One of the saddest characterizations seen in a long time appears in Kansas lawprof Corey Yung’s post at Concurring Opinions on George Wills and the politicization of rape. He wrote:
What makes this so unfortunate is that Yung seemed to be one of the few lawprofs who showed a sincere interest in an empirical analysis of the “problem,” rather than simply assuming it to be a huge problem in the absence of evidence that it was a problem at all. The irony, of course, is that he complains of its politicization by conservatives, as though it hasn’t been politicized by feminists up, down and sideways. It’s always the guy who strikes back to defend himself who gets caught.
Will raises a 2013 case out of Swarthmore College, where a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”:
“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”
Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped.
George Will then relates this to the White House’s recent task force report about the epidemic of sexual assault on campus, except Wills puts sexual assault in scare quotes.
Will’s decisions to surround “sexual assault” with quotation marks and emphasize the passage of six weeks before the victim reported the rape belies a disbelief that substantially colors his judgment. Will leaves it to the reader to guess why he doesn’t view the alleged events as rape. I find that omission to be notable. As is often true in rape trials, certain arguments work better when implied than when explicitly stated.
And that Yung finds “that omission to be notable” reveals his colored judgment. There are two indisputable empirical problems with claims about “sexual assault” and “rape.” The first is that there are no reliable statistics to show their incidence, which the task force report, despite assuming them to be problems in need of solutions, fully concedes. The second is that there can be no reliable statistics because these claims have been untethered from viable definitions.
It is impossible to gather reliable statistics of the incidence of an offense when the question asked is “have you been sexually assaulted,” where sexual assault is anything the self-reported victims deems it to be? An unwanted gaze from a guy in a bar can be a sexual assault. A whistle from a construction worker can be a sexual assault. They can be every bit as much of a sexual assault as a stranger’s touching a woman’s breast on a subway, if it’s left to the sensibilities of the respondent.
Will’s involvement, as well that of the AEI, is notable. With recent media attention, it seems that rape has become a political football. And that fact is a disservice to victims and innocent defendants alike.
It is indeed notable, primarily for the fact that the long-held assumption that more liberal thinking people would be more protective of constitutional rights and less “tough on crime” that touches only their sacred cows. But what is even more notable is how the prism of politics has affected any rational view of evidence.
In a comment to Yung’s post, Brett Bellmore provides an incisive reaction to Yung’s political myopia. The comment is so good that I reprint it in its entirety (with apologies to all involved):
1. The only basis we have for believing the allegation, IS the allegation. All the circumstantial evidence (Mentioned in the account, anyway.) is perfectly consistent with no rape having taken place. We’re going to convict people of serious crimes on the basis of unsupported allegations?
The prior sexual relations DID create a presumption of consent, just as “Didn’t know him until they met in the alley” creates a presumption of no consent. So does the not immediately reporting it.
2. All acts exist on a continuum. Sex exists on a continuum from voluntary to rape. THIS incident, even if the account is accurate, is awfully close to the transition point. And yet, we’re supposed to treat it as just as serious as an act as unambiguous rape?
3. Believing her, she knew of a rapist at large, and didn’t bother warning anybody for six weeks? We’re supposed to treat this as a serious crime, even though SHE didn’t?
We can’t have a system where you can have sex, and six weeks later decide it was rape, and the guy gets nailed for a major felony on your bare word. That’s insupportable. That’s half the population being given a license to jail the other half.
4. It was, if we believe her, a “prior” relationship by a matter of minutes. “Prior” to nobody else’s knowledge. Possibly not even prior to the guy’s knowledge. Like nobody has ever changed their mind. She broke up with him and then climbed into bed with him? Said no, and then let him have sex with her?
Doesn’t she have any responsibility to make things clear on her end? Saying “no” a second time was too much trouble? Not getting into the bed, or even getting back out of it, an impossible demand?
What conservatives are complaining about is a demand that, essentially, women be given power without responsibility, the power to jail men, and no requirement that they behave prudently or responsibly, or even in a manner consistent with the claim they’re making.
Had it been any subject other than rape and sexual assault, and had the “victim” or “survivor” been anyone but women, there would be little question but that all the prawfs would rally around the need for evidence, due process, viable definitions and the knee-jerk demand for vengeance.
Has the subject of sexual assault been politicized? You bet it has, making it “a disservice to victims and innocent defendants alike.” But blaming George Will and conservatives is the product of the politicization.