A Reminder About Sexual Assault

I think Garrett Epps nailed this.

The gendered subtext of this moment is, not to put too fine a point on it, war—war to the knife—over the future of women’s autonomy in American society. Shall women control their own reproduction, their health care, their contraception, their legal protection at work against discrimination and harassment, or shall we move backward to the chimera of past American greatness, when the role of women was—supposedly for biological reasons—subordinate to that of men?

That theme became apparent even before the 2016 election, when candidate Donald Trump promised to pick judges who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. The candidate was by his own admission a serial sexual harasser. On live national television, he then stalked, insulted, and physically menaced his female opponent—and he said, in an unguarded moment, that in his post-Roe future, women who choose abortion will face “some form of punishment.”

In context, Trump promised to restore the old system of dominion—by lawmakers, husbands, pastors, institutions, and judges—over women’s reproduction.

And as they point out, the subtext has now become text with the allegations of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh. There are plenty of other reasons to deny Kavanaugh a Supreme Court seat, mind you, but the Republican Party has descended so low that corruption and a dismissal of human rights mean nothing when it harms them (but everything when it harms their opponents). Even Senator Susan Collins, considered to be on the liberal side of the Party, still twists in knots to defend Kavanaugh. These allegations of sexual assault might have been the straw, though.

Of course, now that sexual assault is back in the news, all the old apologetics are being vomited up. “Why didn’t she speak up?” “Boys will be boys.” “You’re ruining his life!” “There’s no evidence.” “This can’t be a common thing.” “Just trust the system.” It’s all very tired, and has been written about countless times before.

For instance, here’s a sampling of my own writing:

Evidence-Based Feminism 2: Sexual assault and rape culture

Debunking Some Skeptic Myths About Sexual Assault

Index Post: Rape Myth Acceptance

Christina Hoff Sommers: Science Denialist?

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case

Men Under Construction

Sexual Assault As a Con Game

Consent on Campus

Colleges and Sexual Assault

Destruction of Justice

Sexual Assault as a Talking Point

“There are no perfect victims.”

False Rape Reports, In Perspective

Everyone Needs A Hobby

Steven Pinker and His Portable Goalposts

Perfect, In Theory

Holy Fuck, Carol Tavris

Recovered Memories and Sexual Assault

Talking Sexual Assault

The evidence around sexual assault is pretty clear, and even in Kavanaugh’s specific case there’s circumstantial evidence that makes the accusations plausible. If people are still promoting myths about it at this point, it’s because they want to.

[HJH 2018-09-17: Added a few more links. Props to Salty Current of the Political Madness thread for some of them.]

Stephanie Zvan on Recovered Memories

I’ve been hoping for a good second opinion on this topic, and Zvan easily delivers. She has some training in psychology (unlike me), has been dealing with this topic for longer than I have, and by waiting longer to weigh in she’s had more time to craft her arguments. I place high weight on her words, so if you liked what I had to say be sure to read her take as well.

When we look more generally at how memory works, it quickly becomes apparent that focusing exclusively on the recovery of false memories produces lessons that aren’t generally applicable for evaluating memories of traumatic events. We need to continue to be on our guard for the circumstances that produce induced memories, and we have skeptics to thank for very important work on that topic.

However, it’s equally important that we, as skeptics, don’t fall into thinking every memory that people haven’t been shouting from the rooftops from the moment of trauma is induced. Recovered false memories are unusual events that happen under unusual circumstances. Abuse is a common occurrence, typically subject to normal rules of memory.

She also takes a slightly different path than I did. As weird as it may sound, I didn’t cover recovered memories very much in an argument supposedly centred around them; between the science on trauma, the obvious bias of Pendergrast and Crews, the evidence for bias from Loftus, the signs of anomaly hunting, and those court transcripts, I didn’t need to. I could blindly accept their assumptions of how those memories worked, and still have a credible counter-argument. Zvan’s greater familiarity with psychology allows her to take on that angle directly, and it adds much to the conversation. A taste:

Not everyone is susceptible to [false recovered memories]. Brewin and Andrews, writing for The British Psychological Society, characterize the situation thus: “Rather than childhood memories being easy to implant, therefore, a more reasonable conclusion is that they can be implanted in a minority of people given sufficient effort.” Estimates in the studies they look at (including Elizabeth Loftus’s work) show an effect in, on average, 15% of study participants, though they caution actual belief in those memories may be lower.

But enough from me, go read her.

Where Have You Been?

Thomas Smith released a podcast episode about his time at MythCon. I have few nitpicks about it; the bit where he chastised people for calling the organizers “Nazis” because it didn’t help him came across as tone policing and a touch self-absorbed, and I was chuffed he didn’t mention Monette Richards when he listed off people who’d been right about what would happen. But that needs to be weighed against the rest of what he said on that podcast, and in particular an honest-to-goodness ultimatum he issued to Mythicist Milwaukee: change and disavow your problematic board members, or he’ll do everything he can to discourage people from their events. Never thought I’d hear something like that from him.

The kudos and love he’s getting right now are deserved. His performance at MythCon was the best anyone could hope for, based on the few scraps I’m seeing. And yet, those kudos come with a bitter taste. Steve Shives beat me to the reason why, and Smith himself has suggested he agrees with Shives, so in some sense what follows is redundant. But it’s a point that needs emphasis and repetition until it fully sinks in. [Read more…]