Monday, October 22, 2018

True Or False? On Accusations of Sexual Violence in The Kavanaugh Era.

(This post is really the third in my series: On the Kavanaugh Nomination And Women's Reproductive Rights.  Or Back to the Basics. But that title is a little boring and uninformative by now.  The first two posts can be read here and here.)

1. Introduction

Our Dear Leader recently noted how scary this time in the US is for young men, because false allegations of sexual violence are so commonplace!  He, himself, has received a whole wheelbarrowful of them!

At about the same time, Bret Stephens, a right-wing columnist at the New York Times, had a few thoughts about such false allegations in the context of Brett Kavanaugh's alleged sexual misconduct:

A few moments have crystallized my view over the past few days.
The first moment was a remark by a friend. “I’d rather be accused of murder,” he said, “than of sexual assault.” I feel the same way. One can think of excuses for killing a man; none for assaulting a woman. But if that’s true, so is this: Falsely accusing a person of sexual assault is nearly as despicable as sexual assault itself. It inflicts psychic, familial, reputational and professional harms that can last a lifetime. This is nothing to sneer at.
The second moment, connected to the first: “Boo hoo hoo. Brett Kavanaugh is not a victim.” That’s the title of a column in the Los Angeles Times, which suggests that the possibility of Kavanaugh’s innocence is “infinitesimal.” Yet false allegations of rape, while relatively rare, are at least five times as common as false accusations of other types of crime, according to academic literature.

That "five times as common" argument means that about 5% of rape accusations were found to be false or baseless (1) in one study.  Other (properly done) studies have quoted figures ranging from 2% to 8%.

Let's set aside the question whether Brett Kavanaugh actually did what Christine Blasey Ford and others have accused him of.  Let's, instead, consider this heightened concern with possible false accusations which is very evident both in the context of the Kavanaugh hearings and in the changes Betsy deVos created when she scrapped the Obama-era guidelines on how colleges should handle sexual violence accusations.  The most crucial of these changes is this:

The most controversial portion of the Obama-era guidelines had demanded colleges use the lowest standard of proof, “preponderance of the evidence,” in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault, a verdict that can lead to discipline and even expulsion. On Friday, the Education Department said colleges were free to abandon that standard and raise it to a higher standard known as “clear and convincing evidence.”
The higher bar for evidence means that fewer students accused of sexual assault will be found responsible.  It's less likely that someone falsely accused would be found responsible, but it's also more likely that someone guilty of sexual assault will be found not responsible.  The overall effect may be to cause fewer accusers to come forward (on the basis of why-bother).

So what is going on here?  Is this truly a scary time for young men, and if so, what times have not been scary for young women?  And what do Stephens and his friend in the above NYT quote mean when they say that they would rather be accused of murder than of sexual assault?