Archive for February, 2015

25
Feb

Campus Rape: Defining the Problem

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

If news reports are to be believed, campus rape is a major plague at America’s colleges.  According to statistics cited by the White House in a recent press release, one in five American women are victims of sexual assault.1  Other government sources suggest lower numbers.  Regardless of which set of statistics is correct, two things about these citations become quickly apparent:  First, that campus rape is both socially and politically significant; and second, that the numbers tell very little about what is actually going on.

The exact meaning of rape in statistics varies depending on the exact definitions used.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics collected three definitions (emphasis added, internal citations omitted):

Definitions of rape and sexual assault. The NCVS, NISVS, and CSA target different types of events. The NCVS definition is shaped from a criminal justice perspective and includes threatened, attempted, and completed rape and sexual assault against males and females. The NISVS uses a broader definition of sexual violence, which specifically mentions incidents in which the victim was unable to provide consent due to drug or alcohol use; forced to penetrate another person; or coerced to engage in sexual contact (including nonphysical pressure to engage in sex) unwanted sexual contact (including forcible kissing, fondling, or grabbing); and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences that do not involve physical contact. The CSA definition of rape and sexual assault includes unwanted sexual contact due to force and due to incapacitation, but excludes unwanted sexual contact due to verbal or emotional coercion.

Unpacking these definitions, it’s clear that there are there are three broad categories of rape and an additional two categories of sexual assault.  The three categories of rape are rape through violence, rape through non-consent, and rape through coercion.  The two categories of sexual assault are unwanted sexual experiences with or without contact.  So, how do these definitions translate into real world behavior in our schools?

Rape through Violence

Rape through violence is likely the easiest category for people to understand.  It includes what we might call the “classic” rape scenario: A young woman taken at night by a stranger while she walked home alone and tied, naked, to a bed while her assailant has his way with her.  More broadly, it includes any scenario in which the victim is physically overpowered by the attacker or rendered incapable of physically defending themself.  No rational attacker would have reason to believe that the victim has consented to sex under these circumstances.

Rape through Non-Consent

Rape through non-consent is also relatively easy to understand in most circumstances.  It includes a wide variety of circumstances that, much like violent rape, leave no ambiguity that sex for the victim is undesirable.  Obvious examples include sex with a person who is unconscious, whether or not they were drugged by the attacker, and sex where the victim has expressed their non-consent.

This category, however, also includes a different form of sexual encounter which has taken on political importance.  This form of encounter, which is being called rape, happens when the victim is deemed “unable to consent” due to drug or alcohol intoxication.  This becomes rape even if the victim expressed consent at the time of the sexual encounter and even if the victim became intoxicated voluntarily.

Rape through Coercion

Rape through coercion is a somewhat difficult category to understand because it potentially includes a number of things which are difficult to easily define as rape.  The notation that this category includes nonphysical pressure to engage in sex implies that the coercion may be either physical or nonphysical.  The key to this category, is that the victim agrees to the sex under protest, meaning that consent happens, but the victim does not actually want to have consented.  This is likely where the distinction between consent and “enthusiastic consent” comes from.

Non-Rape Sexual Assault

These categories of sexual behavior are outside the scope of what I intend to discuss, but they are worth noting because they may or may not appear in various sets of rape statistics.

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With these definitions in place, it becomes easier to talk about the policies being put forth from various sources for addressing the situation of rape on campus.  An ideal policy should address rape in all of the categories noted above as well as non-rape sexual assaults.  The better solutions will address only some of the categories, and the weaker solutions only one or none.  The wide variety of proposals in the world should make future posts in this series a great deal more interesting than this review of definitions.

  1. The White House article references this statistic as 1 in 5 of all women in one place and 1 in 5 women while in college in another.  Without reading the underlying study, I am not certain which interpretation is correct.  Suffice it to say, it is a large number. []
16
Feb

Sex and College: An Introduction

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

Looking through headlines today, I discovered a single random report of a new policy taking effect on Harvard’s campus.  The new policy appears to do little to advance the virtues of learning in the academy, but may be frustratingly necessary for the health of campus life.  It has nothing to do with advancing new speech codes.  It’s about sex.  In particular, it’s about prohibiting college professors from having sexual relationships with undergraduate students.

The policy seems almost too obvious to be worth having.  It strains the imagination to think of what a healthy romance between a student and a professor might look like.  The normal age difference alone should be reason enough to avoid those relationships.  Age, however, is far from the only thing which should stand between professors and the pool of students.  The fact that an official policy is necessary should be seen as a failure of our campus culture.

The relationship between college and sex seems likely to become a minor chord in the media symphony leading up to the next election.  Stories of campus rape have been working their way through the news coverage.  Harvard’s policy change is apparently worthy of mention by CNN.  The entire environment echoes back to grade school sexual education and echoes forward to contraception and abortion.  Campus sex also touches the “war on women.”  And Republicans have, at least in recent years, been either too embarrassed or too stupid to talk about sexual matters intelligently.

Conservatives, though, have no reason to be embarrassed to talk about sex at college.  Indeed, a little conservatism would go a long way toward curing the problems of sex at college.  The alternative, a proliferation of ineffective policies driven by the Federal government’s abuse of Title IX, is no way to help the young men and women who head to college.  What’s needed is a change in college culture that goes far beyond random freshman seminars.

In an upcoming series of posts, I plan to explore the failings of college culture and show where conservative principles could cause significant improvements.

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11
Feb

Words Matter!

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

News broke yesterday that the University of Michigan spent the tuition paid by nearly three of their undergraduates on something known as the Inclusive Language Campaign.  The ILC is a program that first appeared a few years ago at the University of Maryland and appears to be in the process of making its way around the country. Although the news out of Michigan only recently came to light, the program actually began with the start of the Fall term in September last year.

The professed goal of the ILC is “to educate students about hurtful phrases that are not inclusive and eliminate language that perpetuates hate and prejudice.”  In simpler terms, it’s a speech-code campaign aimed at removing certain words and phrases from college campuses.  They describe the campaign as educational, rather than regulatory, meaning that, at least for now, nobody is going to be officially punished for uttering one of the disfavored bits of language.  That’s good, because while we would certainly be better off without some of these words and phrases, we should not be so quick to cast all of them into the tides of history.

In the first category of language, we have words like “downsy”, which I suppose is something that someone, somewhere, must say.  Although my exposure to that word is new, it’s apparent that it’s meant as a reference to Down Syndrome and is probably not all that flattering to people with that disorder.  If used exclusively, it also pays very little respect to the Upsys.  Other words on the list are generally known to be pejorative (“tard” comes to mind), and otherwise just difficult to use in an intelligent sentence.  Such words add little to our public discourse, and it’s likely we could do just as well without them.

More difficult to call are phrases like “hebe-jebes,” which are supposedly tied to some history of cultural insensitivity (anti-Semitism, in this case).  Whether or not that such ties are accurate, the reality is that nobody uses that phrase in that way.  Whatever air of insensitivity that phrase may have had has been so thoroughly lost to history that it’s doubtful anyone would be offended without having been told that they ought to be.  While cultural insensitivity is bad, teaching people to be offended by non-offensive things is worse.  Teaching people to be offended in that way does nothing but turn them into victims of a distant past in which neither they nor the people around them played any part.  This is the antithesis of social progress.

Of course, social progress is almost certainly not the point.  The inclusion of “illegal alien” and “terrorist” on the list of disfavored language make clear the political leanings of the entire exercise.  The phrase “illegal alien,” we are told, may be dehumanizing to “someone who is living in the US without authorization.”  Fortunately, the recommended alternative phrase “unauthorized migrant” is not at all dehumanizing, so we can just move forward with that.  The word “terrorist,” of course, is offensive to Arabs, because not all of them are terrorists.

Speech codes can be one of the most effective ways to change the course of a political discussion by placing off-limits the language needed to fully talk about a situation.  Restrictions on speech are tool as old as language itself, and self-censorship has long been recognized as the most effective form of control.  Even if it could be said that the word lists are politically neutral, policing speech would still be bad.  The University’s endorsement and funding of the campaign is especially troubling, as open discourse is essential to both academic freedom and the intellectual development of the student body.  It also raises the spectre of more official sanctions coming in the future which would cut directly at the heart of free speech.

All that being said, I do believe it important that we avoid offending people where we can.  To help promote a more civil discourse, I have found a listing of words which may be offensive.  I would suggest that we all strive to modify our speech accordingly.

9
Feb

Is Terrorism Really Not an Existential Threat?

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

In a recent interview with CNN, President Obama made some remarks concerning the ongong war on terrorism.  In response to a question about the importance of terrorism, he offered the following as part of his answer:

What I do insist on is that we maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by overinflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order. You know, the truth of the matter is that they can do harm. But we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what’s the — you know, what’s essence of who we are.

His comment that terrorists are not “an existential threat to the United States or the world order” is, I believe, both true and misleading.  It is also entirely beside the point.  The threat posed by terrorists is somewhat unusual in world history and that type of language does not help to describe what they are doing at all.

The typical definition of an “existential threat” is that it is a literal threat to the continuation of a country.  The most recent “existential threat” to the United States is most likely the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and before them were the Axis powers of World War II.  Those threats carried with them a specific outcome: The removal of the United States from the world map.  For a country the size and strength of the United States, this level of threat can pretty much only be brought by other well funded nations.  In that sense, Obama is correct; it is highly unlikely that terrorists have the means to bring the United States to the same fate as the Ottoman Empire.

In a deeper sense, however, that analysis misses the point.  The goal of terrorism is not to directly overthrow a nation.  Rather, the goal of terrorism is to disrupt a nation and cause it, over time, to defeat itself.  This technique is especially powerful against a country like the United States, which is defined as much by its values as it is by its geographic area.  If terrorists are able to destroy those values, the end result is little different than destroying the country entirely.

For most of the past fourteen years, America’s values of freedom, personal liberty, and independence have been under general assault.  We are routinely inconvenienced in public places by the casual inspection of our personal belongings.  We have seen the aggression of our police forces increase to the point that a prank phone call can result in a military-style home invasion scenario.  We have been told to get used to a world in which the government has unfettered access to all of our private electronic data.  We are forced to suffer from these things, and more, all on the promise that they are somehow necessary to keep us from being obliterated.

The effects on our society can already be seen in our responses to otherwise innocuous situations.  To see how, one need only look at the reaction to The Interview, which would have been unceremoniously buried from the world if not for a major online campaign to bring the movie back to life.  In a nation which holds few values more deeply than ours does the freedom of speech, the scrapping of such a major film due to fear should be nearly unthinkable.  And yet, we found ourselves exactly there.

How much more would be necessary to render the US unrecognisable? It is difficult to say.  What is not so hard is to recognize that we are on a path leading away from those values which make America unique.  Avoiding that fate has nothing to do with the actions of our military; our essence is not diminished by the strategic decisions necessary to fight terrorism abroad.

Strong leadership and commitment to American values is our best defense against the real existential threat posed by global terror.  Our military, of course, serves an essential role in keeping the threat of foreign terrorism foreign.  But the real threat to America will not come from the damage inflicted by an extremist wearing an explosive vest, but rather from how we fear that someone else with a similar vest might step into our lives next.  The sacrifices we make to avoid that fear are the real injuries that could ultimately lead to our destruction.

6
Feb

Responding to Terrorism

   Posted by: Robert    in Uncategorized

Over the course of the past few weeks, the forces of global terrorism have been showing off just how global their activities have become.  Beginning with their activities in France, Radical Islam has brought their penchant for violence to several countries who are not part of the traditional terrorism narrative.  The response in each of these countries has been interesting, particularly in light of President Obama’s recent remarks about terrorism and the US.

This game of global compare and contrast begins on January 7, when two Islamic terrorists killed eleven people at the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper.  President Hollande came out right away to declare that the shooting was “undoubtedly a terrorist attack” and the response from the people of France was equally strong and clear.  Although not much has come from the attack other than demonstrations, it gripped the media and brought out condemnation from groups who would likely have preferred to avoid the subject entirely.  The attack was perhaps most effective by reminding people that terrorism can strike anywhere, with only the slightest of provocation.

Indeed, terrorists can strike against peaceful nations without any provocation at all.  When Japan pledged to contribute some money to the war against terrorism, the terrorists of ISIS apparently decided that equal representation was only fair.  They demanded $200 million from the Japanese government, who we can all be glad politely refused.  When that led to the beheading of two Japanese journalists, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was “infuriated.”  In response, Abe has pledged to continue Japan’s non-military support of anti-terrorist efforts and it appears he is also looking to find ways to bring Japan’s military to the fight.  In the meantime, we can all hope that they will attend “an international conference on countering violent extremism” on February 18.

Likely not attending that conference will be King Abdullah II of Jordan, a leader whose recent clash with the Islamic State left two of his countrymen dead.  The terrorists, it seemed, wanted to trade those two Jordanians for one of their fellow terrorists.  The problem came when King Abdullah learned that his people had already been killed.  Finding it unfair to trade terrorist prisoners for corpses, he went ahead and created some dead bodies of his own.  So upset is he about the death of his countrymen that there have been reports, however untrue, that he is personally leading air strikes against ISIS.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Obama gave an interview to CNN in which he said that we must “maintain a proper perspective and that we do not provide a victory to these terrorist networks by overinflating their importance and suggesting in some fashion that they are an existential threat to the United States or the world order.”

It seems unlikely that the rest of the world will see things in quite that way.  It is, of course, relatively easy to think it no big deal if somebody else is being attacked, and so far the rest of the world has been able to mostly sit back and watch the US spar with Radical Islam at home and abroad.  As ISIS expands their reach, attacks against other nations are likely to become far more frequent and more violent.  The beheading of two Japanese journalists was portrayed by some as “Japan’s 9/11.”  We can expect to see more of that type of thinking rather than less as other countries become involved.  As far as what that means to the “world order,” only time will tell.