[Content note for sexual assault]
This Thursday marks the sixth monthiversary of the Trump administration, which, by all appearances, exists for no other reason than to undo everything that Barack Obama ever did ever. (I’m not saying that Jared Kushner is, at this moment, secretly trying to get the Obamas’ marriage annulled, but prove to me that he isn’t.) This time, the target is Obama’s efforts to investigate and improve the way colleges address on-campus sexual violence.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is stepping up to re-examine Obama’s policies and guidelines on how college administrators should handle rape charges under Title IX. And her lieutenant for the new initiative is Candice E. Jackson, head of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, who says that most of the OCR’s 496 open sexual assault cases aren’t even, like, for-real rape.
In most investigations, she said, there’s “not even an accusation that these accused students overrode the will of a young woman.”
“Rather, the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right,’” Ms. Jackson said.
Well, there you go. Ninety percent of alleged campus rape victims were just embarrassed about being drunken hobags or trying to get back at their sweet, innocent ex-boyfriend. That’s why they exposed themselves to the scrutiny, publicity, abuse, and harassment that comes with a rape investigation: because they were embarrassed about sex.
(And please don’t skip over the “overrode the will of a young woman” part of Jackson’s quote, because it’s a nice reinforcement of the classic idea that it’s not really rape if the victim didn’t say no or fight back. If she was drugged, unconscious, or too out of it to provide consent, the Office for Civil Rights appears to be filing it away as boinker’s remorse.)
Don’t get me wrong: False rape accusations do happen, and the results can be devastating for the accused (particularly when the accused is a young African-American man — a group that has suffered greatly at the hands of false accusers basically since the day they were dragged to these shores). That’s why it’s so important for rape accusations to be taken seriously and investigated comprehensively and equitably, respecting how serious the consequences are for everyone involved.
But you don’t achieve that by declaring out of hand that nine out of ten alleged rape victims on college campuses are lying about it, either out of shame or out of vindictiveness, and that 90 percent of them are sullying the good name of some young fellow who would never take advantage of a drunk and incapacitated woman or rape his girlfriend before (or after) she broke up with him.
I’m all for fair treatment of students accused of rape (which can be a tough thing to stand by in some cases) — it’s pretty much the basis of our legal system. I’m all for thorough, unbiased investigation into the accusation so that justice is truly served in the end and everyone is as well off as they can be under the circumstances. Or I’m pretty sure I would be, if that was what happened, rather than an aggressive character assassination of the alleged victim to discredit her as a lying, vengeful slutty-slut.
The reason Obama made campus sexual assault a priority in the first place was because that beautiful fantasy unicorn equitable justice was not what was happening. Over and over and over and over again, rape accusers have been asked what they were wearing, why they let him give them a ride home, why they didn’t get a ride home, if they fought back, how many people they’ve slept with, if they led him on, and yeah, if maybe they aren’t just making the whole thing up because they regret having sex with him. (Bonus points for “do you really want to ruin a young man’s future?” if the accused is an athlete.)
Opinions differ on exactly how that truly equitable justice should be pursued, with some saying the Obama administration’s rules went too far and others saying that regardless of the harshness or non-harshness of the rules, they still aren’t being applied universally or in the right way. Jackson alleges that hundreds of cases remain open for years because investigators were “specifically told to keep looking until you find the violation.” Her immediate predecessor at the OCR alleges that she’s full of it.
But here’s something that has been established as pretty unarguable by victims’ advocates and, hell, much of society but apparently not Candice Jackson: Holding out violent, man-in-the-alley rape as the only form of real rape puts us back in a culture where a man can use drugs, coercion, or incapacity to rape a woman, and it’s fine and dandy because she didn’t say no, right? (That is, to the extent that we’ve left such a culture at all.)
As a reminder, because apparently we need it, the most commonly accepted statistic is that 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are false. (Keep in mind that these are statistics, based on complicated and not-always-consistent reporting with analysis done by human people, so salt should be taken, but still, that’s the common stat.) That number includes cases where the alleged victim falsely accused someone of rape, where they falsely claimed to be raped but didn’t accuse anyone specifically, and where sufficient evidence didn’t exist to determine whether they were actually raped or not.
Compare that to Jackson’s 90-percent estimate, and we’re faced with two possibilities. One, campuses are such a hotbed of false accusations that the rate is legitimately 91 percent higher among college students. Or two, the head of the Office of Civil Rights is dismissing victims of campus sexual assault as vindictive, promiscuous, binge-drinking liars — and is in a position of authority to enshrine “it ain’t rape if they’re drunk” as official Department of Education policy.
Welcome back to the good old days, folks. #MakeAmericaRapeAgain
Update, 7/18: Candice Jackson has since apologized for her comment about those nine out of ten lying rape accusers. In a statement, she said:
As a survivor of rape myself, I would never seek to diminish anyone’s experience. My words in The New York Times poorly characterized the conversations I’ve had with countless groups of advocates. What I said was flippant, and I am sorry. All sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously — which has always been my position and will always be the position of this department.
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