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. 


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Short Posts, 9/6/17. On Political Tribalism, Gendered Workers and Geniuses

1.  I have nothing exciting or different to say about Trump kissing the butt of his white male supremacist base by deciding to phase out DACA, or about where the next hurricanes might make landfall.  Indeed, the cyberspace is full of both data, chatter and fake news on those topics.

It is, however,  worth saying a few words about Rush Limbaugh's arguments when he mentions the political uses of the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Jose, not because old Rush would matter (except in the sense of being a bottle of the most condensed racism, misogyny and plain nastiness), but because there's a wider point I wish to make.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Creating Murderers

A new study analyzing ten murder cases in the US shows that murderers' dads fall into three categories:  anti-dads, ueber-dads and absent dads?  

We must face the question:  Is it bad fathering which creates murderers?  Asking that question might sound sexist, but I assure you it's not, because dads are the role models of their sons, and most murderers are male so were once sons.

So fathers:  Will your child turn out to be a murderer?  Are your fathering skills adequate to prevent that?  Can you sleep well knowing all this?

Okay.  I made all that up.  But not to worry, just reverse the sex of the parent and you will get an actual study!  It's even summarized in the UK Independent:*

After examining 10 murder cases in the US series Murderers and their Mothers, Dr Elizabeth Yardley began to demystify the psyche of killers by looking closely at their maternal relations.
Debunking accusations of sexism by explaining that mothers “matter more” in the making of murderers due to the “inherently gendered nature of society”, she used a blog on the Huffington Post, Yardley explained that care-giving and nurturing connotations can be taken for granted when it comes to motherhood.
The criminology professor and podcaster deems the killers’ mothers behaviour as a contributing factor in their actions.
Isn't it interesting what kinds of studies get disseminated and how?  I have no idea if Dr. Yardley's teeny-tiny sample of ten cases was compared to some random drawing of mothers from the general population**, but I doubt that, if that she thought ten cases is enough to go by and  decided that only the mothers matter when it comes to parenting.

So what are the murderers' horrible mother like?  According to Yardley, they fall into three groups:  Anti-mothers, ueber-mothers and passive mothers.  Ueber-mothers protect their children too much, passive mothers protect their children too little, and anti-mothers come themselves from violent homes and pass the violence on. 

Mothering is a tightrope act!  It's almost impossible to be a good mother, and if you are not, you will create a murderer.  Or a Hitler.  Hitler mentions his mother in Mein Kampf, by the way, noting that she was a stay-at-home mother who dedicated her life to her children.  Probably an ueber-mother?

Which means that WWII is women's fault, as is almost everything in this world since Eve took the apple from one of my people.  Or so they say.

My point in reviewing that particular article about a pretty iffy study is that there's a giant market for articles which blame the Biblical Eve and her daughters, even when it comes to something like murders where the vast majority of murderers are men.
*  First, a general caveat:  As I can't find the study itself, what I say about it assumes that the summary in the Independent is correct.  If it's incorrect, the shame belongs to the latter newspaper.

Second, note that Yardley doesn't debunk any accusations of sexism; she simply decides to ignore the fathers and their possible roles altogether.   To see why this matters, suppose that a father beats his son all the time, but the mother is passive and does not protect the son.  If the son ends up a murderer later in life, and is entered into a study like Yardley's, the fault is all in the bad mothering.
**  I couldn't find anything on the study online, so I can't tell if the mothers of the ten murderers (or in the ten murder cases, as there might be multiple murderers) were compared to mothers in general.  It's possible that the general population of mothers includes anti-mothers, ueber-mothers and passive mothers, and it's even theoretically possible that they might exist in the same proportions as they exist in Yardley's study.  In that case the results would be meaningless.

More specifically, it's possible that the childhood homes of people who later become murderers are very dysfunctional, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the mothers are the  main causal agents for the dysfunctional aspects.  Their behavior could be a response to what the fathers do or the result of complex interplay between the family members.  An inherited tendency toward violent behavior (from either or both parents) is also possible. 

Finally, studies which begin from a murderer and walk backward in an attempt to find causal factors can easily be tinged by the knowledge that the final result of the family's child-rearing was a violent child.  This could color the classifications used for the mothers in Yardley's study.