Thursday, December 18, 2014

Is Challenging ‘Rape Culture’ Claims an Idea Too Dangerous for University Students?

By Wendy McElroy 

Colleges across America are in political uproar over new federal policies on how to conduct campus rape hearings. Feminists and the left-leaning demand a halt to the “rape culture” which they claim has caused an “epidemic” of campus assault. Civil libertarians and conservatives see an hysteria that could ruin young lives by stripping away due process from accused students.

On November 18, I entered this melee by speaking at a Janus Forum event at Brown University. My counterpart was the politically correct feminist Jessica Valenti. At Valenti’s request and to my surprise, armed security guards were conspicuously present. Apparently, some students also feared an eruption of violence but informed the administration, rather than Janus, of their concern.

Eruptions arrived before the event, which was on a Tuesday. On the preceding Friday, Brown President Christina Paxson circulated a campus-wide email in which she disagreed with me by name. Specifically, Paxton rejected the argument that “sexual assault is the work of small numbers of predatory individuals whose behaviors are impervious to the culture and values of their communities.”

This misstates my argument. I acknowledge a person’s culture and values influence behavior. What Paxson and I disagree upon is whether North America is a “rape culture.” I agree with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) which is the largest and most influential anti-sexual violent organization in America; it is hardly a voice of conservatism. On February 28, RAINN sent a 16-page letter to a newly formed White House task force that had the mission of reforming and standardizing campus rape hearings. RAINN stated,

    "There has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming ’rape culture’ for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campus. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important not to lose sight of the simple fact: rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions of a small percentage of the community to commit a violent crime."

RAINN argued that a focus on the “rape culture” made it more difficult to prevent sexual violence because it “removed the focus from the individual at fault” and seemed to mitigate personal responsibility.

Paxson’s email expressed concern that my views on sexual assault could “trigger” memories in rape survivors or make them feel devalued. Accordingly, a “safe place” was set up for attending students who were traumatized as well as for those who did not attend but felt endangered by the existence of such a debate. The “BWell Safe Space” offered on-site peer counselors and a staff to provide support. Paxson also outlined an eleventh-hour “direct alternative event” that was schedule for the same time as the Janus one: a lecture entitled “Research on Rape Culture” by Lindsay Orchowski, assistant professor of psychiatry.

Through a Brown Daily Herald (Nov. 17) column, The Janus Forum responded, “We believe the alternative event promoted by the an important event....Unfortunately, it was deliberately planned as an alternative to our own, forcing students to choose between two events, both of which we believe are worthy of their time. By endorsing Orchowski’s event, Paxson has denounced ours.” The next day, the Editorial Page Board of the Herald called for the Orchowski event to be “moved to a different time or repeated” so students could benefit from both events. Ultimately, both events were made available on line.

Against this backdrop, I arrived at Brown at the arranged time. I do not travel with electronic devices, which invite the TSA to trifle with my privacy. Thus, I did not receive alerting emails and was blissfully ignorant of how dangerous a woman I am.

Saloman 203 was the site of debate and I am told it is largest hall at Brown. It was filled. My presentation was first. The opening was intended to defuse a common attack on women who question the “rape culture”:

    "I am going to open in an unconventional manner with some personal background. I’ve experienced a great deal of violence in my life. When I was 16 years old, I ran away from home and lived on the streets. I was raped, and brutally so. Then and now, I do not blame the culture. I blame the man who attacked me.

    I’ve had reason in my life to blame several specific men for violence. For example, as a result of domestic violence when I was a young woman, I experienced a hemorrhage in the center of vision of my right eye. I am legally blind in that eye. Every morning I wake up, I am reminded of violence against women because I now see only half the world because of it. Again, I don’t blame men or the culture; I blame one specific man. Most men I know would have put themselves at risk to protect me.

    I bring up my background because my presentation may upset some people. And I look forward to a productive exchange...But please do not tell me that I do not understand the importance or pain of violence against women or that I trivialize rape. Such accusations are commonplace when a woman disagrees with the feminist orthodoxy and they shut down the one thing that is most needed: a real dialogue."

I divided what remained of my 20 to 25 minutes between discussing “the rape culture” and the conduct of campus rape hearings.

The Rape Culture

I deny it exists in North America. First, I defined the term and then pointed to a society embodying it. A rape culture is one in which the act of rape is so widely accepted as to be a cultural norm or defining feature. Rape is a core assumption of the society. Certain areas of Afghanistan are examples. Women are married against their will; they are arrested after being raped; they are murdered with impunity for men’s honor. North America does not resemble such a culture.

Second, I focused on a key statistic upon which the claims of a rape culture on campus are based; namely, 8 percent of college men have either attempted or successfully raped. I traced its roots to the book Body Wars by the clinical psychologist Margo Maine and did forensics on how Maine derived the data. (Much the same process is described in a National Post article entitled “Is there an epidemic of ’rape culture’ at Canadian universities?” I used the Maine statistic as an example of how investigation of “rape culture” claims usually reveals biased studies, badly flawed methodology or simply the absence of any evidence.

Campus Rape Hearings

I opened, “rape is a criminal matter that should be handled by the police not bureaucrats and students.” Nevertheless, there is an extreme political push for campus hearings that water down the due process rights of an accused who is almost always male.

Arguably, the federal push began in April 2011 when the Department of Education told campuses to comply with a new standard for adjudicating sexual assault if they wished to receive federal funds. The new standard deprived an accused of such legal protections as the presence of counsel and the right to cross examine an accuser. The criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” (99 percent certainty) was replaced by the civil standard of “a preponderance of the evidence” (51 percent certainty). A student could be found guilty of rape by the same standard of evidence used by traffic courts to adjudicate parking tickets.

A common rejoinder is that hearings are not legal proceedings. But the hearings actually operate in a legal gray zone. For example, the last campaign from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault includes improving cooperation with the police. Increasingly, the testimony an accused gives without due process can be turned over for use by the police and courts.

Moreover, the hearings impose penalties as draconian as a court. A student can be expelled with the word “rapist” permanently in his file. He may be tens of thousands of dollars in debt with no ability to obtain a license to practice his chosen profession. Many unlicensed professions will shun him as well. What university of quality will accept him? His reputation and belief in justice may be damaged beyond repair.

Having academics, university bureaucrats, and students adjudicate a criminal matter makes no sense. The hearings will not benefit genuine rape victims who are better served by reporting crime to the police. But the hearings will ruin the lives of innocent men, and do so in the name of justice.


How Savings Accounts Are Providing a Tailor-Made Education for Students

Kami Cothrun was a frustrated public school teacher when she decided to open a school of her own. She “saw a need” and decided to act.  What started out as a small endeavor with just six students has blossomed into three Arizona campuses with 200 special-needs students.

    “I really wanted to offer something different to families,” says the founder of Pieceful Solutions.  How did she do it?

“I’d heard a lot of struggles from families—things that they wished could be changed, things they wished public schools would do,” Cothrun told The Daily Signal. “I took all of that information and created Pieceful Solutions. And so, really, just to offer something, bigger, better, different is really kind of my philosophy.”

Cothrun also credits Education Savings Accounts for playing a role in the success and growth of Pieceful Solutions.

A tailor-made education

In Arizona, qualifying families can get the state’s share of a student’s per pupil amount deposited into a savings account. Parents are then given a debit card loaded with these funds. They can individually select the educational products, services and resources they consider appropriate for their child.

“Education Savings Accounts are empowering parents to completely customize their children’s educational experience,” said Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman fellow in education at The Heritage Foundation. “Families are able to construct a tailor-made educational experience for their children by virtue of the fact that they can direct every dollar in their child’s ESA.”

That’s exactly what’s happening at Pieceful Solutions.

The school was created in 2008 to help children with autism and other disabilities. It takes a different approach from public schools, utilizing innovative teaching techniques to improve learning.

Frustrated with ‘bureaucracy’

Cothrun, who has a bachelor’s degree in speech and language and a master’s in special education, taught in Mesa, Ariz., public schools for five years but became frustrated with the “bureaucracy” as she tried to teach students with special needs.

That led her to start a new K-12 school—the first in Arizona specifically for autism. Today, she serves as the school’s executive director.

“I was struggling with the bureaucracy of a public school district,” said Cothrun. “I really wanted to offer something different to families.”

Shortly after it was founded in 2008 with six students, Cothrun began seeking ways she could help her fledgling school grow.

“Growing the school was tough,” she said. “Starting off with six students, obviously that’s not enough to fund a teacher and to pay for the light bill.”

Cothrun had a second mortgage on her home and borrowed money. She “did whatever I could to basically keep the doors open knowing that at some point it would be worth it.”

The growth of Education Savings Accounts

A year after she opened the school, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the state’s voucher program for special-needs students was unconstitutional. The setback for school-choice advocates actually paved the way for Education Savings Acccounts, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law in 2011 and have withstood court challenges from teachers unions.

Unlike a voucher—which the state would pay directly to a private or religious school—Education Savings Accounts put parents in complete control of the money.

Cothrun said that Education Savings Accounts gave her the freedom to provide more for her students and their families. Today, Pieceful Solutions offers classes such as “karate, yoga, music therapy, cooking, lots and lots of speech and language, small class sizes and a high student-teacher ratio.”

“It has allowed me, as the founder of the school, to be able to offer our program to so many more families,” Cothrun said. “When I first started Pieceful Solutions six years ago, ESA didn’t exist and so for families to afford a private education, it was rare. It was nearly impossible.

“With the ESA, these families can get the specific individualized education that their child needs using the dollars straight for the school,” she said.


Common Core Doesn't Make the Grade

It’s one thing to experience “buyer’s remorse” when the product is something you can return easily, from new clothes to a set of high-end speakers. It’s another when you’re talking about your state’s educational standards.

Yet more and more states are finding that there’s simply no living with Common Core. Parents, teachers, students and lawmakers have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of the federally backed standards – and more and more of them are taking action.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, for example, once backed Common Core, saying in 2012 that he expected it to “raise expectations for every child.” By this summer, however, he was pulling his state out of the program. He insisted it was sold falsely to states as voluntary standards and that he was the victim of a “bait and switch.”

That is the crux of the criticism against Common Core – that the federal government got recession-strapped states to sign on by offering more than $4 billion in grants and waivers under the Race to the Top program. Many lawmakers were eager to sign on – at first. Now they are worried about losing those waivers if they drop Common Core.

That concern even led Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, to propose legislation that would “prohibit the federal government from mandating, incentivizing or coercing states to adopt the Common Core state standards or any other specific academic standards, instructional content, curricula, assessments, or programs of instruction.”

So far, 19 states have made significant efforts to push back against Common Core. Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana have exited the standards, and others appear poised to do likewise.

Who can blame them? The more teachers and parents see of Common Core, the less they like it.

Math problems that used to be solved in two or three easy steps now take a dozen or more, and with no discernible advantage – unless the point is to make things more complex. “In the real world,” one engineer father said of the mathematics homework his son brought home, “simplification is valued over complication.”

When it comes to reading, Common Core inexplicably junks many of the classic works of fiction that have long prepared students to think critically. In their place are “informational texts” that will cause college readiness to decrease, said professor Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education.

The main problem is that Common Core exemplifies a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach that is toxic in the world of education. No matter how well-meaning some bureaucrats in Washington may be, they can’t prescribe standards that will work perfectly in every school of every district of every state. What works in Peoria, Illinois, may not work in Portland, Oregon.

“Adopting Common Core national standards and tests surrenders control of the content taught in local schools to distant national organizations and bureaucrats in Washington,” education researcher Lindsey Burke writes. “It is the antithesis of reform that would put control of education in the hands of those closest to students: local school leaders and parents.”

That, in fact, is the solution. What’s needed here is parent-directed education. We need school choice, which allows families to select the academic setting that’s right for them. That might be the local public school, a nearby private school or home school.

Such an approach is understandably appealing to frustrated families, many of whom have embraced school choice programs. The number taking advantage of options such as vouchers, tuition tax credit programs and education savings accounts has gone from fewer than 50,000 in 2000 to more than 300,000 today.

We don’t need questionable universal standards handed down to us from Mount Olympus. Choice in education should be our standard. Common Core restricts choice and simply doesn’t make the grade.


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