The Damage Control Is Done

In a deeply reported, deeply disturbing story published late last week, Sabrina Rubin Erdely exposed how the University of Virginia has repeatedly mishandled and covered up rape allegations, including the gang-rape of a first-year student at a frat house two years ago:

UVA furnished Rolling Stone with some of its most recent tally: In the last academic year, 38 students went to [Dean Nicole] Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in “complaints”; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearings. UVA wasn’t willing to disclose their outcomes, citing privacy. Like most colleges, sexual-assault proceedings at UVA unfold in total secrecy. Asked why UVA doesn’t publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with “best practices” and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie [the 2012 gang-rape victim] got a different explanation when she’d eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, “Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”

Erdely’s exposé has already had consequences: UVA’s president has suspended all fraternities and associated parties until further notice and belatedly asked the local police to investigate the 2012 incident. Dreher compares the UVA coverup to the Church’s sex abuse scandal:

This is what the Catholic Church did. The first case I wrote about, back in 2001, involved an immigrant teenager who was passed around priests in a Bronx parish. When the boy’s father learned what happened, he went to see an auxiliary bishop. According to the victim’s lawyer, the auxiliary bishop allegedly pulled out a checkbook and offered a payout in exchange for the father signing a paper giving the Archdiocese of New York’s attorneys the right to handle his case. The father may have been a laborer and an immigrant, but he knew a scam when he saw it. He left and hired his own lawyer. And here we see the University of Virginia following a similar script.

Dahlia Lithwick’s takeaway is that the Title IX-mandated system by which college administrations are expected to adjudicate rape cases outside the criminal justice system is fundamentally flawed:

If the purpose of the current internal adjudication is to increase transparency and reporting, that runs against the most basic institutional incentive to hide bad news. If the object is to counsel and support survivors, it’s not clear that has worked very well either. And if the object is to keep the campus safe, it has failed spectacularly.

According to one Justice Department report, less than 5 percent of attempted or completed rapes on campus are reported to law enforcement. Universities attempted to create a second-tier system that bypassed that criminal justice process, softened the impact of filing a complaint, and lessened the process obligations and the fact-finding capacities of internal reviews. It worked. And in so doing, it largely failed. The question we should be asking ourselves is not simply what it is about campuses that lead the friends and counselors of the victim to discourage her from seeking help from the police and the hospital. The real question is whether, having crafted an internal system that either masks or exacerbates many of the worst features of the systems it seeks to replace, do we want to stand by it? After reading the Rolling Stone piece do we think universities are moving toward solving the campus rape problem or inadvertently colluding in hiding it?

Judith Shulevitz asks the obvious followup:

So what should universities be doing about violent sexual assault? In those orientation sessions, they should be teaching students to see sexual felonies as feloniesnot as violations of campus policy, but as crimes to be reported as soon as possible to police officers trained to investigate them so that prosecutors can prosecute them. If local cops and courts aren’t doing their job, then universities should use their considerable clout in make sure that they do.

A study published this year in the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, for instance, suggested that if universities want to make women feel more comfortable about reporting rape, they should add more women to their campus security police forceas of about half a decade ago, only 17 percent of campus police officers were women. A body of research on regular female police officers shows that not only to women prefer to report rape to them, they’re better at eliciting painful details from victims, which leads to higher rates of conviction. There is no reason that university officials couldn’t be working to help their local police departments make reforms like these.

On a related point, McArdle responds to our reader’s contention that the concept of due process is not cut-and-dry and that making it easier to expel accused rapists from college is not that big a deal:

In the first place, the government is pushing for these relaxed standards of evidence and due process, via Title IX, which means that this is the government doing something to you.  Not putting you in prison, to be sure.  But — and I hardly believe I have to say this — getting expelled on a sexual assault charge is, in fact, something very bad happening to you. I don’t know why people keep saying that this is “all” that happens, as if it were the educational equivalent of having to change hotels mid-vacation. …

Rape is a terrible thing, which is why we try it in courts, and lock rapists away for a good long time. It’s also why we treat rapists like they are terrible people who may be admitted to normal society only after convincing repentance and rehabilitation. That’s precisely why it’s problematic that we’re adjudicating these charges through such a weak process. Expelling someone for rape creates an official record that brands them, in the eyes of society, as a rapist. We should do that only after careful examination, giving the accused every chance to tell his side. Not because we are making light of rape, but because we are treating these terrible events, and the punishment we mete out, with all the seriousness they deserve.

Views Differ On Meaning Of “Sexual Assault” Ctd

A reader comments on this post:

The excerpt from Elizabeth Nolan Brown quotes “increasing progressive activism around the idea that drunk people can’t give consent.” I’m troubled by this.  The fact is, people can (and do) give consent while intoxicated.  Intoxication does not render one a zombie or possessed by a demon.  In fact, many would argue that one’s words and actions while intoxicated reveal more of your true self than when sober (think of the guy who goes off on a racist tirade while drunk, but would never be caught saying those things out loud when sober).

The notion that a woman (or man) should be absolved of all responsibility for their sexual actions while drunk is preposterous.  Yet it seems that this is exactly what high school and college campuses are now telling their students.

But let’s look at it this way: If a female college student were to go to a frat party, get sloshed, and then – instead of climbing into bed with a frat guy – climbed into the driver’s seat of her car, took off and went on to kill someone with it, nobody would be suggesting that she was not responsible for her actions while drunk.  Why should her ability to make a judgment concerning sex while drunk be any different than if she drove a car?

Here’s another example: Let’s say a guy gets drunk and has sex with a woman without a condom and she gets pregnant.  Nine months later should he be absolved of his responsibility to provide for the child just because his judgment in deciding whether to use a condom was impaired at the time of intercourse?  Please.

Update from a reader:

The “increasing progressive activism around the idea that drunk people can’t give consent” runs smack into this reality (emphasis mine):

Typically, if either the victim or the perpetrator is drinking alcohol, then both are. For example, in Abbey et al. (1998), 47% of the sexual assaults reported by college men involved alcohol consumption. In 81% of the alcohol-related sexual assaults, both the victim and the perpetrator had consumed alcohol. Similarly, in Harrington and Leitenberg (1994), 55% of the sexual assaults reported by college women involved alcohol consumption. In 97% of the alcohol-related sexual assaults, both the victim and the perpetrator had consumed alcohol. The fact that college sexual assaults occur in social situations in which men and women are typically drinking together makes it difficult to examine hypotheses about the unique effects of perpetrators’ or victims’ intoxication.

That’s a problem. Unless, of course, the activists want to establish that men are supposed to be the guardians of helpless women’s virtue at all times, which doesn’t sound particularly progressive to me. In fact, it sounds … what’s the word I’m looking for … ah! Patriarchal.

At some point, today’s feminism and yesterday’s Victorianism will reach a perfect convergence. But the new feminists will have to impose their idea of male virtue by force of law.

Views Differ On Meaning Of “Sexual Assault”

After conducting a voluntary survey of its student body, MIT reported this week that 17 percent of female students and 5 percent of male students had experienced sexual assault. But the university’s administration and the students surveyed seem to subscribe to different definitions of that term:

M.I.T. asked about several forms of unwanted sexual contact, from touching to penetration, “involving use of force, physical threat or incapacitation,” that it said clearly constituted sexual assault — the kind that 17 percent of undergraduate women and 5 percent of undergraduate men said they had experienced. In addition, 12 percent of women and 6 percent of men said they had experienced the same kinds of unwanted sexual contact, but without force, threat or incapacity — some of which, depending on the circumstances, can also be sexual assault. Yet when asked if they had been raped or sexually assaulted, only 11 percent of female and 2 percent of male undergraduates said yes.

There was a similar result on sexual harassment. Among undergraduate respondents, large majorities of men and women said they had heard sexist remarks and inappropriate comments about people’s bodies … But the number who described what had happened to them as sexual harassment was relatively small: 15 percent of undergraduate women, and 4 percent of men.

Their consciousness obviously needs to be raised – and pronto. “The university is clearly using a broader definition of sexual assault than its own students,” Batya Ungar-Sargon concludes:

Perhaps the discrepancy lies in the staggering 44 percent of incidents related to being incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, which some students don’t regard as assault.

It seems unlikely that students would underreport sexual assaults caused by force, or a weapon, or threats of physical harm. Eighty-three percent of respondents disagree with the statement that “An incident can only be sexual assault or rape if the person says ‘no.'” In other words, 83 percent of MIT students can distinguish between a nonverbal lack of consent, and sexual assault. If this is the case, why does the survey then disbelieve the female undergrads when only 10 percent say they have been sexually assaulted? To take the 17 percent of “unwanted” sexual behaviors and turn them into sexual assault, despite the 7 percent of female students included therein who do not believe they have been assaulted, is to remove the students’ very canny ability to distinguish the criminal from the unwanted.

After pointing out some problems with the survey’s methodology, Elizabeth Nolan Brown highlights a finding that she finds disturbing:

Contra the affirmative consent crowd, it doesn’t seem that a lack of respect or enthusiasm for obtaining sexual content is a big problem: 98 percent of females and 96 percent of males agreed or strongly agreed that it’s important to get consent before sexual activity. But students are confused about how alcohol and intoxication affect consent, which perhaps speaks to increasing progressive activism around the idea that drunk people can’t give consent. Only about three-quarters of respondents said they feel confident in their own ability to judge whether someone is too intoxicated to consent to sex. And more than half agreed that “rape and sexual assault can happen unintentionally, especially if alcohol is involved.”

I just want to repeat that one more time: Half of the MIT students surveyed think it’s possible to “accidently” rape someone. When you consider undergraduates alone, this rises to 67 percent. This is what we get when people push an idea that rape is really often a matter of consent confusion or a drunken misunderstanding and not something that one person (the rapist) intentionally does to another. This is exactly what those of us opposed to affirmative consent standards mean when we worry about it muddying the waters of consent and confusing the definition of rape.

And the beat goes on.

Codifying Consent, Ctd

I haven’t weighed into the debate over California’s sexual consent law or the new regulations in many colleges, including my alma mater, Harvard, that defines any sex without vocalized continuous consent as sexual assault or rape. One reason is my lack of any real experience of male-female sex where the power dynamics can often be very different from gay sex. But what does concern me a great deal is the lack of any due process for the accused in these unfortunate and often deeply contentious circumstances. Mercifully, some of the faculty at Harvard – specifically the law school – have now risen up against what look to me like kangaroo courts, designed to instill fear into one gender alone. In an open letter, published in the Boston Globe, the law profs write:

Harvard has adopted procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation. Here our concerns include but are not limited to the following:

■ The absence of any adequate opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses and present a defense at an adversary hearing.

■ The lodging of the functions of investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review in one office, and the fact that that office is itself a Title IX compliance office rather than an entity that could be considered structurally impartial.

■ The failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused, particularly for students unable to afford representation.

Ezra Klein – in a remarkable column that we featured yesterday – actually defends the lack of due process as a positive aspect of the new regulations, because their inherent bias against accused men will create a climate of fear that is necessary to curtail male sexual violence and assault:

To work, “Yes Means Yes” needs to create a world where men are afraid … Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.

Jon Chait and Charles Cooke both note the profound illiberalism here – and it’s enabled by the pomo gender ideologues who now control most discussion of sex and sexual identity in the academy. But what’s also impossible to ignore is how the social left is now trying to micro-manage what goes on in the bedroom with almost as much assiduity as the social right – and to do so in order to target one gender alone.

When all men are regarded as potential rapists, and when you have bought into the argument that the patriarchy is so entrenched that only radically illiberal procedures to punish, stigmatize and shame them will suffice, you have embraced a new Puritanism almost as troubling as the old. Play out this scenario: If a judicial process were set up that assumed that all women reporting sexual assault and rape were liars until somehow proven truthful, there would be an outcry. But if an identical judicial process is established that assumes all men accused of sexual assault and rape are guilty until proven otherwise – with no due process allowed – that is, apparently, a progressive move.

And it may well be a progressive move; but it sure isn’t a liberal or fair one. This does not mean that I don’t take the issue of sexual assault and rape seriously. In fact, it’s precisely because I do take it seriously that I’d support laws and regulations that allow real justice to be done, in which the accused have some basic right to defend themselves. The rest is a function of a leftist academic culture in which men are somehow inherently a problem; and almost anything is justified to make sure their “privilege is checked” and their gender stigmatized. At some point, the sexism inherent in this needs to be confronted as well.

Codifying Consent, Ctd

Amanda Taub defends California’s new “Yes Means Yes” law, arguing that it “emerged as a response to a status quo that has proved to be an all-too-powerful tool for sexual predators, because it enables them to claim to see consent in everything except continuous, unequivocal rejection”:

This week, a Detroit man murdered a 27-year-old mother of three named Mary Spears after she rejected him in a bar. Right now, a woman is in critical condition in a New York City hospital because a man slashed her throat on the street after she declined to go on a date with him. In April, a Connecticut teenager was murdered by her 16-year-old classmate after she turned down his invitation to prom. Stories like these (and there are others) should remind us that women have a lot of reasons to fear the consequences of saying “no.” That’s all the more reason why silence shouldn’t be presumed to be consent.

That argument in particular changed Ezra Klein’s mind. He now supports the law, even though it’s unlikely to be enforced very often:

If the Yes Means Yes law is taken even remotely seriously it will settle like a cold winter on college campuses, throwing everyday sexual practice into doubt and creating a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent. This is the case against it, and also the case for it. Because for one in five women to report an attempted or completed sexual assault means that everyday sexual practices on college campuses need to be upended, and men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.

The Yes Means Yes law could also be called the You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure law. You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure she said yes. You Better Be Pretty Damn Sure she meant to say yes, and wasn’t consenting because she was scared, or high, or too tired of fighting. If you’re one half of a loving, committed relationship, then you probably can Be Pretty Damn Sure. If you’re not, then you better fucking ask.

Robby Soave and others fire back:

First of all: who is to say that “Yes Means Yes” will actually decrease instances of sexual assault? The law’s main function is to push colleges to investigate and adjudicate sexual assault based on a narrower set of standards and without recognition of established due process rights. Given the track record of campus rape trials, there is little reason to think colleges will excel here. I predict more lawsuits—from both accusers and the accused—and similar levels of sexual assault. The heavy hand of government does not automatically and instantly change culture in the manner that central planners envision. …

Klein’s do something at all costs approach is also an indictment of the modern left’s warped priorities and callous disregard for due process. Safeguarding the rights of the accused was once a cardinal virtue of civil liberalism. But for many so-called progressives, paranoia about sexual violence trumps all other considerations. They have much in common with the tough-on-crime conservatives of past decades, in that respect.

Freddie also goes after Ezra – and the elite media in general – for not addressing the law’s risks:

We know that the police state targets the poor. We know that false convictions are far more likely to happen to black and Hispanic men. We know those things. Doing away with the presumption of innocence will not mostly hurt privileged white frat boys. It will hurt poor people and black people the way that our judicial system always does. So if you, like Klein, want to be breezy and loose in your talk about the consequences of a law that many or most admit is badly flawed, fine. But let’s count those costs like adults.

And Judith Shulevitz stands up for the rights of accused rapists:

What’s happening at universities represents an often necessary effort to recategorize once-acceptable behaviors as unacceptable. But the government, via Title IX, is effectively acting on the notion popularized in the 1970s and ’80s by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon that male domination is so pervasive that women need special protection from the rigors of the law. Men, as a class, have more power than women, but American law rests on the principle that individuals have rights even when accused of doing bad things. And American liberalism has long rejected the notion that those rights may be curtailed even for a noble cause.

“We need to take into account our obligations to due process not because we are soft on rapists and other exploiters of women,” says [Harvard professor Janet] Halley, but because “the danger of holding an innocent person responsible is real.”

Meanwhile, Shikha Dalmia’s reaction to the law last week provoked this rant from Erin Gloria Ryan, under the headline “Consent Laws Are Ruining Sex, Says Writer Who Probably Has Awful Sex”:

First, the assumption that sex is a horny guy trying to convince a tired woman to lie there while he pumps away at her sex hole while she wonders to herself if this is what she really wanted is an assessment of heterosexual intercourse so grim that I feel a great deal of pity for the person whose life experiences have led to those conclusions.

That, McArdle points out, is not an argument; it’s just sex shaming:

When guys do this to them, left feminists easily recognize it for what it is: reactionary, misogynist bile spewed by angry people who couldn’t think of an actual argument. So why does Erin Gloria Ryan feel free to deploy it against a woman with whom she disagrees? Why didn’t her colleagues at Jezebel take her aside and say, “Hey, that’s not how we roll. We’re against sex shaming, remember?”

This is not the first time I’ve run into this idea that all’s fair as long as you restrict it to conservatives. Although the exact post seems to be lost to the mists of Internet time, I’ll never forget when a woman at a major feminist site accused me of holding the political opinions I do because — wait for it — I was trying to catch a man. Or the liberal men too numerous to count, or at least bother counting up over the years, who have hailed me with every misogynist slur you could imagine, and a few I’m sure you couldn’t.

Dalmia herself hits back at her detractors:

[I]n a WonketteJezebel gynocracy, discrediting someone’s (imagined) sex life = discrediting their argument.

When Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who wanted taxpayer funded contraceptive coverage, a “slut,” the whole feminist establishment rose in unison to condemn him—and rightly so. Ultimately, he was forced to do the decent thing and issue an apology. “I did not mean a personal attack,” he said. “My choice of words was not the best, I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.” The question now is, can Gray and Ryan manage to rise to Limbaugh’s level? I’m waiting, sisters!

Codifying Consent


Shikha Dalmia argues that the California consent law ignores the realities of sexual encounters:

The truth is that, except in the first flush of infatuation, both partners are rarely equally excited. At any given moment, one person wants sex more passionately than the other. What’s more, whether due to nurture or nature, there is usually a difference in tempo between men and women, with women generally requiring more “convincing.” And someone who requires convincing is not yet in a position to offer “affirmative” much less “enthusiastic” consent. That doesn’t mean that the final experience is unsatisfying — but it does mean that initially one has to be coaxed out of one’s comfort zone. Affirmative consent would criminalize that.

The reality is that much of sex is not consensual — but it is also not non-consensual. It resides in a gray area in between, where sexual experimentation and discovery happen. Sex is inherently dangerous. There will be misadventures when these experiments sometimes go wrong. Looking back, it can be hard to assign blame by ascertaining whether both partners genuinely consented. Indeed, trying to shoehorn sex into a strict, yes-and-no consent framework in an attempt to make it risk free can’t help but destroy it.

Jonathan Chait questions how much an affirmative consent law could accomplish:

It surely is possible to imagine that sex that comports with these new guidelines is sexy, or even more sexy than the kind most people have now. Yet one might find these ideas about reimagining sex attractive, as I do, while still having deep reservations about codifying them into law.

The fact that we need to change cultural attitudes about sex itself underscores the fact that cultural attitudes about sex lie well outside the contours established by the state of California. What percentage of the last decade worth of Hollywood sex scenes, if acted out between college students in California, would technically constitute rape? A majority? Ninety percent?

Deprogramming and reorienting societal ideas about sex is an evolutionary process. California isn’t merely attempting to set out to nudge the culture in this direction. It is reclassifying all sex that falls outside those still-novel ideas as rape. A law premised on this sort of sweeping, wholesale change is likely to fail.

Meanwhile, Danielle Citron argues that more laws are needed to deal with another area of sexual activity:

Why is it legal in many jurisdictions to disclose a person’s nude image in violation of that person’s expectation of privacy? A combination of factors is at work. One stems from the public’s ignorance about so-called revenge porn. As brave individuals have come forward to tell their stories, we are only now beginning to understand how prevalent and damaging revenge porn can be.

Another reason is that society has a poor track record addressing harms primarily suffered by women. It was an uphill battle to get domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment recognized as serious issues. Because revenge porn impacts women far more frequently than men and creates far more serious consequences for them, it is another harm that society is willing to minimize, trivialize, and tolerate. Although most people today would recoil at the suggestion that a woman’s consent to sleep with one man can be taken as consent to sleep with his friends, this is the very logic of revenge porn apologists.

“Yes Means Yes” Becomes Law

On Sunday, Jerry Brown signed California’s controversial affirmative-consent bill. Amanda Marcotte welcomes the news:

This means that during an investigation of an alleged sexual assault, university disciplinary committees will have to ask if the sexual encounter met a standard where both parties were consenting, with consent defined as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Notice that the words “verbal” or “stone sober” are not included in that definition. The drafters understand, as most of us do when we’re actually having sex, that sometimes sexual consent is nonverbal and that there’s a difference between drunk, consensual sex and someone pushing himself on a woman who is too drunk to resist.

She calls out what she views as “misrepresentations of the bill,” explaining:

The law has no bearing on the vast majority of sexual encounters.

It only applies when a student files a sexual assault complaint. And all it does is help the disciplinary board craft its line of questioning to get to the important facts. Now, instead of starting the investigation by asking if the victim said no—and how she said no and whether her no was good enough to get her out of unwanted sex—the investigation focuses on the actions of the accused. Example questions could include, “Did she want to have sex with you?” or “Did she want to do everything you two did?”

Maya Dusenbery is really encouraged by the new law:

This paradigm shift has been a long time coming and is desperately needed. The idea that mutual desire, not the mere absence of “no,” should perhaps be the standard for an activity that’s generally agreed to be pretty fun hardly seems radical. And there’s nothing that makes me sadder about the state of our sexual culture than the fact that this bill was met by such resistance.

Others, including some on the left, are more skeptical. Michelle Goldberg is among them:

The law might force couples into dialogue about their desires—obviously a good thing—but it’s hard to see how that alone will address rape. It is, after all, a right-wing canard that acquaintance rape cases tend to stem from misunderstanding rather than predation. Research at one campus by the scholars David Lisak and Paul M. Miller shows that most rapists are serial offenders who have committed other acts of violence as well. “This portrait is more consistent with the data on recidivism among sex offenders than with the still-prevalent image of a male college student who, under the influence of alcohol, mistakenly crosses the line between sexual pressure and rape,” they write. Yet California’s law treats the campus rape crisis as a communication problem, even as it blurs the parameters of what sexual assault is.

Laurie Essig also objects to the law:

Like the antiporn laws, “yes means yes” is a bad romance between feminism and the state for two reasons: pleasure and danger. The statute equates good sex with a legalistic definition of consent rather than with the pleasures had by the parties involved. It also expands notions of criminality at a time when the criminal-justice system is regularly committing horrific acts of race- and class-biased violence.

Freddie piles on:

Even the people who show up in my comments to advocate for these policies seem to have little confidence that they will actually make it easier to prosecute sexual assault, rather than make it more confusing, more messy, more ambiguous, and more likely to produce abuse or evasion. Many who support these policies seem to do so out of a desire to be deeply committed to opposing sexual assault in an abstract sense, rather than out of the sincere conviction that these policies will reduce sexual assault in fact.  It’s not enough to want to prevent rape; you’ve got to articulate why a reduction in rape is the most likely outcome of the adoption of these policies.

The controversy seems perfectly indicative of the enduring question for today’s left: are we in the business of being good or the business of doing good?

Meanwhile, Amanda Hess illustrates how the culture of “yes means yes” is spreading – to an absurd extent, in this case:

Here’s how [the new app] works: After deciding that you would like to have sex with someone, launch the Good2Go app (free on iTunes and Google Play), hand the phone off to your potential partner, and allow him or her to navigate the process to determine if he or she is ready and willing. “Are We Good2Go?” the first screen asks, prompting the partner to answer “No, Thanks,” “Yes, but … we need to talk,” or “I’m Good2Go.” If the partner chooses door No. 1, a black screen pops up that reads “Remember! No means No! Only Yes means Yes, BUT can be changed to NO at anytime!” If he or she opts instead to have a conversation before deciding—imagine, verbally communicating with someone with whom you may imminently engage in sexual intercourse—the app pauses to allow both parties to discuss. …

When I tried this process out with a partner, it took us four minutes to navigate through all the screens, mostly because he kept asking, “Why are we using an app for this?” and “Why do I have to give them my phone number?” (More on that later.) I was confused, too: As the instigator, I wasn’t asked to confirm that I wanted to have sex or to state my own intoxication level for my partner’s consideration. (A promotional video modeling the process begins by announcing how “simple” it is, then snaps out instructions for three minutes, but questions remain.)

Perhaps the process is deliberately time-consuming: The app provides the “opportunity for two people to pause and reflect on what they really want to do, rather than entering an encounter that might lead to something one or both will later regret,” the app’s FAQ reads. Or maybe I’m just old: At 29, I find it much easier to just talk about sex than to use an app for that.

Choosing “Yes” Ctd

More reactions are appearing to new efforts to combat campus rape. Megan McArdle writes of a new affirmative-consent law proposed in California:

It seems to criminalize most sexual encounters that most people have ever had, which (I hear) don’t usually involve multistep verbal contracts. It appears designed to be unequally applied to men and women or, alternatively, to create a lot of cases of “mutual rape.” And it doesn’t fix the actual thing that makes rape hard to prosecute, or stop, which is that there are often only two witnesses who know whether or not the sex was consensual, one of whom was often intoxicated.

A reader counters Freddie’s comments:

What bothers me is the twin rules that if a woman knowingly has any alcohol at all, a man cannot have sex with her without fear of being charged with rape, but while a woman’s ability to make decisions is degraded by alcohol, a man’s is never legally degraded.

Obviously if she was tricked into drinking alcohol or if she is so drunk that her speech is slurred or has lost her motor skills, let alone unconscious, she isn’t in a position to say no.  But that is different from willingly having a drunk hookup with an equally drunk dude, and the next morning regretting the whole incident, and by the end of the week, with the encouragement of some friends, deciding that the guy should have said no to her willing action so now it’s rape.  Makes me glad I’m married and don’t have to deal with the current situations on campus.

Responding to both Freddie and McArdle, Elizabeth Nolan Brown offers a class critique of the high-profile focus on campus rape:

[M]ainstream feminists have taken up the cause of affirmative consent on campus with vigor. It seems to epitomize critics’ charge that these feminists are only concerned with the problems of the privileged and middle-class. Only about one-third of Americans ever earn a college degree. Only about six percent of Americans are currently enrolled in college, and far less on traditional college campuses. Why are the intricacies of consent for this population so much more important than, say, finding funding to test the backlog of rape kits—something that could help catch existing rapists and protect people regardless of their educational attainment (or incapacitation) level?

Tara Culp-Ressler, meanwhile, talked to some college dudes about the White House campaign:

The college students who spoke to ThinkProgress said they welcome the shift away from approaching sexual assault as an issue that individual women need to protect themselves against. Targeting efforts toward men, they said, could eventually encourage more college guys to tell their friends that they shouldn’t take advantage of drunk people.

“Here at college, it means men on campus will set the precedent that sexual assault is not okay — and beyond that, that all of the microaggressions along the spectrum of harm that lead to rape culture are also not okay,” John Damianos, a sexual assault prevention activist at Dartmouth College who has been involved in advising the new White House Task Force, explained. Those microaggressions could range from making a rape joke, to suggesting that a sexual assault victim was “asking for it” because she wore a short skirt to a party, to catcalling a woman on the street.

Choosing “Yes”

Freddie responds to Vanessa Grigoriadis’s piece on campus rape:

I think that it’s a mistake to create different standards of consent for college students. The potential unforeseen consequences scare me, and besides, a central aspect of the fight against sexual assault is to insist that rape is rape. I think it sends a retrograde message to suggest that there is a different standard that is applied only to college students. I would argue that a clear takeaway from the New York piece is that the establishment of this entire separate legal system for campus sexual assaults, while undertaken with good intentions, has added a layer of complexity and lack of accountability that has backfired badly. …

I feel strongly that explicit consent laws actually undercut the absolute ownership by the individual over her or his own sexual practice.

One of the most important parts of the feminist project is insisting that women own their own bodies. This has application to abortion, where the pro-life movement seeks to take physical control of women’s bodies away from them. And it has application to rape. The insistence of those who work against rape is that only the individual has the right to define appropriate and wanted sexual practice. With the informed consent of all adult parties, no sexual practice is illegitimate. Without that consent, no sexual practice is permissible. This is a humane, moral standard that has the benefit of simplicity in application and clarity in responsibility.

But it stems first and foremost from the recognition of individual ownership. To define the exact methods through which individuals can request and give consent takes away that control and turns it over to the state, or even more ludicrously, to a dean or some academic grievance board. We should be expanding the individual’s control over their own sexual practice, not lessening it. And we should maintain the simplest standard that there is: that if a person rejects a sexual advance, or is in such an incapacitated state that they cannot rejected that advance, or is under the power of the other party to the extent that they feel compelled to consent, sexual contact cannot morally or legally take place.

“It’s On Us”

Katie Zavadski flags a new White House campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence on college campuses:

Officials are hoping the new ads will be screened on youth-oriented television networks and shown at sporting events. In order to appeal to the collegiate demographic, the White House recruited celebrities like Questlove, Jon Hamm, Rose Byrne, and Cleveland Cavaliers center Kevin Love to film spots.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who has addressed campus rape in the past, has some doubts:

Reading [Jeffrey] Zients’ post, I was reminded of author and professor Joel Best speaking on the hallmarks of how media hype (and the attendent bogus statistics) get promulgated: First there is a high-profile tragic event, then the need to define the event as part of an identifiable Problem (“the heroin epidemic”), and then a desire to quantify the problem so as to place it in a larger context. I put “campus rape crisis” in quotes not to diminish the seriousness of sexual assault but because I think the phrase is a prime example of the phenomenon Best describes. Rape is a problem wherever it happens, which is sometimes on campus and more frequently not. The “campus rape crisis” is a thing perpetuated by people interested in profiting from the fear in various ways.

When you make up a problem—and again, let’s be clear that I’m not saying rape, the underreporting of rape, or the way campuses handle rape is a made-up problem, but rather the idea that college campuses are some sort of rape epicenter—it is much easier to get credit for solving that problem. The White House doesn’t actually have to impact rape rates or rape prosecution rates or anything tangible, because that’s not how it has defined the problem. Its central concern is raising awareness about rape on college campus, a goal both amorphous and measurable in Facebook likes.

Meanwhile, the movement against college sexual assault continues on the campuses themselves. Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress project is back in the news. Vanessa Grigoriadis contextualizes Sulkowicz within broader cultural trends:

A few years ago, an Ivy League student going public about her rape, telling the world her real name—let alone trying to attract attention by lugging around a mattress—would have been a rare bird. In America, after all, we still assume rape survivors want, and need, their identities protected by the press. But shattering silence, in 2014, means not just coming out with an atrocity tale about your assault but offering what Danielle Dirks, a sociologist at Occidental, calls “an atrocity tale about how poorly you were treated by the people you pay $62,500 a year to protect you.” By owning those accusations, and pointing a finger not only at assailants but also the American university, the ivory tower of privilege, these survivors have built the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Rape activists now don’t talk much about women’s self-care and protection like they did in the ’90s with Take Back the Night marches, self-defense classes, and cans of Mace. Today, the militant cry is aimed at the university: Kick the bastards out.