Sexual assault on college campuses is receiving increased scrutiny. As calls to combat sexual assault grow louder on campuses across the country, many are looking to colleges to respond. Do the current methods that universities use while handling rape cases work? How can universities preserve the rights of both the survivors of sexual assault and the accused students? This event is hosted by the Janus Forum.Speakers:
Jessica Valenti, founder of feministing.com
Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.comThe event will feature short introductions by each speaker, followed by an extensive 45-minute Q&A with the audience.See the liveblog below the author bio, at the bottom of the page below.
Event has concluded.
Schwartz: We are now finished. Thank you for coming.
Valenti: For me, rape culture is about understanding what happens in the most comprehensible way possible.
Question: Valenti, I think your issue is that as we define rape is hyperbolic. In Indonesia, 25 percent of men admitted to be rapists. Do you think that focusing on men takes away from the conversation?
McElroy: We’re not dealing with a psychological conversation. We’re talking about human beings.
Valenti: I can’t equate people’s different experiences. Do I believe that rape is rape? Yes.
Question: Do you know what due process is? I recently said that child incest, extreme rape, or rape elsewhere cannot be equated with rape on campus. Do you think that these things can be equated to what happens on campus?
Valenti: In 2008 or 2009, the DOJ numbers reported a big decrease. But there was a problem with the methodology. The questions were very straightforward. When you changed the language, the numbers went up. People are hesitant to say what has happened to them is rape.
McElroy: It’s based on reports. Here’s the information you want.
Question: I have been rightfully given many parking tickets, and I have unjustly won fighting them. I have a question for McElroy. The decrease in rapes; was that based in decrease in reporting or decrease in convictions?
Valenti: If the worst thing we can think about is men having to apologize, I think we’re doing pretty well. When you think about Ray Rice, questions started “what happened in the elevator?” Her unconscious body was not enough for people to believe that violence was happening against her.
McElroy: What you described is cruel to women. And it’s cruel to men too. A man who landed a craft in space was judged for the shirt he was wearing. If that happened to women, feminists would be absolutely upset. I’m not insensitive, but I have to say let’s stop being cruel to each other. Both are being outright cruel to each other.
Question: McElroy, we have a culture of discrediting victims. I want to know whether McElroy agrees with me that despite the rights that women have, when a women raises a question about harassment is the first thing the public responds with is that. Discrediting a women seems to be the central feature of the process.
McElroy: Of course people are going to ask how things are going to affect their kids. There’s no dichotomy there.
Valenti: In an ideal world, absolutely. But in the society we live in now, we need to side with the survivors. That might not be a fair and equal thing, but that’s how I think it has to be.
Question: In conversations around how to adjudicate sexual assault, I see a false dichotomy between supporting the accuser and supporting the accused. How can we have conversations that are less adversarial and more about “let’s stop rape”? Do you think that conversation is possible within the context of a college system?
McElroy: I’m not hostile to that. What I’m hostile to is notion that we need to restructure ways we address issues. Saying let’s deconstruct the whole system is not productive. I think a great deal of good is being lost there.
Question: You said that if you were sending a son to school. Some day, I hope to have a daughter. I want to send my daughter to college in confidence. McElroy, why are you so hostile to idea that people commit crimes in a social context?
Valenti: I don’t see quality as a zero-sum game. I want to push back on the notion that because things are worse elsewhere should not preclude us from having the conversation here.
McElroy: I don’t know where you got impression that things were once better. In terms of underreporting, there a number of things that statisticians call dark numbers. This happens with number of rapes that occur. Those are dark numbers. Yes, rape is underreported. Men are raped probably as much as women.
Question: McElroy, you mention that you’ve had a horrible experience and that times were different. But saying that doesn’t mean that there isn’t rape culture today. Something that we haven’t talked about enough is the stigma that occurs when talking about rape culture. The fact that there is a rape culture isn’t antagonistic to men.
Valenti: I don’t think it’s difficult. Just lying and staring at the ceiling is not yes. But there are common sense ways that we communicate sexually. I think this concern that everyone is going to be accused of rape is not honest. Part of “yes means yes” is about having a healthier sexuality. We should always be enthusiastic about sex.
Question: For Valenti, you gave a quick definition of consent. But I think that doesn’t always hold true. For example, if a sober man tries to engage with a drunk women in sex, the woman could enthusiastically say yes, but that wouldn’t be consensual. Do you think defining consent is difficult, and if so, what implications does that have for this discussion?
McElroy: The system has changed for the better in my lifetime. Things have been revolutionized so that if something happened today, it would be different. If you want to change society and for all women — not just for yourselves — is that you should try to change the laws. Laws change.
Question: At Brown, the accused does have a right to representation. You also have the ability to cross-examine. McElroy, you said that culture shouldn’t be blamed. On website, you said not only do you blame the men who rape you, but you also blame the legal system.
[Editor’s Note: The website went down for about four minutes. BPR apologizes for any inconvenience.]
McElroy: What I’m saying is fairness. What is fair for a woman is fair for a man.
McElroy: When I say don’t politicize it, I mean don’t put it into the political structure. That’s different than talking about the politics of the issue.
Question: Thank you for coming. McElroy, you condemned the politicizing of the issue. But today, you took a political stance on the issue. We’re here with the Political Theory Project, which goes to show that it’s structural. I think that shows that it’s structural. Why not take an individualized approach within a context where the victim has an equal footing. Why not address the question in the context where the victim has the same rights as the accuser?
Valenti: I think when people get raped less, they’ll be a little less touchy about it.
Question: I respect that opinion. I think there’s also an opinion that is an unacceptable conversation to have it all. It’s not socially acceptable at all. Someone told me that when you bring that conversation up, you are basically a rapist.
Valenti: I didn’t want to talk about it because I feel like the work has already been done.
Question: You didn’t want to have a discussion of whether rape culture exists. How can we have a conversation about this if we don’t want to talk about rape culture? Why can’t the rest of us who haven’t been convinced yet cannot continue to have that discussion?
McElroy: To answer the question. In terms of men raping women on campus, it’s because the definition of rape has expanded to such a degree I would hesitate to send a male son of mine to campus, because it is a place where he has no rights or expectations of fairness. If he says a wrong word, he could possibly be prosecuted [audience laughs]. I know you laugh, but the reality is that I’m a rape survivor, I’m a feminist, but it has gone too far.
Schwartz: Let’s keep this constructive. Please address the question.
Valenti: That still happens. McElroy: You don’t know; you weren’t alive then.
McElroy: It’s not removed from culture. I think our culture has been very successful in combatting rape. I come from a time when you were raped you could not stand up because people would ask “what dress would did you wear?”
Question: Thank you for coming to speak. Question for McElroy: A few points: You highlighted culture in a couple of instances, and I want you to address them. You mentioned that police handle cases poorly. How is that removed from culture? If it weren’t for culture, why would police not handle cases well? Why does dynamic of men raping women exist if not for cultural dynamics?
Valenti: Not really. i don’t really understand the cost-benefit analysis. But research that has been done shows that expulsion doesn’t happen often on campus. I don’t think that justice is really happening.
Schwartz: Response, Jessica [Valenti]?
McElroy: You must weigh evidence in such a way so that the person who is an accuser is that people must provide evidence. The problem with rape is that it is a he said she said issue. That makes it hard to litigate. I wish I have an answer. I don’t. I think the most we can do is look at every single case, weigh every single please of evidence, assuming that the women is no more important than the men.
McElroy: So, in terms of restitution, I think it ought to be severe, but it won’t make people whole.
McElroy: That’s a complex question. Libertarians believe in restitution as a core concept of justice. I’ve also been a women who has been raped, and all I know is that you’ll never be full again. Once certain crimes have occurred, there can never be restitution that makes a person whole.
Question from participant: Thank you so much for both speaking. How do you weigh the cost of subjecting someone who is a victim of a crime to an emotionally draining process against victimizing someone who is not guilty of the crime?
Schwartz: Thank you to our speakers. Before Q and A, a few reminders: let’s keep questions civil and brief. Another reminder that upstairs in room 203, students who are triggered can find a space space.
Valenti: Despite the hurdles, I do believe in our capacity for change. I do believe in our innate goodness. I know that if we all carry some of the weight, we can turn the tide. [Valenti concludes]
Valenti: It is good to hear that legislators are taking people seriously. Enacting the “yes means yes” campaign is not easy, but I do believe that we are up for the challenge.
Valenti: In Steubenville (a court case), a witness didn’t intervene in an attack because he said he didn’t know what we saw was assault.
Valenti: Knowing that rape is wrong doesn’t mean anything when people don’t know what rape is.
Valenti: The latest statistic on rape is that four to six percent of men rape. That’s a small number. But the problem is that they get away with rape again, and again, and again.
Valenti: Here’s a fact: A vast majority of rapists attack drunk women. We need to address the perpetrators’ behavior; not the victims’ behavior.
Valenti: We should talk about how rapists use alcohol to rape and attack their victims.
Valenti: When I first interviewed Emma Sulkowicz about her art piece, I was concerned by reactions to her piece. I think the most prevalent way that victims are being blamed on campuses is when ‘experts’ say alcohol is the problem.
Valenti: Girls in Columbia and Barnard started writing the names of their rapists on the walls of bathrooms when the administration did not act. I’m not endorsing vandalism, but I didn’t think that was a bad idea.
Valenti: Schools who do nothing about fraternities that are nicknamed “rape factories” grant a social license to operate, which is foundational for rape culture. Is it possible to mitigate social license to operate? It is possible by intervening with friends who make poor jokes, or making sure that schools comply to Title IX.
Valenti: We give people social license to operate. The New York Times wrote about a young girl of color who was assaulted in an overly descriptive way. We live in a world in which women who are raped are afraid of being called “whores” ended their lives instead of going to receive help.
Valenti: The more marginalized someone is, the more likely they are to be attacked.
Valenti: I’m not going to try to convince you that rape culture exists. The facts speak for themselves.
Valenti: I wanted to share a quote with you: “It takes one rapist to commit a rape. It takes a village to create an environment where it happens over, and over, and over.”
Valenti: I want to talk about Emma Sulkowicz. Emma told me how terribly Columbia University handled her case, and how she was told to keep quiet and not to talk about it. In the end, the panel find her attacker not responsible, and Emma said she felt like a shell of a human being.
Valenti: I’m tired of talking about rape culture in a context that assumes the existence of rape culture is up for debate.
Valenti: We should be respectful of McElroy’s story.
Schwartz: Introduces Valenti.
McElroy: People lie. Men lie, women lie, people lie. Do not build justice for women on injustice for men.
Schwartz: Please finish your thoughts (to McElroy).
McElroy: Common decency is a debt that you owe to every other human being, whether they are male or female, black or white, gay or otherwise. It is especially important when you are exercising power over the lives of other human beings. You do not punish people without objectively weighing evidence before punishing people.
McElroy: Having spoken with the men who are expelled from universities, I know the pain they go through.
McElroy: The so-called not legal proceedings on campus can pass sentences just as Draconian as they would pass in court. This ruins the reputation of the person expelled.
McElroy: There will be a Supreme Court challenge. The challenge will be that there is not due process.
McElroy: The conflict is heating up on both sides.
McElroy: The criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt was scrapped before a preponderance of evidence. In other words, a student can be found guilty of rape with the same standard someone can be found guilty for a traffic violation.
McElroy: If students want to make a difference, then you should be protesting at police departments. You wouldn’t be helping just yourselves. You would be helping every woman in America. Because that is not going to happen, because there is an extreme political push. This started in April 2011 when the Department of Education published new requirements for investigating sexual assault on campus in order to get federal funding.
McElroy: How do we prevent an innocent person, almost certainly a man, from becoming a victim? How do we make sure that rape victims receive justice? It’s a criminal offense. Go to the police. They are trained to investigate it and process it. They do a piss-poor job, but do a better job than academics who do not use the same level of scrutiny as required by law.
McElroy: I’ll now focus on how universities should deal with sexual assault on campus.
McElroy: The data is extremely biased, flawed, or not there. The term “rape culture” is hyperbolic. It seems to prevent the healthy dialogue that supports heavy questioning. As a survivor, I want to know the truth about sexual assault in society. Rape is a hideous crime, and is never going to be deterred until we deal with its reality.
McElroy: Only 27 percent of women in the study who had been cited as rape victims actually considered themselves as having been raped.
McElroy: When the National Post decided to follow up on questions regarding rape culture with the author who cited that number, she could not cite facts. No one can come up with the number; the study does not exist.
McElroy: Eight percent of men have raped or attempted to rape. In trying to track the data, we could not find its origin.
McElroy: The messages sent to men today is not that it’s okay to rape. It’s the opposite. Rape has decreased by more than half since 1993. North America is not a rape culture. That is an insult to women who are trying to share the same status as men.
McElroy: In North America, rape is a crime that is severely punished. That is not true elsewhere. That is where rape culture exists.
McElroy: Blaming rape culture takes the blame away from rapists. We must hold people accountable for their actions. Men and women as a category do not rape. Individuals do.
McElroy: Discussion of rape culture increased when RAINN sent a 16-page letter to a new White House task force that was tasked with addressing sexual assault on campus. RAINN wrote that it is important not to forget a fact. Rape is caused not by culture, but by a small community.
McElroy: This evening I’ll address rape culture and how accusations of rape on campus should be treated.
McElroy: I am bring up my story before my arguments, because when a woman like me disagrees with the feminist orthodoxy, I get accused that I don’t know what I mean… I am a woman who knows the pain of sexual violence. Let’s actually discuss the issues and raise questions.
McElroy: Grew up with violence in my life. I’ve blamed the men who raped me. Due to a domestic violence incident, I was left legally blind. I did not blame society, I did not blame culture. I blamed the man who put his fist in my face.
McElroy: Thank you and good evening. Asks question: “How many of you know who I am and exactly what I am going to say?” I am an individual feminist, which comes from a libertarian bent.
Schwartz: We are happy to be here to host this forum. The Janus Form believes that no belief should be unchallenged, promoting thoughtful discourse. We have Wendy McElroy and Jessica Valenti. The format of the discussion is twenty minutes for each speaker to discuss the issue, followed by 40 minutes of questions and answers.
The room is getting quiet as the event begins, with the egress instructions being sounded.
Professor John Tomasi, director of the Political Theory Project, is speaking with the moderator in preparation for the event.
Salomon is filling up quite quickly, and the speakers are in engaged in conversation. Moderator Dana Schwartz ’15 is getting ready.