, I can definitely write from the perspective of someone who is part of this issue, and being asked to administer it.  Thank you and Andrew.  As a long-time reader, this provides a good reminder to renew my subscription.

Improving the FDA, Ctd

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Should the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inch closer to Europe’s drug approval model, in which certified, independent bodies can (and compete to) review new products? A Dish reader says, hey, it worked for the Federal Communications Commission:

The European system you describe has been in place for more than 15 years for much of the equipment that’s approved by the FCC.  Those of us who worked in the field at the time wondered if it really would be as reliable as the system the FCC used before, which required applications that were reviewed by the FCC and had to be approved before the equipment would be sold.  In practice, though, this system works much better than the old way – products come to market faster, the process is quicker and cheaper and, most important, there’s no evidence that there’s any more cheating than their used to be.  The FCC also has, as suggested, agreed that testing that meets European requirements also is good in the U.S., saving companies the trouble of re-testing equipment they know is compliant.  It’s a model the FDA definitely should consider.

Another Dish reader is more skeptical—but offers his own FDA improvement plan:

I’m the Director of Engineering at a small medical device company… While the European method of getting device/drug approval does seem attractive, I just wanted to clarify that the FDA does have an “independent reviewer” option that allows third party organizations that are certified by the FDA to perform the review for market clearance for many types of devices. The Catch-22 here is that the third party reviewers, while generally being more efficient than direct FDA review, are very expensive, certainly more expensive than a standard FDA 510(k) fee ($5,100 per device). So do we move to more third party review to expedite device approvals, and make medical device development more expensive, or do we bolster the FDA staff so review can be faster there?

One way the FDA could become more efficient is if they took a more libertarian approach to approval. Right now, a device/drug has to be proven “safe and effective” to get pre-market clearance. Why not have the FDA only concern itself with the “safe” part and let the market take care of the “effective” part? If a device or drug is ineffective, no one will buy it. That radically simplifies clinical trials as well, lowering the requirements for FDA approval while maintaining the safety of patients.

But another reader takes issue with the idea that Europe’s drug approval process is something to emulate:

I actually work in drug discovery and am currently working on a filing. But I don’t know where this animus is really coming from in terms of approval times. Consider this paper from the New England Journal of Medicine. In it they analyze the drug approval times for the FDA, the (European Medicines Agency) and Health Canada. There are a lot of statistics and different ways to look at the data, but these are the main conclusions:

For novel therapeutic agents approved between 2001 and 2010, the FDA reviewed applications involving novel therapeutics more quickly, on average, than did the EMA or Health Canada, and the vast majority of these new therapeutic agents were first approved for use in the United States.

In that study, a total of 289 unique novel therapeutic agents were approved, including 190 that earned approval in both the U.S. and Europe. Of this group, about 64 percent were first approved in the United States. Some 154 agents were approved in both Canada and the U.S., with us first 86 percent of the time.

The same reader points to another study, this one comparing the EMA, FDA and Japan’s Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA):

If you look at the first figure you’ll see the median values for the FDA are the best over the entire period. There is some variability, but I think that’s because of a couple outliers. Drugs are also generally submitted to the FDA first. So even thought submissions are completed by the FDA faster, the other agencies have more information from the drugs approved/being processed in the US.

I must say, all of the data I’ve seen says the FDA is doing a decent job in terms of approval times.

The researchers behind the New England Journal of Medicine paper, published in 2012, may provide some insight into mixed perceptions of the FDA’s approval process. Writing in Forbes, Joseph Ross and Nicholas Downing tease out some nuances in their findings:

… there was much more variation in time to approval among applications to the FDA. More than half of approvals were complete within one year, but there were many examples of the FDA requiring 800, 1000, even 1200 total days before approval. For instance, the well-known anti-cancer drugs Sanofi‘s Eloxatin and Novartis‘ Gleevec were both approved in less than 80 days, however it took more than 10 years from initial submission to approval for Sabril, and (sic) anti-seizure medication, and Asclera, a sclerosing agent to treat varicose veins.

A lot of the variation in FDA time to approval can be attributed to whether one or more cycles of review were required. Among the 62% of applications the FDA approved after a single review, the median time to approval was 278 days. In contrast, the median time to approval was 765 days among the 38% of applications that required multiple cycles of review.

Interestingly, applications within the hematology, oncology, and immune-modulating and anti-infective therapeutic classes were most likely to receive FDA approval after a single review. Applications within the musculoskeletal and pain and psychiatry and central nervous system therapeutic classes were most likely to require multiple cycles of review.

Okay, but can we all agree the FDA needs to hurry it up on the sunscreen already?

Every Sex Worker Is Somebody’s Daughter

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown


Last night, a close friend told me he had been reading my posts about decriminalizing sex work. “I’m sympathetic,” he said, “and I want to agree with you. But I just keep thinking, ‘what if it were my daughter?’ That’s, like, every father’s worst nightmare.”

My friend doesn’t have a daughter, to be clear. He’s also one of the most sexually liberal people I know. But while his attitude does discourage me, it doesn’t surprise me. This is the sexist culture we live in—one where a man who I know has had sex with at least three different women in the past week can literally imagine nothing worse for his hypothetical daughter than getting paid to have sex.

Damon Linker trots out similar sentiment at The Week today. Using his apparent mind-reading powers, he asserts that no one could honestly be okay with having a child in porn:

People may say they see nothing wrong with or even admire (Miriam Weeks’) decision to become a porn actress, but it isn’t unambiguously true. And our ease of self-deception on the matter tells us something important about the superficiality of the moral libertarianism sweeping the nation.

How do I know that nearly everyone who claims moral indifference or admiration for Weeks is engaging in self-deception? Because I conducted a little thought experiment. I urge you to try it. Ask yourself how you would feel if Weeks — porn star Belle Knox — was your daughter.

I submit that virtually every honest person — those with children of their own, as well as those who merely possess a functional moral imagination — will admit to being appalled at the thought.

Linker knows that nearly everyone must feel appalled because… he thought about it and was appalled? That’s some pretty shaky logic. (By the reverse, I conducted a thought experiment and am not appalled ergo everyone wants porn star daughters!) It also preemptively dismisses disagreement—anyone who says they are not appalled is just not being honest.

Under that rubric, I’m not even sure what sense it makes to argue, but nonetheless: I would not be appalled to have Weeks as my daughter. I would be proud to have raised a young woman of intelligence, confidence, academic commitment, libertarian leanings, a strong feminist streak, and a way with words. I would worry about a daughter doing porn—but not because of the porn itself. I would worry about the way she might be treated by people outside the industry. I would worry that she might experience sexual violence not on set, but at the hands of people who think porn stars and prostitutes don’t deserve the same bodily integrity as “good” women. And my heart would break to think of her other accomplishments being dismissed by people intent on defining a women’s worth by how many people with which she’s had sex.

I would sure as shit rather have a porn star daughter (or son) than one who thinks, as Linker does, that being in porn makes someone “low, base, and degraded.”

I think I get this viewpoint from my very Catholic, sex-negative, virgin-until-marriage mother. She taught me that we’re all created equal, that only God can judge, and everyone, everyone, is deserving of charity and respect. (The God part didn’t resonate so much with me, but you win some, you lose some.) I’m also reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from a book called Das Energi:

Don’t ever think you know what’s right for the other person. He might start thinking he knows what’s right for you

There’s nothing wrong with having certain expectations for your children—most parents want to see their kids live up to their fullest potential and achieve certain markers of normative success. All else being equal, I’d rather my own hypothetical daughter choose, say, engineering over becoming a Burger King cashier or a brothel worker, because the former seems to offer more security and room for advancement. But here’s the crux of the matter: Our best laid plans mean jack.

“It’s fine that you wouldn’t want your daughter having sex for money,” I told my friend yesterday, “but say she does anyway, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Would you want her to have to stand out on the street, get in cars with totally unvetted strangers, be arrested, get a criminal record? Or would you want her to be able to work in a safe environment? And go to the police if something bad happened? And not get thrown in jail?”

Decriminalizing prostitution is a means of harm reduction.

It’s the same argument people make about marijuana: You don’t have to get high, or even approve of people getting high, to think we shouldn’t be locking people for up it. Proponents of decriminalization aren’t asking you to become pro prostitution, to encourage your kids to go into sex work, or even to abandon thinking it’s morally wrong, if that’s what you think. Plenty of people think premarital sex in general is wrong, but they probably don’t think it should be illegal. All we’re asking is for you to consider that criminalizing prostitution does more harm than good. If — gasp! horror! disgust! — your daughter did happen to become a sex worker, wouldn’t you want to make it as safe and non-ruinous for her as possible?

Thoughts? Email dish@andrewsullivan.com.

(Photo: @belle_knox/Twitter)

You Might Be a Millennial If …

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

I am a member of the millennial generation, which means so are my same-age friends, obviously. Yet they routinely refuse to acknowledge this. Some genuinely don’t realize that they, born in the early 1980s, could possibly be considered part of the same generational cohort as those born in, say, 1997. Some seem to know they are millennials technically but refute the label on grounds of principle. So strong is this Millennial Denial Syndrome that appeals to logic – most generations span 15 to 20 years! not identifying with generational tropes doesn’t change your birth year! – only work about half the time.

Millennial journalist Lauren Alix Brown was recently forced to confront the terrible truth about herself:

No one likes the term “millennial,” with its connotations of narcissism, laziness, and self-delusion. And yet it wasn’t until I was editing a piece on millennials, and my office debated the merits of the term for a global audience, that I realized I was one.

But don’t worry, her pain was short-lived. Brown quickly decides that if she is considered a millennial, the term must be meaningless:

Millennial has become a catchall for everything right and wrong with the younger generation. In being used too broadly and frequently, it’s become meaningless for some of the nuances that differentiate us. It also covers a swath as wide, in some definitions, as those born from 1977 to the year 2000.+

The official millennial birth boundaries are blurry, but most place the start between 1979-1982 and the end between 1994-and the late 90s. Generational scholars William Strauss and Neil Howe, who coined the term “millennial”, defined the generation as those born between 1982 and 2000. Regardless of how you slice it, you’ll hear the same complaint from older millennials: they simply have nothing in common with those born 10, 12, 15 years behind.

“Everyone thinks they are distinct from the generation below them,” Brown acknowledges, but she thinks “among millennials, there truly is a divide”:

Most importantly, the Great Recession: A group of us entered the workforce in a distinctly different economy from today’s graduates. A recent survey conducted by Zogby Analytics looked at millennials in two cohorts—those born between 1979-1989 and those born 1990-1996. The older cohort was more apt to have a college degree, consider their current job a career, and less likely to have lost a job in the past 12 months. Older millennials were born to Baby Boomer parents and graduated college and entered the job market in a boom time.The younger set, which entered adulthood during the financial crisis, are products of Gen X-ers.

Yet millennials who entered the job market pre-recession were quickly greeted by it. Many of my friends had no sooner gotten their first professional, post-college jobs than they were losing them in 2008-2009 layoffs. I’m not convinced that entering the workforce pre- or post-recession is as great a marker of difference as some say it is. Perhaps older millennials are more likely to have college degrees and consider their current jobs a career because they are older? In the Zogby survey, we’re talking about the difference between people 25-35 versus those ages 18 to 24!

Putting economic influences aside, Brown quips that she doesn’t feel at all millennial as she encounters “new grads who drink coffee through a straw during an interview or respond with ‘k’ over Gchat.” Yet I remember hearing similar complaints from folks when my friends and I were just out of college and searching for jobs. Boomers and Gen X-ers assure me that their elders had similar complaints about them as interns and entry-level staffers.

I understand why it may seem weird, looking at a 16-year-old from the ripe old age of 30, and being told that you’re supposed to have something in common with them. But generations are, in theory, taxonomied more for historical shorthand purposes than major in-the-moment meaning. So you remember dial-up Internet and they don’t? So they got a Facebook profile at 12 and you were 20? Compared to the cultural gulf between any millennial and any member of our grandparents’ generation, or any member of the post- post- millennial generation, these differences are minuscule and virtually meaningless. And in 50 or 100 years, they will be undetectable to those looking back.

So anyway, here’s my plea to my fellow millenials: Accept the label, because you’re never going to shake it. But this doesn’t mean you have to accept what they say about us. Part of the reason millennials are so mocked and maligned is because nobody wants to admit to being one. The sooner you admit to your dreaded millennial-ness, the sooner you can start changing the conversation about us.

This Is Why Men Need Feminism

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Love, love, love the response from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt when asked about calling himself a feminist:

I read that you consider yourself a “male o-BITE-YOU-570feminist,” and you credit your parents who are educators and really taught you about the history of feminism. But nowadays, you have a lot of young stars coming out against being labeled a feminist.

Coming out against the label? Wow. I guess I’m not aware of that. What that means to me is that you don’t let your gender define who you are—you can be who you want to be, whether you’re a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, whatever. However you want to define yourself, you can do that and should be able to do that, and no category ever really describes a person because every person is unique. That, to me, is what “feminism” means.

So yes, I’d absolutely call myself a feminist. And if you look at history, women are an oppressed category of people. There’s a long, long history of women suffering abuse, injustice, and not having the same opportunities as men, and I think that’s been very detrimental to the human race as a whole. I’m a believer that if everyone has a fair chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, it’s better for everyone. It benefits society as a whole.

What’s great about Gordon-Levitt’s definition is that it shows why feminism is directly relevant to men’s lives as well as women’s. We’re all in this mess of gender expectations together. Feminism isn’t just about raising women up but helping us all – men, women, cis, trans, whatever – get to a place where we’re a bit more free.

(Image from Confused Cats Against Feminism)

Peer-Reviewed Produce?

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

K. Annabelle Smith notices that many small farmers aren’t bothering to get certified “organic” because the paperwork is too much of a hassle:

Data from this year’s census shows there are 18,513 certified organic farms and businesses Credit: Atomicity/Flickrin the United States, a 245 percent increase since 2002. But New Jersey is among 17 states that have seen a decline in organic certifications since 2008. [Jennifer] LaMonica’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is one of 40 organic farms the Garden State “lost” in recent years. Though there are a number of reasons for the decline—farm consolidation and limited water resources among them—one major explanation is that formerly certified organic farms are simply dropping their USDA stamp of approval.

(…) It’s not necessarily prohibitive startup costs that are turning farms off of the organic certification process. Depending on the size of a farm, it only costs between $200 and $1,500 to have a USDA inspector survey land for certification. But the required recordkeeping can be unmanageable for a farm of Sea Salt’s size. Farmers with a certification are only inspected by the USDA once a year, but they are required to keep daily records of everything, from how often they irrigate to total hours spent weeding. And the more diverse the crop, the more complicated the paperwork.

The rules also prohibit organic farmers from sharing any equipment with non-organic counterparts. And should a farmer use the label improperly? They can face up to $11,000 in fines per violation. Organic farmers have been long been complaining that the USDA certification process, with its intensive record-keeping requirements and potential risk, puts small farms and food companies at a disadvantage to the organic brands run by food conglomerates.

But how can consumers rest assured their “organic” food really is organic without the aid of USDA certification? Interestingly, a non-governmental certifying board may already be answering that question. It’s called the Certified Naturally Grown program, Smith explains:

It’s based on the USDA’s organic standards, but offers a less bureaucratic method of inspection: peer-to-peer. Each farmer in the program is required to do at least one inspection a year for another CNG farmer. The program, which has been around since October 2002, continues to expand. Farms in 47 states are registered as CNG, and the program received more than 300 new applications last year.

Steven Zwier and Robyn Weber run Asbury Village Farm, a CNG operation in New Jersey. Like LaMonica, they grow a small, diverse crop, but Zwier and his wife have no other hired labor. The USDA organic program was not a good fit for their farm, Zwier explains, because, with a two-person workforce, he needs to put all of his energy into the fields. Like LaMonica, he relies on the farm’s strong community reputation to keep a steady customer base, but wanted the extra level of credibility CNG offers.

“CNG strips down the red-tape bureaucracy of us paying the government our certification fees to keep statistics for them,” he says.

The CNG approach is called a participatory guarantee system (PGS). “While the PGS concept is still new to many in the United States, PGS programs have been in place for decades” elsewhere, the organization says.

Farmers in the Philippines this week launched a such a system, finding their country’s main organic-certification process “too slow” and labyrinthian. “In a second-party certification system like the PGS, we are well-represented in the committee and our opinions and knowledge are recognized,” Jose Ben Travilla, an organic farmer and PGS inspector, told MindaNews.

What Can Prevent Campus Rape?

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Judith Levine published a beautiful piece this week on how “to stop campus rape,” an issue that’s recently been getting attention from far outside its usual feminist bounds. In Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and a bipartisan team have been trying to pass a federal Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) which would, among other things, create a public database of campus assaults and raise fines on colleges that report them inaccurately. A little over a year ago, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act was campuspassed, mandating that schools create rape prevention and awareness programs if they want to keep participating in federal student loan programs.

It’s hard to see how most of these efforts will change anything. The difference between a rapist and a not-rapist isn’t having clicked through an online sexual-assault awareness module. And a public database of campus assaults may prove useful to those who choose educational institutions based on crime stats, but it would seem to do nothing to discourage rape on campus. The underlying issues — sexual assault is all too common, victims are often hushed or treated unfairly by college administrators, the accused can lack anything resembling due process — remain.

Increasing fines for colleges that fail to report sexual assaults, as the CASA would mandate, might force schools to take sex crime complaints more seriously. But even this proposal is riddled with problems. First, it would require a victim whose allegations have already been swept under the rug by her or his university to then take further action and file a complaint with the Department of Education. And as The New York Times noted recently, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which handles these claims, hardly has enough staff to evaluate student complaints, which could mean “many colleges that violate federal law will not be investigated or fined.”

Others, however, fret that the OCR could get a little too fine-happy under the new proposal. Hans Bader, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, recently pointed out that the bill would let OCR keep any money it receives, rather than turning it over to the general treasury. Wendy McElroy worries:

This creates a huge incentive for OCR to be aggressively punitive or to accuse innocent universities of misrepresentation or substandard compliance. Even an inability to comply would not exempt institutions from fines. For example, they are required to enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with local law enforcement. If the latter refuses, then “[t]he Secretary of Education will then have the discretion to grant the waiver.” Not the obligation but the discretion.

For McElroy, the whole idea of colleges conducting sexual assault investigations is preposterous:

Rape is a criminal act. Why is it being vetted by campus administrators who would never conduct a murder investigation? Both are the job of police. Why should university staff be forensically trained? The police already are, and they usually have years of experience. Yet CASA provides that universities must enter into “a memorandum of understanding [every two years] with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information … about certain serious crimes that shall include, but not be limited to, sexual violence.” Not limited to? Perhaps administrators will be conducting murder investigations soon.

A simple solution exists to what critics call an hysterical and politically motivated campaign about sexual violence on campus. Sexual assault is a crime. Leave it to the police. Unless, of course, the campaign is hysterical and politically motivated. Then the pile-on of regulations and federal power makes sense.

I’m not inclined to agree with McElroy on much, but I think she is absolutely spot on here, both in asserting that cops should handle student rape cases and in assessing the motives of legislators. Students, feminists, and folks of all sorts have been very vocal lately about the problem of assault on college campuses. It’s an election year. Politicians want talismans to ward against war-on-women charges, or more street cred when they fire these charges at others. And unlike most “women’s issues,” this is an easy one, because nobody’s on the pro-rape side.

But let’s ignore these congressional theatrics for the moment. Back to Levine’s awesome essay. She traces the 1960s move away from in loco parentis policies on college campuses through a more permissive period to the trends we’ve been seeing recently (trends that correspond to a general societal panic about youth safety strangely at odds with the reality of crime and vice rates).

From abstinence education’s ascendancy to raising the drinking age, Levine suggests that more worry about young adults is actually making them less safe:

Today America has the highest drinking age in the world. Virtually every high school has a drug-and-alcohol-prevention program and a chapter of the aptly named SADD, or Students Against Drunk Driving. The ideal is abstinence until the magic age of 21.

The same goes for sex education. Its arguments against teen sex are similar to those against underage imbibing. Both lead to bad grades, low self-esteem, addiction, partner violence, unwanted babies, diseases and car crashes. Sex, drink and drugs add up to trouble and pain.

Pleasure is not mentioned. Pleasure is for adults.

But every kid knows that getting high is fun and sex feels good.

So young people arrive at college parched, horny and unskilled at social drinking or sexual relations, and go into hyper-party mode. Still too young to drink at a bar, they “pregame” — guzzle as much as they can as fast as they can — before going out. Ninety percent of alcohol consumed by Americans younger than 21 is in binge drinking. Eighty percent of campus rapes involve alcohol — lots of it.

The answer to alcohol-fueled rape isn’t micromanaging consent or intensifying efforts to banish college drinking — a proposition about as realistic as ending American’s love of cheeseburgers or stopping stopping the sex trade or conjuring unicorns. We need to teach young people to drink, love, and screw responsibility, and this involves a level of openness and honesty that seems to frighten a lot of people. But as Levine notes: teens know when we’re lying to them. Every opportunity we take to tell kids that premarital sex will ruin their lives and only deadbeats drink is a missed opportunity to arm them with the tools they’ll need when they inevitably encounter alcohol and lust.

Americans want to protect children by keeping them children. It doesn’t work. You can’t protect women by infantilizing them, either.

Which brings us to this long, mostly incoherent piece on masculinity from a young man named George Fields. In it, he asserts that “a girl simply grows into a woman, or so most believe, whereas a man is something that is made”:

He is made because his masculinity consists in the destruction of his own nature, not in the maturity of it. He is born subject to a slew of desires, some more despicable, such as an unbridled lust for sex and drink, and some more acceptable, such as a desire for fame and affirmation. Though some of these passions are perhaps less unbecoming than others, they all make the man a slave for as long as he is in thrall to them and acts according to them.

The act of being a man is realized when all such things are put under the rule of his will and are broken with a rod of iron; when he is no longer driven by his lusts as the Greeks would term it, or the flesh as it would be known among Christians, but rather commands them.

To Fields, the fairer sex has no interiority, simply passing from playing with dolls to pining for babies with nary an “unbecoming” urge or thought. Men, meanwhile, become adults by acknowledging that they are weak, narcissistic brutes and then battling this true nature. (And these are the type of folks who say feminists unfairly malign men!) The work of adulthood, for both men and women, is the work of denial.

It’s dangerous rhetoric. What happens when a man can’t deny his passion for “the flesh” any longer? And that blank female canvas he expects has her own ideas about having or not having sex?

Contrast his ideas about adulthood with Levine’s:

Violence will not end until men stop viewing women … as “objects for sex.” But neither will it end if we keep viewing women as “special objects” in need of special protection. … To be equal, women must recognize themselves as adults, neither allowing men to abuse them nor expecting men to protect them. For men to grow up, they must recognize women as equals, people like themselves. Equality, not protection, is the antidote to sexual violence.

Thoughts? Email dish@andrewsullivan.com.

(Photo by Ed Yourdon)

A Threat To Abortion Clinics Outside The South

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Lebanon Road Surgery Center,So far, the inane battle over whether abortion-clinic doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital has largely been clustered in Southern states. In Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, the needless regulatory requirement would force some or all abortion clinics to shut down; clinics have been fighting back, with some recent encouraging successes in the courts. But unconstitutional abortion restrictions are like whack-a-moles – strike one down in some state and three more states will pass them in its place.

Which brings us to Ohio. This is my home state, and an abortion clinic a few miles from where I grew up is currently suing it. Thank goodness. Take a look at the absurd scheme the state has enacted to force clinics into closing, via the Cincinnati Enquirer (emphasis mine):

The health department ordered the (Lebanon Road Surgery Center) closed, declining to grant an exception to a state rule that all outpatient surgery centers must have an agreement that allows it to transfer patients to a local hospital. The state prohibits abortion clinics from forming those agreements with public hospitals. Plus, many private hospitals, in part facing political pressure brought by abortion opponents, no longer grant abortion clinics a transfer agreement. Without it, the clinics are in violation of state rules and must be closed unless they get a variance from the health department. The Sharonville clinic had such a variance, but the health department decided in 2012 to deny it, requiring the clinic to get a hospital transfer agreement or close.

This is slightly different than the situations in Alabama, etc., where the fight is over doctors getting admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Ohio rule requires clinics to have a relationship with a hospital, in what is known as a transfer agreement. But the same Catch-22 applies to both situations, with the state effectively saying to clinics, hey, just jump through this hoop and you can stay open – oh, but p.s., jumping is illegal and we’re out of hoops.

In Ohio, all outpatient surgery centers are required to have hospital transfer agreements, but only abortion clinics are barred from seeking them with public hospitals. This is thanks to a law passed by Republican legislators last year. And don’t think they didn’t know that getting a transfer agreement from a private hospital would be virtually impossible for abortion clinics: The private system in Ohio is composed largely of religiously-affiliated hospitals. In Cincinnati, where Lebanon Road Surgery Center is located, the market is dominated by a Catholic health system that won’t even cover birth control in employee health plans.

Some insisted this whole thing was no big deal because clinics could simply seek an exemption—which the state is now refusing to grant. Emails uncovered by the Enquirer show the Governor’s office and Ohio Right to Life corresponding with health department officials about how it should reject the clinic’s exemption request. This is despite the fact that the clinic has several doctors who do have admitting privileges at several area hospitals, so clinic patients are perfectly poised to get hospital care should an emergency arise.

According to the Enquirer, two of Ohio’s 14 abortion clinics closed last year; two are in the midst of court battles over being ordered to close; and two are trying to get reprieve from the health department from the transfer-agreement rule. Can we hear again how this isn’t about banning abortion but protecting women’s health?

(Photo of Cincinnati clinic from WomensMed.com)

Libertarian Morality

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown


Dismissing the naysayers, Damon Linker argues that the Libertarian moment has indeed arrived … sort of:

America clearly is becoming more libertarian — it’s just that the transformation is happening in morality and culture, not in economic, tax, and regulatory policy. The swift and broad-based triumph of the movement for gay marriage and the rapid rise in acceptance of marijuana legalization are the most obvious examples. But the source of these changes is deeper than the policies themselves — and may lead to other changes down the road.

Linker asserts that the prevailing cultural attitude in America right now is one of radical non-judgment: 

Consider the phenomenon of Miriam Weeks (Belle Knox), the Duke University undergrad who’s become a breakout celebrity (and something of a libertarian folk hero) for proudly admitting that she works as a porn actress to pay for her education. Pornography is obviously nothing new. But what is new — aside from its easy and costless availability online in effectively infinite quantities and varieties — is the claim that we shouldn’t judge Weeks’ decision to earn a living by having sex for money and in public, which is often the subtext behind discussion of her job choice. At least when the discussion isn’t explicitly framed to make her look like a saint for “empowering women and sex workers.”

In our libertarian paradise, moral judgments are perfectly acceptable, as long as they praise and never blame.

I take issue with that last quip – libertarian-minded folks are plenty capable of placing blame at the feet of people who deserve it. We have no problem expressing moral disapproval of an administration that rains death on innocent people, or of the insane militarization of our police force and the attendant terror it’s causing. We cast stones at those who let their own discomfort come before women’s safety and those who think any abuse by the state is warranted once someone has committed a crime. These are absolutely moral judgements – you don’t have mere differences of opinion on whether it’s okay to kill Pakistani children and African-American teenagers. We just don’t tend to be big on blaming people for failing to live up to some arbitrarily constructed sexual-morality code.

That’s not to say libertarians are all polyamorous pro-porn potheads (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In some places out west, self-proclaimed libertarians often look much more like Mormons than libertines. The only libertarian line in the sand on things like these involves government force, and it’s perfectly possible to be horrified at prostitution, gay strip clubs, and marijuana edibles and still not want them banned or regulated onerously. That is not an anti-libertarian position.

I understand the kind of cultural libertarianism Linker is writing about is oft predicated on the opposite – people’s personal desire not to be judged for their behavior becomes a rallying cry for less stigma generally. But I also submit that stigma reduction isn’t only the feel-good ra-ra bullshit some purport it to be. I, too, cringe at talk of how porn “empowers” women (what empowers women depends on the woman; individual women may feel empowered by sex work, just as individual women may feel empowered by mastering French, but neither present a net gain or loss for feminism). But I do believe that a “woman’s decision to earn a living by having sex” should be allowed, without abuse or jail time or insane regulations. And if you want people to stop treating sex workers’ lives as expendable and start supporting policies that treat sex work like any other kind of work, then reducing stigma goes a long way.

(Image via Flickr)

Agree? Disagree? Email us at dish@andrewsullivan.com

Playing The Prostitution Shame Game, Ctd

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

A reader agrees that a lot of anti-prostitution sentiment stems from an inability to look beyond personal aversion:

You wrote, “That is unless, like Allen, you can’t conceive of a world in which anyone could purchase sexual services from someone and still respect their humanity.” Spot-on. This whole notion that all sex workers are slaves is stripping a huge number of rational, adult people who choose to make money this way, for whatever reason, of their agency and their humanity. It also perpetuates the noxious notion that sex is something men take from women, and that sex is some kind of untouchable sacred cow that must never be involved in a commercial transaction.

Neither argument makes any sense. Sex is just another thing humans do with other humans. It can be given, taken, shared, or forced – just like most anything else. The trick is obviously to reduce the incidence of force in the equation, while enabling free expression and, yes, trade.

Indeed! And there’s even evidence that decriminalizing the sex trade could decrease the use of force in sex. Also: yes, yes, yes on the agency bit. The operating principle behind the trendy Nordic model of criminalizing sex work is that all prostitution is a form of male violence against women, who are legally defined as victims whether they consent to this sex or not. In terms of agency, it reduces women to the level of children and the developmentally impaired.

But, alas, people continue to champion the Nordic model as being more female-friendly than letting women use their own bodies as they see fit. From another reader:

Women are oppressed by men on the basis of reproductive capacity worldwide – legally, religiously, culturally – and are therefore not able to engage in the prostitution transaction in a way that is not inherently exploitative to womankind. Before a discussion of the legalization of prostitution can happen, robust action needs to be taken to address, at the very least:

(1) ample access to contraception and abortion and (2) equal pay and non-discriminatory work and school environments.  The johns at this point have little to complain about.  Prostitution, as you acknowledge, IS happening everywhere, with men getting off scot-free the vast majority of the time.  By comparison, women always have everything to lose, least of all legally.  Sex is fatally dangerous for women in many more ways than it is for men:  (1) the risk of violent partners; (2) STDs; (3) pregnancy and its associated ill affects depending on how misogynist the society is; (3) social banishment, and shame killings; (4) the emotional toll suffered by women who choose prostitution as a last resort.

I also think the very men who cheer this idea are focusing on unlimited access to female bodies.  Those same men, I believe would be appalled at and indifferent to implementing the regulatory infrastructure it would take to legitimize prostitution in a way that actually makes it safe for women.  As it stands, we don’t even have a legal system capable of dealing with rape!

As Catharine Mackinnon famously said, “women don’t work hard to beat the odds so they can prostitute themselves; women prostitute themselves when the odds beat them.”  Let’s increase the odds for women in our society by addressing the behemoth barriers they face to equal participation in society, so that they control the material reality of their lives, then have a discussion about making prostitution legal.

Well, at least we agree on part of that last part. Let’s do banish gender inequity and pull women worldwide out of poverty! But in the meantime, let’s not make sex workers’ lives worse just because we can’t make them perfect.

Previous Dish on the Nordic Model here.

Agree? Disagree? Email us at dish@andrewsullivan.com