After consulting with men’s rights groups like the National Coalition for Men, it looks like Betsy DeVos is ready to begin reforming Title IX. In a recent speech at GMU’s Antonin Scalia Law School, she confirmed her intentions to initiate changes that ensure the rights of the accused.
DeVos seems to believe that campus sexual assault policies are charging too many innocent men and that they must be changed to ensure that “the handling of complaints is fair and accurate.”
Her secretary for civil rights, Candice Jackson, claimed in an interview that “[rape] 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.”
But this skepticism against victims extends far beyond the White House.
In Emily Yoffe’s recent series of articles for the Atlantic, “The Bad Science Behind Campus Response to Sexual Assault” and “The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy,” Yoffe recognizes the need to protect victims but condemns campus litigation for being too harsh. She argues that under the Obama Administration, the OCR “encouraged bias against the accused.” Further, Yoffe refers to policies of affirmative consent and those that designate drunken students as unable to consent as “intrusive and impractical.”
Reading Yoffe’s work was deeply unsettling. It is one thing to read Reddit’s ‘Red Pill’ thread, where subscribers who refer to themselves as the ‘manosphere’ argue that free drinks at the bar prove women have it better in life than men. It is another thing entirely to read well-researched and flawlessly presented justifications in favor of reforming the system so that sexual assault victims face more skepticism.
One of Yoffe’s primary justifications for reforming campus sexual assault policies is the belief that there are far more false rape allegations than statistics present. Although a 2014 White House report estimates that between two and ten percent of reported rapes are false, Yoffe believes that the 45% of allegations dropped due to “withdrawn complaints and insufficient evidence” are proof that the number of false accusations is far higher.
However, the fact that so many women are coerced, pressured, and shamed into withdrawing their complaints is not proof that they are liars but is rather a testament to the struggle of seeking justice. The fact that there are so many instances in which guilt isn’t absolved, but the case is dropped due to a lack of usable evidence, is a testament to how difficult charging rapists can be.
I won’t argue that every sexual assault allegation made is true, but there is something deeply disconcerting about adopting the belief that so many thousands of women would voluntarily go through the ordeals of a trial and then drop their allegations on a whim.
In fact, a study by the University of Chicago Law School finds that rape law itself is being ignored due to the vast amount of victims who choose out-of-court settlements to “avoid the trauma of continuing investigation.”
Women and men aren’t making rape allegations out of boredom; they are trying to work within a system that is failing them.
Yoffe argues that interim measures after an assault accusation, like no-contact rules and class reassignments, are “unjust to men.” Yes, in an ideal world, no one falsely charged of rape would have to go through the inconvenience of dropping classes or switching dorms. But what she implies—that this inconvenience compares in the slightest to the incapacitating physical and mental trauma rape victims undergo—is absurd.
We do not live in an ideal world. The demands of both victims and their accused assailants cannot be simultaneously met, and the possibility of a false positive does not compare to the trauma caused by false negatives. If I had to choose between a world in which someone unjustly has to drop their favorite math section and a world in which someone has to sit in class every single day with their rapist, the choice would be pretty clear to me.
Another one of Yoffe’s arguments against Title IX is that sexual assault victims are given too much leeway when testifying. She points out that there is no neurobiological reason for victims to feel frozen or have difficulty recalling their assault, and that “science offers little support” for the claim that trauma impedes resistance to rape.
I’m actually going to go ahead and take Yoffe’s word for it, but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that much more goes into reporting, testifying, and surviving sexual assault than neurobiology.
Testifying in a sexual assault case is unique. A study by the National Institute of Justice identifies multiple barriers to providing strong testimonials, including “not having proof, fear of retaliation from perpetrators, and hostile treatment from authorities.”
In a world where rape victims are subject to the questioning of their character and sex lives, intimidated by police, and silenced by their communities, it is no surprise that recounting their assault is a difficult task.
Furthermore, Yoffe uses science to argue that victims ought to have done more to fight back against an assailant. This is just another spin on the traditional methods used to humiliate survivors. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable looking a survivor in the face and telling her that, given her neurobiology, she should have been able to fight instead of freeze, you should reject this belief once and for all.
Yoffe also seems to ignore the fact that about one in every ten victims of rape are men. Feminist activists don’t fight for strict sexual assault policies in a bid to sabotage the male gender, they do it in an effort to ensure justice for all. In a time where male rape is still regarded more as a punchline and less as the serious issue it is, reporting assault carries the same barriers of stigma and skepticism for men.
According to Yoffe, “fears of negative social-media campaigns, bad press, bureaucracies, and activists” are what forced schools to redefine sexual assault policy. I am one of those activists. And in fact, I actually agree with a key part of Yoffe’s arguments: any system that charges the innocent is a broken system. Justice that is impartial to one group of people is no justice at all. I welcome any change that would balance the scales.
But the scales are already tipped against victims.
Changing the definitions of sexual assault to make sentencing harder will only lessen the already-low numbers of rapists brought to justice. Increasing the skepticism survivor testimonies are met with will only harm victims, both men and women. Forcing victims to occupy the same spaces as their rapists will only reinforce a culture that normalizes sexual assault.
In the face of an administration that is slowly dismantling the few protections given to survivors, let’s stand by Title IX. Let’s stand by women.