Thursday, September 07, 2017

Lady Justice on Campus: Show Us Your Tits! Or Betsy DeVos on Campus Sexual Assault.

Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education,  is planning to rewrite the rules on how sexual assault is to be treated under Title IX on college campuses:

Saying that the Obama administration’s approach to policing campus sexual assault had “failed too many students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Thursday that her administration would rewrite the rules in an effort to protect both the victims of sexual assault and the accused.
Ms. DeVos did not say what changes she had in mind. But in a strongly worded speech, she made clear she believed that in an effort to protect victims, the previous administration had gone too far and forced colleges to adopt procedures that sometimes deprived accused students of their rights.
“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” she said in an address at George Mason University in suburban Arlington, Va. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.”

Nope, Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today, but she might be naked, or at least should show us her tits.

Let's leave aside the important question how best to police and prosecute sexual assault on campuses.  Let's, instead, make a note of the most obvious aspect of this speech:

DeVos is doing Trump's bidding and filling his promises to his base.  This move is part and parcel of this administration's war against uppity women.  In that it's linked to what the administration is attempting in the labor markets by making it harder for women and/or minorities to sue employers for discrimination, and in what the administration is attempting to do when it comes to violence against women.  It's also linked to Pence's hoary Christian patriarchal values and his wish for forced-birth rules for women.  These all share a certain sense of "putting women back into their proper places."

Note, also, how DeVos was appointed by a president who openly boasted about pussy grabbing.  In such an atmosphere banners like these meeting new first-year students and their families are just innocent fun and not a symbol of perhaps a certain kind of sexual entitlement:

Finally, note, once again, this common refrain I've seen so many times when the media writes about sexual assault:

Critics of the Obama administration’s guidance to colleges complained that it was unfair to use a standard of proof that was far lower than that used in criminal law, since disciplinary actions and expulsions that result from ambiguous sexual encounters can stigmatize young men long into the future, affecting their educational and job prospects. The critics argued that if sexual assault had, in fact, taken place, it should be a matter for the police.
It is that concern for the future effects on the accused that is the common refrain, and it is not applied to only those who have had "ambiguous" sexual encounters, but even more widely:  to those who have clearly committed the crime they were accused of.

Yet I rarely see similar reminders of the stigmatizing effects of rape on the future of the young women and how that might affect their educational and job prospects, not to mention their mental health, or how such stigma might become even stronger if the perpetrator of the crime walks free (perhaps because his future is more important than hers).

I want to make absolutely clear that falsely sentencing or punishing the innocent is wrong and its consequences dreadful.  But not sentencing or punishing the guilty is not right, either.

Since many rape or sexual assault cases do not have the kind of evidence which every single person would deem sufficient*,  the probabilities of someone being convicted depend on the rules which are used by those judging the cases.  DeVos seems to be proposing to make those rules stricter on campuses, by demanding that the current "preponderance of evidence" rule be replaced by "clear and convincing" standards of proof.

What that might mean in practice is this:

Some of those wrongly accused of sexual assault might not be unfairly punished.  But some actual sexual assault, too, would go unpunished, both because the the evidence did not reach that "clear and convincing" level, even though it might have exceeded 50% of all evidence, and because fewer victims of sexual assault would bother to report the attacks.  Whether such changes would increase the number of sexual assaults on campus is not clear to me.


*  It really is crucial here to remember that most victims of sexual assault, worldwide, do not go to the police or other authorities, and this seems to be the pattern on US campuses, too.  Thus, it's fairly rare for a random perpetrator to be convicted,  but very strict rules about what type of evidence is viewed as "clear and convincing" reduce the likelihood even further.  — If we call those falsely accused the "false positives" (as in a medical test), then there clearly is a very large number of "false negatives" in the general population.