Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Now the pendulum has swung the other way: It is now the female accuser who is automatically believed.

Slate  The Hunting Ground opens like a horror movie: We meet a suite of innocents who have no idea they’re heading off to hell. This documentary about sexual assault on college campuses begins with YouTube videos of high school girls reacting with tearful joy to their acceptance letters. Lambs to the slaughter, we’re supposed to think. The film that follows portrays college as so dangerous for young women that the viewer is left with the sense that these students would have been better off posting college rejection videos and staying home.

The Hunting Ground arrives at an interesting moment in the national conversation on campus sexual assault. Press coverage and statements from government and university officials portray a problem of vast scope. The Obama administration has taken action: Schools are now under pressure from the federal government to show they take sexual assault charges seriously and mete out appropriate punishment. At the same time, a number of critics (and I’m one of them) suggest that a moral panic is clouding our ability to rationally assess the problem. A range of voices—among them journalists and law professors—has raised concerns that the systems being put in place at schools to adjudicate these cases are grossly unfair to the accused. What a perfect time for a film that addresses all this, and illuminates a way forward.

Unfortunately, The Hunting Ground is not that movie. It is a polemic that—as its title suggests—portrays young women as prey, frequently assaulted and frequently ignored by their universities and law enforcement when they try to bring charges. The movie, from director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, features numerous interviews with women who describe horrific experiences, and their testimony has raw, emotional power. But good policy about the lives of young people—female and male—needs to be based on prudent assessment. The film traffics in alarmist statistics and terrifying assertions, but fails to acknowledge both the recent changes in the way the government and universities approach sexual assault charges and the critiques that those changes go too far. By refusing to engage the current conversation about this issue, the film does its subjects—and us all—a disservice.

The Hunting Ground relentlessly makes the point, for example, that about 20 percent of female college students will be sexually assaulted by classmates. Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard Law School analogizes that if the parents of male students were told their sons had a “1 in 4 or 5 chance” of being a victim of a drive-by shooting at college, Mom and Dad would think twice about sending them. In a Slate piece in December on campus sexual assault, I examined some of the studies underlying this claim, which has long been cited by advocates on this issue. It turns out many of the studies rest on narrow samples or wildly extrapolated numbers. (Even New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a co-sponsor of proposed legislation on campus sexual assault who appears briefly in the film, quietly took the “1 in 5” statistic off her website in December.) Callie Marie Rennison, co-director of the Criminology and Criminal Justice Research Initiative at the University of Colorado Denver, writing in the New York Times, deplored the idea that students and parents are being bombarded with assertions of “an epidemic where one does not exist.”

Not only is sexual assault an expected part of the college experience, the filmmakers assert, once it happens victims generally discover that no officials at their schools will take action or even care. These callous, indifferent administrators coddle perpetrators and systematically cover up heinous crimes in an effort to maintain their school’s good—if false—reputation. Occidental College assistant professor of sociology and activist Danielle Dirks says, “Schools are actively and aggressively not wanting to tell the truth about what is going on on their campuses. Because the first campuses to do so will be known as the rape campuses.” (In my article I mention Dirks’ involvement in getting a male freshman expelled from Occidental after he hooked up with a female freshman while both were drunk.)

The Hunting Ground asserts that even when a victim pushes past the roadblocks and makes a formal report to administrators, it will do no good. Lawyer and activist Colby Bruno says, “The message is clear: It’s don’t proceed through these disciplinary hearings. No matter what you do, you’re not going to win.” The film follows this quote with a graphic showing a paltry number of expulsions of male students at six top schools. But let’s examine this assertion that colleges would rather leave perpetrators unpunished than acknowledge there are any. The higher education insurance group, United Educators, just released a study of 305 sexual assault claims they received from 104 member schools for the three years ending in 2013. I spoke to the organization’s director of risk research, Alyssa Keehan, who said, “The most common narrative you hear is that institutions don’t care about sexual assault. Our data suggests otherwise.” UE’s findings show that when a formal complaint is brought against a student, in 45 percent of the cases he is found responsible. When that happens, more than 80 percent of the time he is given the most severe penalty available—either expulsion or suspension. The study found in 25 percent of the cases the accused is found not responsible. In 23 percent of the cases the school did not adjudicate, not because of a cover-up, but because in the majority of these instances the accuser either asked the school not to investigate, became uncooperative, or could not identify the accused. In the remainder of cases, the accused withdrew from school. [...]

1 comment :

  1. Most interesting: “I spoke to the organization’s director of
    risk research, Alyssa Keehan, who said, “The most common narrative you hear is
    that institutions don’t care about sexual assault. Our data suggests

    Someday researchers will prove that for the Agunah problem,
    rabbis, courts (and yes the so-called recalcitrant husbands) certainly do take
    the female accusations seriously. Female
    activists like to complain, grumble, attack, and falsify---witness Agunah
    International for over 30 years!

    I’m waiting to see, in
    the Mendel Epstein et al trial, what comes out about Agunah International. Mendel Epstein et al did not hear the man’s
    side and determined the man to be the wicked one, as in: When there is a dispute
    between men and they go to law, and a decision is rendered declaring the one in
    the right and the other in the wrong [והרשיעו את הרשע]—if the guilty [רשע] one is to be flogged, the magistrate shall have him lie
    down and be given
    lashes in his presence, by count, as his guilt [רשעתו] warrants. The Hebrew
    for guilty is רשע,
    meaning wicked one. I say Agunah International is the wicked one.


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