… by Emily Yoffe.

Carol Tavris is a social psychologist and author of the feminist classic, The Mismeasure of Woman, and, with Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me). She says she is troubled by the blurring of distinctions between rape (notably by predatory males), unwanted sex (where one party agrees to sex not out of desire but to please or placate the partner), and the kind of consensual sex where both parties are so drunk they can barely remember what happened — and one of them later regrets it. She says, “Calling all of these kinds of sexual encounters ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ doesn’t teach young women how to learn what they want sexually, let alone how to communicate what they want, or don’t want. It doesn’t teach them to take responsibility for their decisions, for their reluctance to speak up. Sexual communication is really hard — you don’t learn how to do it in a few weekends.”

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One Response to “From a long and very useful analysis of sexual assault on campus…”

  1. Greg Says:

    I read Yoffe piece yesterday. If it is substantially true, my heart goes out to the poor kid who was accused. My second thought was: what if (as is likely true of parts of the Virginia story) Yoffe’s description of the Michigan male’s innocence, and his struggles to prove it, itself proved false. That would no more invalidate many of her points than the Rolling Stone’s story’s defects invalidated the concerns with a culture of alcohol, rape, and general disrespecting women on campuses. No more than the possibility that one global warming researcher’s mistake in a particular study invalidates the consensus of serious scientists.

    The difficulty is with universities sorting accusations in a way most likely to get them right, because there is no such thing as even near certainty, except in unusual cases. Some of the investigative procedures offend literal due process (applicable only state schools) and aspirational due process (private schools). Note the Harvard Law professors (of both genders) complaint whose ideas cover other schools as well:

    “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”
    I would be as heartbroken for a falsely accused son, who couldn’t clear his record and move on with life, as for a daughter who was assaulted and injured without real possibility of redress.

    So what to do with one’s intuition that women are especially, disproportionately, aggrieved in all of this?

    The best we can do is to provide support,* take these claims seriously (requiring cultural changes in many places), investigate, and, when they prove especially plausible, prosecute them under a set of procedures that are fair to both accuser and accused. And of course we need to change attitudes on campus about women’s legal rights and moral claim to equality and dignity and also about the use of alcohol.

    None of this is a surprise. I guess reform often sounds platitudinous and it can’t be done in one flashy stroke. It involves the hard work of drafting good disciplinary rules and procedures, appointing responsible faculty and students to the adjudicatory committees, and, for those faculty and students, doing the hard work of considering evidence with care and common sense.


    *The support part does not need to be even-handed. Right from the start an accuser can be provided with a counselor and an advocate, sympathetic to her claims.

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