Young women on college campuses have reasons to be fearful. The sheltering protections of housemothers and parietals are long gone. Unisex dorms and bathrooms do not raise eyebrows. Time-honored patterns of courtship and chivalry have gone up in smoke, leaving women empowered but vulnerable. Young men who are louts can and do scheme to obtain easily available sex.
Welcome to hook-up culture, first identified in a brilliant, depressing Tom Wolfe essay and fashioned into his 2004 tour de force novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It’s not pretty. On campus, if you are a girl, you are declared hot or not. A large number of girls want to be hot. Running with the fun crowd means heavy partying and sex. There can be great emotional blackmail and unrelieved pressure to put out. Young women who don’t get slandered or dropped.
Many seasoned feminists argue that empowerment demands collateral agency on the part of liberated women. Others disagree. Bad sex, badgering, seduction, assault, and rape get bundled together as sexual violence, sometimes capriciously and with catastrophic impact. Romance is only the first casualty.
The core legal issue is accusation of rape, which in many cases follows drunken coupling with all the erotic charm of lizards mating and about as much savored afterthought. For many women, who have been used sexually, or jilted after making what they thought was love, remorse turns to feelings of violation. Today’s mixed messages of no-means-no and vamp sluttery are confusing.
Men are sexual predators, howl the bacchante feminists and their allies, and no logic or set of facts can moderate this rage. How dare you question My Rape? “Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated,” declares law professor Catharine MacKinnon, a pioneer in this line of thought. Complicating the situation, complaints of sexual harassment often entail claims of verbal abuse, not physical coercion. Rape today does not necessarily involve coitus.
The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities (Encounter, 2017) reviews in impressive detail several dozen sex-assault cases since 2010 that ended in highly contestable rulings, and in which innocence or mutual sexual consent was abundantly clear. The law, it reveals, allows campus inquisitions to dispense with proof of criminal intent. Campus witch-hunts and secretive star-chamber proceedings throw due process out the window and abandon the presumption of innocence.
As authors KC Johnson, a Brooklyn College historian, and legal journalist Stuart Taylor, Jr. demonstrate in their report, the prejudice against men in these inquisitions can be breathtaking. The shameful 2006 rush to judgment against the Duke lacrosse team and University of Virginia Phi Kappa Psi rape hoax that ultimately cost Rolling Stone millions are only the two best known cases. Partisan media, led by the powerful New York Times, have made things worse.
Johnson and Taylor examine the legally questionable, arguably unlawful, interpretive stretch of Title IX. They deftly explain how President Obama’s federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reinvented a 1972 civil-rights statute designed as a gender-equality tool in college athletics to advance a dodgy feminist agenda, intending to attack an “epidemic” that had been exaggerated and gratify its political base. Through threats of rescinded federal funding, OCR fortified aggressive prosecution of sex crimes on campus.
The Title IX law reads: “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Statutory overreach that began in the Clinton administration advanced dramatically with a 2011 OCR “Dear Colleague” guidance letter, stating:
The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.… this letter explains that the requirements of Title IX pertaining to sexual harassment also cover sexual violence, and lays out the specific Title IX requirements applicable to sexual violence. Sexual violence, as that term is used in this letter, refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent due to the victim’s use of drugs or alcohol.
The Obama administration, by Johnson and Taylor’s lights, never provided convincing justification for Title IX’s reinvention. Title IX compliance coordinators are lodged into college life, and, like football coaches, are in some ways as powerful as college presidents. The rape-culture position remains institutionally ingrained and protected. Some campus feminists are willing to bend rules, shortchange due process, and fan inflated narratives to keep the rape shiver alive, and many of them are obsessive in their convictions. The punitive atmosphere exacts a toll, and reckless prosecutions poison lives.
Calling for educators and policymakers to rethink Title IX, Johnson and Taylor provide an informed counterview of irrational claims and hard-to-defend policies that exist to the detriment of men, women, and all of us. One thing the authors do make clear. The sensible way to handle campus sexual assault cases is through the police and criminal justice system, not through feminist-driven campus tribunals.