Lara Bazelon wrote about a very real, if rarely mentioned, problem with Title IX campus sex tribunals. Black males are disproportionately accused by white females. Letters were sent to the New York Times about Bazelon’s op-ed, and they carefully selected which to publish. One was from Amelia W., last name withheld to protect her privacy.
The letter to the editor begins with a dubious assertion.
The story Ms. Bazelon relates about a rape accusation was never hers to tell. It’s mine.
This sentence reflects problems on a great many levels. Much as students have adopted a belief, utterly without basis but strongly held nonetheless, that they are entitled to be out in public, protesting, speaking, standing up for their cause, but not to be taped, recorded or reported on without their consent, they believe they own something because they choose to believe.
Here, Amelia claims it’s her story to tell, but also claims it was never Bazelon’s to tell. Certainly Amelia is entitled to tell her story. So too is Bazelon. So too is the male student she accused. So too am I, you and anybody else who wants to tell it. The question isn’t whether Amelia is entitled to tell her story, but whether she’s entitled to claim anyone else isn’t.
The reason Amelia makes this assertion is that Bazelon didn’t tell the story the way Amelia wanted it told. That’s invariably a given, as it’s never the case that someone who isn’t on your side will tell the story the way that you would want it told. Indeed, even when they are on your side, there are often details, nuances, that a party desperately wants emphasized that someone won’t tell quite the way they prefer. But in this instance, Bazelon wasn’t on Amelia’s side.
I am the sexual assault survivor she refers to. She omitted key facts and weaponized my story — a white survivor who brought a complaint about a black student who was later suspended from college — such that it could be used against my fellow survivors, especially survivors of color, who would be the most harmed by Betsy DeVos’s proposed reforms. Women of color experience sexual violence at disproportionate rates and have more barriers to reporting and face disbelief.
Amelia says so, but there are no facts to back this up, she’s not remotely in a position to make such a claim and the anecdotal evidence is that it’s false. Wildly false, not that the NYT would be concerned about such matters when choosing her letter to publish.
But Amelia’s claim that Bazelon “omitted key facts” and “weaponized” her story presents another problem. What facts are “key” depend on what side one is on, what aspect of the story matters most to the teller. As for “weaponizing,” that the story as told by Bazelon fails to serve Amelia’s purpose is part of the nature of stories. They can be used for you. They can be used against you. When they are used against you, trendy words like “weaponized” appear.
If Ms. Bazelon truly cared about racial justice in the Title IX process, she would center on survivors of color and not reduce them to a parenthetical. The second accuser of my assailant to whom she refers is my friend, a woman of color; in her case, she wasn’t believed.
So Bazelon is no true Scotsman? Amelia’s raising a second accuser, curiously her friend rather than just a random student, concludes “she wasn’t believed.” So? It doesn’t occur to Amelia that if true, it may be because she wasn’t believable, not because of race or gender. Even in the current climate, there are accusations that are so unsubstantiated that they fail. The accuser’s race doesn’t make them any more believable, no matter what Amelia believes.
Amelia goes on to relate the “key” aspect of her story that, she contends, Bazelon omitted.
The trauma of sexual assault continues into the investigative process, which will worsen with the proposed regulations that Ms. Bazelon praises as a “step forward.” Ms. Bazelon knows firsthand how cross-examination harms survivors, because she cross-examined me. She saw me break down after she asked questions implying that I should have fought back harder.
Amelia was confronted by a competent lawyer who questioned her. She broke down. This is what she complains Bazelon neglected to mention. And indeed, the “trauma” of being subject to question is pushed as what’s broken about the system from the “survivor’s” perspective.
I agree that the system is broken. But it’s broken because it was built on the premise that survivors lie. Ms. Bazelon’s rhetoric about due process only serves to worsen the problem.
This goes to the core of the problem. Amelia’s story is that it was traumatic to her to be required to prove her accusation, to be subject to questions by Bazelon on behalf of her client. Amelia’s story is that the system is “built on the premise that survivors lie.” And, in fact, accusers do lie. But that’s not the premise, no matter what Amelia’s twisted characterization may be.
The burden of proof is on accusers and women like Amelia, who claim to be traumatized by being questioned about it, find it unbearable that their accusation, alone, isn’t good enough to destroy a black man’s life. For the Amelias, the only question is why they can’t point their finger at the black man and scream, “he did it,” whereupon they will burn the witch.
Another letter to the editor makes an argument as to why, despite Amelia’s contentions, the accusations fall disproportionately upon black men.
Athletes in sports such as football and basketball are more likely to commit sexual assault, perhaps because they are encouraged to think of themselves as godlike and untouchable. Black students are more likely than white to play on these teams.
Notably, the link doesn’t prove the point, but rather repeats a trope.
A 2016 University of Pennsylvania study showed that black men made up less than 3 percent of undergraduates, but comprised 56 percent of college football players and 61 percent of basketball players. If we think of these accused young men as athletes rather than in terms of race, the numbers no longer seem skewed.
Or if we think of white women choosing black athletes for their sexual experimentation because they’re more prominent and sexier, after which they regret their choice or are shamed by their friends for their dalliance, then what? Is the alternative point that black men are more likely to be rapists?