Sunday, August 21, 2011

College Rape Accusations and the Presumption of Male Guilt

About this time of year many educators are encouraging new students to please, please, go to student orientation on campus. Skip the bars for a couple of hours and learn something that will matter.  Attend a sexual assault workshop.  Know the definition of informed consent. Don't take it for granted that what you do on a date won't come back to haunt you.

And then there are people like Peter Berkowitz bemoaning that schools literally legislate what students should think and say. These rules, originally there to combat sex discrimination, are direct from the federal government. Schools that benefit from federal funding (i.e., almost all of them) must comply to the statutes and amendments of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. Institutions receiving federal funding must: (1) educate both students and teachers about the law;
(2) report all incidences of known sexual assault on campus to the U.S. Department of Education; and (3) adjudicate complaints.

Mr. Berkowitz believes that the campus adjudication process unfairly favors the victim, unjustly leads to the expulsion of the perpetrator. Ruins his life.

Interesting to those of us who see the victims in therapy, when they should be in school. They are young men and women who have dropped out, who never even thought to tell over their experiences as rape victims, not to the schools, certainly, not even to parents or friends. They dropped out, dropped off the map. Just couldn't concentrate, you know.

But unfair, unjust things happen to young perpetrators of acquaintance rape, don't you know, because, according to Mr. Berkowitz,
On campus, where casual sex is celebrated and is frequently fueled by alcohol, the ambiguity that often attends sexual encounters is heightened and the risk of error in rape cases is increased.
Well yes, if they're not up to speed. Getting there is the point of the workshops Berkowitz feels are so intrusive, so likely to hamstring free thought, this illiberal education the kids are getting these days, the one about sexual violence. Oh, dear. Perhaps we shouldn't teach them to look both ways crossing the streets, either, or not to shoot people, to obey walk signs. All restrictions of freedoms.

Mr. Berkowitz believes that when schools try the accused, that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of civil jurisprudence, is diluted, replaced by the preponderance of evidence standard.

That may be true. But my understanding is different (the picture above with all those book, represents some of my understanding).

Procedures vary from school to school. In many schools the jury is a board composed of peers, or students who are impartial, and the accused and the one accusing, have a say in its composition. Rarely is a young man who has committed acquaintance rape and been through the process expelled. Rather, he learns definitions, laws. He is changed for the better, more empathetic. He has had a little sorely needed psychotherapy, and found that it didn't hurt, and to preserve his future and his self-respect, is sure to restrain himself the next time.

Poor guy. Doesn't even realize he's suffered an illiberal education!

Well before school begins, to add insult to injury, all incoming students receive student handbooks in the mail, or are encouraged to read them online. Their parents are encouraged, even psychologically pressured, to read the handbook (talk about riling up our founding fathers), as well. And these very same parents are encouraged to reinforce the rules of the institution. Should students break certain rules, i.e., commit felonies, they might be asked to leave.

Sexual assault orientation is generally conducted by students, themselves young people familiar with the matter. They reinforce awareness, recognition and treatment, what to do when someone you know has confided a rape. The engaging programs educate about the other Title IX laws that protect against ethnic harassment, racial and gender discrimination. The protected classes keep growing, dependent upon jurisdiction.

When it comes to sex, however, it is all about informed consent. It isn't that one cannot have sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which precludes informed consent. Most everyone's judgement is compromised under the influence. To be sure that sex is what both partners want, that both will be happy with the decision the morning after, the question of whether or not we'll have sex tonight is something that might be discussed before the real partying begins, before one loses one faculties. (Uh, oh, there goes that free will.)

Speaking of faculties, Mr. Berkowitz wants to know,
Where are the professors of literature who will patiently point out that, particularly when erotic desire is involved, intentions can be obscure, passions conflicting, the heart murky and the soul divided?

Where are the professors of science . . .the professors of political science . . . law, . . .
They're writing books, sir, like the ones above. And they have spent a good deal of time at work, on campus, and have already attended a workshop.

Or perhaps they know someone who has been raped. Maybe a sister, a niece, a daughter. Most of us know someone.

Linda Freedman, LCSW, LMFT, PhD


  1. Would that there were such mandatory programs when I entered college in '81. That way, I might have gotten some help healing from the assault I endured at age 12. I am grateful that women are less likely to wake up one day in their forties recognizing that it is still in the way.

    I have high hopes that Mr. Berkowitz is not the father of a college aged daughter. I have higher hopes still that he is not infusing these values into the being of a college aged son.

    Thank you for this.

  2. The only reason I can think of that someone like Berkowitz would be so defensive is if he himself is harboring a guilty conscience about possible date-rapes he or his friends or family committed.

    It does not infringe the right of free speech or individual liberty to be taught that assaulting others is not okay. (P.S. love this site and the content, had a very hard time reading it. Can you make the font a bit darker?)

  3. This guy just doesn't get it. I am so aggravated when I read about "date rape" and " the ambiguity that often attends sexual encounters". Ya know what?? As many as one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.

    (Briere, J., Eliot, D.M. Prevalence and Psychological Sequence of Self-Reported Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse in General Population: Child Abuse and Neglect, 2003, 27 10.)

    One in THREE??? That is crazy nonsense! Those same children grow up, go to college and have NO idea how to process the emotions that come cascading forth. Many of us are especially vulnerable (people pleasing is second nature), especially insecure (if I have sex, he'll LIKE me...) and especially prone to drug and alcohol use and abuse. We have "victim" written all over us and we don't even know it, at least not usually. We get to college, muck that up for awhile and then, either make it, or yeah, fade away.

    I'm am absolutely okay with mandating awareness orientations for both young men AND young women. The CSA victims need it so that they might break out of their patterns and the "normal" students need it so that they don't inadvertently add to a long laundry list of sexual abuses that victims of CSA usually don't even acknowledge, let alone claim.

    I don't know...maybe these two things don't go together...but it seems to me that awareness can't hurt, might help, no matter HOW you slice it. This guy needs some help finding a clue.


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