Sexual Assault Plus

I don’t usually do reposts so soon after the original publication. This was originally posted last fall, when Dawkins was talking about “mild pedophilia. He’s ranking rape again. It’s worth pointing out that Dawkins isn’t doing this because no one provided him with any better information. He’s been told this is inappropriate and why, in great detail.

Yesterday, Richard Dawkins issued an apology. In talking about his own sexual assault at a young age, he had generalized their experience from his. He was relatively unaffected by the experience and expressed his opinion that the same was true of “all of us”. He apologized for doing so.

Dawkins’ apology was very welcome, if incomplete, as was his admission that he should not speak to the experience of other victims of sexual assault. Alex has a pretty good take on what it missed. I don’t agree 100%, but I’m close enough not to quibble. Instead, I’d like to dig into this idea of degrees of assault. What Dawkins has had to say on the topic isn’t entirely wrong, but his naive take on the topic obscures as much as it reveals.
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The Elided Rights of Accusers

There is a strain of thinking that I see repeated over and over as we work to change the culture around rape, as we work to see that people who bring accusations of rape don’t automatically become treated like suspects themselves, that they have equal access to institutional protections and remedies. This has been particularly evident in statements from those who oppose the White House Title IX initiatives addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

The clearest statement of this argument I’ve seen came from Joseph Cohn of FIRE in The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of years ago, though I’ve seen it in various forms since.

Under the new standard, if it is determined that an accuser’s claims are a fraction of a percent more likely to be true than false, the accused may be subjected to discipline, including expulsion.

Unfortunately for students’ rights, a long line of institutions have adopted this low standard under federal pressure. In fact, a review of policies at 198 of the colleges ranked this year by U.S. News & World Report reveals that 30 institutions—including Yale University, Stanford University, and the University of Virginia—have changed their standards of proof following OCR’s mandate.

That’s too bad, because colleges should be free to grant their students more robust due-process rights—and the federal government should not stand in their way.

This argument is generally presented in gendered terms, though it isn’t here. While this article refers to “students”, it is usually “men” standing in for those who are accused of sexual assault. Their alleged victims are in turn presumed to be women, though the women/accusers themselves are rarely mentioned in the formulation of the argument.

There are a number of possible reasons for the invisibility of these presumed female accusers. Women’s rights are often viewed as “special” rights, along with the rights of other marginalized populations, so human and civil rights arguments tend to focus on men. People these days do tend to notice when you argue for men’s rights over women’s rights and apply a bit more critical thought to an argument that does this. Talking about women as alleged victims quickly brings to mind a number of well-publicized stories that look nothing like false accusations to even unsophisticated audiences, and that doesn’t help garner sympathy for the accused.

Whatever the reason, we cannot allow this particular argument to stand on its own. Arguments for the rights of the accused have to be considered in the context of the rights of the accusers.

Why? Because the only way to guarantee that there will never be a negative outcome for an accused innocent is to guarantee that there will always be a finding of innocence. [Read more...]

He Said/She Said at #TAM2014

I was at the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference all day yesterday, but I still had people asking me whether I was going to address the talk by Carol Tavris on rape allegations and rape culture that she gave at TAM on Friday night. The short answer is “Maybe”.

The problem is that I don’t have the talk. All I have is the tweets. They’re terrible, by and large, but most of them come from people who are already terrible on this topic. This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers. There’s a certain motivation for the attendees to pull out every dismissive, permissive, victim-blaming message possible from a talk on rape. The tribalism in the tweets is not subtle. I could give a talk on rape myths in front of that audience, and the Twitter feed would still be terrible.

So I’ll wait to see whether the talk is released to a general audience. If the point was to rally the troops, it may not be. And if it stays private, it can’t be used to bolster bad policy recommendations based on its credentials of having been delivered by a skeptic at a skeptic conference. If it does come out, then I’ll see what it actually says. I may write about some of the tweeted messages in the meantime, because they’re common enough to be worth addressing, but I won’t assume those were actually in Tavris’s talk itself.

So…maybe. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the tweeted account of the talk. [Read more...]

TBT: Why “No Means No”

This was originally posted in June 2009.

One of the tangential issues that came up in the rape thread that would not die is the statement “no means no.”

I really hate to have to point this out, believe me… but sometimes a simple “I’d rather not,” “I shouldn’t,” or even “no” isn’t clear enough. I won’t try to guess at numbers, I’m not qualified, but there are most certainly women who enjoy that particular game. Keep in mind that we’re talking about college kids here. Boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties for the most part, and clear communication about sex and relationships is going to be fairly uncommon. Again, I’m not even going to pretend to put numbers on it, but I’m absolutely certain that sometimes it is honest miscommunication.

“No means no” is a simple slogan, but it just doesn’t reflect reality. Imagine stopping only to be yelled at because your partner was getting into it and you ruined the mood. Imagine it happening when you’re young and still inexperienced and emotionally fragile. How many times do you think that has to happen before a person is capable of mistaking a sincere “no” for a repeat of the previous situation, if only for a short time?

I’m not trying to say it’s common… I’m just saying I’d be amazed if it never happened, and that I’d be amazed if there aren’t piles of similar ways a misunderstanding could happen in a moment of passion. If the “victim” says that it was a misunderstanding, I’m inclined to believe her unless there’s some other information to imply otherwise.

I’m going to assume that this is an honest statement of confusion, not an attempt at rape denialism or some kind of justification. [Read more...]

TBT: Trolled

This was originally posted in 2009, when I first started talking about rape online despite having studied it in college, and when I first discovered what happens when you do talk about rape. The more things change, eh?

Gosh, apparently talking about rape is controversial, particularly when one doesn’t argue that only inhuman monsters rape. I haven’t been trolled this hard since talking about…huh, equal pay. Let me count the ways.

  • Apparently, I was both bragging and claiming victimhood.
  • Talking about a personal experience made the whole thread all about me, narcissist that I am.
  • I got diminutivized.
  • I was told what my point was.
  • I set out on a slippery slope.
  • Saying nasty things.
  • And ended up a anti-male bigot.
  • With no point.
  • And then the name-calling started.

Interestingly enough, our troll declined to interact with Greg in any way, except to say, “Oh, I’ll be busy for the next few days. By the way, we have something in common. Nice to meet you,” when Greg put up citations. Charming little transparent creep.

“No One Else Has Done More”

Via Ophelia comes the news that the sweet, friendly, new pope that everyone loves has a rosy outlook that extends to the coverup and facilitation of child sexual abuse by the Church.

“The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No-one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked,” he said in an interview with Il Corriere della Sera daily published Wednesday.

The same article notes that the Vatican has been denounced by the United Nations for appalling response to allegations of abuse. Commenters at Ophelia’s compare the response to allegations in the Church and at the local school, finding the Vatican wanting. They point out that the Vatican is a haven for those running from facing the problem. Me, though? I think it’s time to check back in with Minnesota Public Radio on our own local problem. [Read more...]

“No One Doubts or Denies”, The Recent Literature on Rape Myth Acceptance

Last week, Ben Radford suggested that “no one doubts or denies” that “the vast majority of the time…a woman says she was assaulted, it really did happen” and that “victims are believed-as they should be, unless further evidence and investigation reveals that it did not happen”. As Ron Lindsay noted, Radford did this without reference to any research on the matter.

I’ve previously pointed out that Radford has a vested interest in this question that he failed to declare. I also pointed out that doubt and denial are hardly unknown experiences for women who talk about having been raped. In the meantime, however, I’ve also been going over the data on the question. Having done that, it’s time to address Radford’s “no one” statement. [Read more...]

Bringing Them to Light

I’ve been meaning for a while to pull the moderated comments from EEB’s guest post, “I Am a False Rape Allegation Statistic” and give them their own post so I could delete them. I kept them in moderation for a couple reasons. The first is that the post caught the attention of multiple “men’s rights” sites. They don’t get to use my platform except as I choose.

The other reason I didn’t let several comments through is that the post itself was a highly emotional read for a lot of people. I made the decision that very little nonsense was going to wind up in the comment thread after that kind of harrowing read.

However, by making these decisions, I created a comment thread that doesn’t reflect the full reality of the reactions to someone saying they were raped. In light of Ben Radford’s recent suggestion that “no one doubts or denies” that “the vast majority of the time…a woman says she was assaulted, it really did happen” and that “victims are believed-as they should be, unless further evidence and investigation reveals that it did not happen”, it’s worth dismantling the incorrect appearance of that comment thread.

Not all of these comments were held for denying that EEB had been raped, but a large number were. Additionally, the post was covered at A Voice for Men and Reddit, where you can read all the evidence- and investigation-free comments you can stomach about what a liar this particular rape victim is. [Read more...]

Investment, Disclosure, and Skepticism

As you read this, you may want to know that I’ve been accused of falsely accusing someone of rape. In fact, I’ve been accused of falsely claiming a consensual encounter was rape. You can read all about it here.

You may also want to know that I’ve previously reported on the incidence and profile of false reports. When I did, I was careful to differentiate between false reports and other types of cases that don’t end in prosecution. While I did use examples, I grounded them not just in statistics from the scientific literature, but also in the factors that affect how those statistics are produced. You can read all about that here.

A rendered picture of an unbalanced set of scales.

“balance scales” by winnifredxoxo. Some rights reserved.

After reading those, you may decide I have a vested interest in keeping people from being believed when they accuse someone else of making a false report of sexual assault. Or you may decide that I have an interest in making sure the scientific evidence on the topic is examined and understood. Or you may come to a different conclusion. In any case, you’re informed about where I stand as you read.

I asked my social media lists this morning, “Q. for the hive mind: If I were to write a skepticism piece on an issue that affected me personally, would you expect/want me to disclose?” The answers varied considerably for reasons including how specifically or directly I was affected by the issue and whether this would require me to disclose something private. I didn’t ask anyone for permission to quote them by name, so these are all anonymous here. [Read more...]

St. Paul’s Catholic Abuse Scandal Heating Up

They were, and are, pillars of the community. Saint Paul is a Catholic city, you see. Walk through the Catholic cemetery in the northern part of the city, and looking at the monuments is like looking at the street signs. So these men, these archbishops, were welcomed anywhere, feted, their opinions sought.

And they moved their child-raping priests around to new parishes and hushed up their crimes just like those other respected men in other cities. The only difference was that when earlier scandals broke, they assured us that they were following the proper procedures to make sure they didn’t happen here. Minnesota Public Radio just uncovered one of those former priests living “less than a block from a school”. [Read more...]