ABA Resolution 114: It’s Not Dead Yet (Update)

Lara Bazelon twitted that the ABA Criminal Justice Section unanimously voted to withdraw its support for Resolution 114 and ask the House of Delegates to table it. Great news, certainly, but this misbegotten mutt, even if it’s just the ABA and not an organization of any significance, isn’t dead yet. The NACDL opposed it. More than 100 members of the American Law Institute opposed it. I opposed it, as did pretty much anyone with even a passing familiarity with criminal law.

But not the ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence. As its chairman, Mark Schickman, made clear in an email, his quest to re-engineer sexuality in society would not be so easily stopped.

From: House of Delegates Discussion List <[email protected]> on behalf of Mark Schickman <[email protected]>
Reply-To: Mark Schickman <[email protected]>
Date: Thursday, August 8, 2019 at 6:42 PM
To: [email protected]” <[email protected]>
Subject: Resolution 114 and the Campaign Against It

Dear Fellow Delegates:

At the Las Vegas meeting in February, the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence presented to you Resolution 115, providing  that (1) consent to sexual activity must be expressed by words or conduct.  and (2)  “active resistance” should not be a condition for legal protection.  As you will recall, we passed the second part and agreed to pull back the “consent” definition for six months — — until this meeting — — at the request of the Criminal Justice Section so that we could coordinate with them on a joint product.

​We and CJS spent two months doing so, drafting, editing  and Cosponsoring current Resolution 114, along with the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.  It stands for the proposition that “consent to sexual activity is expressed by words or conduct, in the context of all of the circumstances”.  It does not change the burden of proof or the presumption of innocence.  We believe that this straightforward principle is supported a wide majority of the house. The claim that it has been brought by surprise or without adequate time for review is  untrue, as this House knows;  the opponents will fight against it whenever it is presented — — now, a year from now, 100 years from now.

              The Principle Behind The Opposition

In the past weeks, several interest organizations including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)  launched a letter and internet  campaign against this Resolution. The heart of the dispute is their objection to the core principle of this resolution, that assent to sexual activity is expressed by words or conduct in the context of all of the circumstances.They have mobilized their members and solicited mail and social media posts  to lobby House members to vote against Resolution 114.  We recognize  the centuries old assumptions upon which this opposition is based — that in our society, and in societies throughout history, sex is considered there for the taking. This resolution seeks to change those assumptions, to suggest that sex is not a matter of force or acquiescence but, rather, the right word is assent.  That is the modern trend of the law, and this resolution asks the ABA to support it. The opponents’  stated goal is to eliminate “ the divisive concept “ consent from the resolution; this point of principle cannot be avoided and will be presented to the House.

We disagreed with their view that “the law is not a vehicle to change social mores”; we think it is.  We also take issue with their regressive proposition that “the concept of affirmative consent contradicts common understanding” in the “volatile area of human sexual relations.”   Again, their campaign has history on its side, a long understanding that women were spoils of war, that rape of a woman a property offense against her husband if she were married and her father if she were not, and which  in some jurisdictions still protects forced sex in the absence of earnest resistance.  We DO want to contradict such anachronistic “common understandings”, and DO believe that the law is an appropriate vehicle to do so.  That is the true point of dispute

            The Empirical and Scientific Proofs of Multiple Fear Reactions

The letters and tweets challenge the biological reality of a victim being immobilized by fear or danger  as “red herring science” — a dismissive argument which may well convince a jury, but is plainly untrue.  There are several proven neurological and physiological bases for that fact. I have experienced moments being incapacitated by fear — haven’t you? It’s hard to pick one source to present, but see the training at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwTQ_U3p5Wc&t=334s and scientific literature at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811917305268 or  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2489204/. For broad layman’s explanations, see https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sexual-assault-and-the-brain/201804/freezing-during-sexual-assault-and-harassment or http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/06/23/why-many-rape-victims-dont-fight-or-yell/.  A specific rebuttal to the Emily Yoffe article  raised in the opponents’ recent posts and letters, published in Psychology Today, is attached.

People react differently to major stress.  Stress rapidly impairs the brain’s rational prefrontal cortex, shifting the brain to reflex and habit responses that are automatic and involuntary, and often immobile or passive, precluding resistance. Again, scientific support for this includes the work of Amy Arnsten, an influential Yale neuroscientist (Arnsten, A.F.T. (2009). Stress signaling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 410-422.; Arnsten, A. F. (2015). Stress weakens prefrontal networks. Nature Neuroscience, 18, 1376-1385.; Arnsten, A. F., Lee, D., & Pittenger, C. (2017). Risky business: The circuits that impact stress-induced decision-making. Cell, 171, 992-993).  A review of the extensive behavioral and neuroscientific research on animals’ and humans’ reflexive immobility responses to inescapable danger (e.g., freezing, tonic immobility, and collapsed immobility) is published in   Kozlowska, K., et al. (2015). Fear and the defense cascade: Clinical implications and management. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 23, 263-287).  One cannot  deny the often immobilizing effect of fear or danger.

            The Non Issues Raised in Opposition

The opposing groups covers their  opposition with  stated concerns which are no part of this resolution.  They say this resolution shifts the burden of proof, or eliminates the presumption of innocence; it does neither.  To be clear: using the definition in the resolution, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that consent was absent. It remains the prosecutor’s burden to present such evidence, and to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt to believe it. Otherwise, the defendant gets acquitted; the defendant never needs to prove anything. Every procedural protection and presumption of the system remains. Beyond question, we agree it would be unconstitutional to do otherwise.

We have told this to the NACDL when it launched the instant opposition, and offered to state that proposition in the text  if that would eliminate its objection to the resolution.  The NACDL refused, as that obviously true proposition is not their actual concern. As they wrote, their problem is our use of the word “assent” and “the divisive concept” of requiring words or actions indicating consent.   The burden of proof and presumption of innocence remain in full force!

The opponents then suggests in passing, that this resolution presents a racial justice issue.  Of course, serious equal justice considerations pervade the criminal justice system as a whole, require remedy and should always be addressed. Here, white men most often commit rape, rape is the 5th most common crime charged against white men, and the 18th among people of color.  Importantly, women of color are less likely to report and less likely be believed when they are victims of sexual assault.  A report published by Georgetown Law Center found that “adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers” and they are  “perceived to be more independent, more knowledgeable about sex, and in less need of protection”. Reinforcing a rule requiring consent to sexual activity is a justice issue as much to people of color as it is to any segment of our society.

Finally, we proponents made the deliberate decision to make this resolution about its merits and not the ALI process; the issue here is principle, not the ALI.. But the opponents now argue that we focused insufficiently on the ALI and that the ALI’s product differs from ours, and that statement is half true.  The ALI engaged in the full, lengthy, detailed expert committee process for which it is known, taking comments and crafting a rule which embodied the need for words or acts of  consent.  When that product of the ALI process was submitted to the ALI membership for approval, it was subjected to the same lobbying as the HOD receives now; and  the membership did not adopt the committee report in its current draft.  As our report notes, the ALI’s revision of The Model Penal Code on Sexual Assault and Related Offenses is not complete, and we hope it ultimately adopts a rule requiring consent to sex. But this resolution is not about the ALI, but a much more important principle.

A small but organized opposition has taken to the Twittersphere and asked its members around the country to lobby the members of this House, and we have no doubt that this will continue for the next week. Typical of twitter campaigns, it uses buzzwords instead of reason, and polarization rather than analysis. We understand.  Entitlements are hard to lose, and this resolution seeks to limit one of the most longstanding entitlements in human history.  But it is neither radical nor  “divisive” to suggest that there should be assent to sexual activity, rather than simply a failure or inability to adequately resist.  It is the right proposition, and we look forward to presenting it to, and obtaining the approval of, the House, through our regular, reasoned process..

Best regards, and welcome to San Francisco.  Mark Schickman, Chair ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

To the extent anyone believed that this idiocy would be limited to campus and not extend into the real world, real courtrooms, let this outrageously disingenuous email remind you that even extremist groups like the ABA, trading off its legacy credibility, are dedicated to social re-engineering the law to achieve their progressive goals.

Update: From the Center for Prosecutor Integrity:

In addition to opposition by the NACDL and the ALI members who signed the letter, the following organizations have now come out against the Resolution:

And a growing number of editorials regarding ABA Resolution 114:

14 thoughts on “ABA Resolution 114: It’s Not Dead Yet (Update)

  1. wilbur

    C’mon. old dude. Your opposition is centuries old.

    Don’t you recognize the modern trend? Are you a science of stress/prefrontal cortex denier?

    Get with the program.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s a brilliant argument, no means no, yes means no, nothing means no, everything means no. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

  2. Bryan Burroughs

    Are they really trying to make the argument that the opposition to their idea is solely that folks just want keep raping women? Do they expect to be taken seriously with that sophomoric level of rhetoric?

    What’s even more terrifying is their desire to use the law, the government, to change social mores. Someone needs to remind them theocracies do not work out well.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some additional inside baseball info from Lara Bazelon:

      Let’s see. Prosecutors with misgivings about the resolution were “not real prosecutors.” Ppl who sent updates via twitter were “internet trolls” (hmm, wonder who he was talking about?) and hey, no racial disparities to see here because statistics show most rapists are white.

      So bad law is okay as long as it only hurts white guys, an argument that could only be made at the ABA.

  3. B. McLeod

    This was presented to the House of Delegatees dishonestly, in that the Executive Summary that is supposed to identify internal and external opposition to the proposal was filled out with the initials for “not applicable.” Now that that tactic has obviously failed, the scum bag wants to argue why “the opposition” (that didn’t exist) is nevertheless wrong. Day late, and morally bankrupt. The Resolution should be rejected as simply not properly presented to begin with.

    1. SHG Post author

      So that it can be represented next midyear meeting? Why not improperly presented, and yet substantively considered and rejected as bad law.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        Well, sure, if you’re really insistent on finding out the caretaker/patient ratio at the asylum.

      2. B. McLeod

        In any organization with a glimmer of integrity, a proposal glaringly pressed forward by lies and fraud and false statement would never be allowed to advance to consideration by the policy-making body. But, as we are discussing the ABA in this instance, I concede your point.

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