Response to “Sexual and Gender Misconduct Policy Leaves the Community Vulnerable”
On April 5, The Skidmore News published the article “Sexual and Gender Misconduct Policy Leaves the Community Vulnerable” by Jacob Reiskin. In general, the article roused negative responses on social media and across campus. Some even deemed SkidNews to be “fake news.” Although this article is not fake and the facts certainly hold up, there is a sense when reading it that the whole story is not being told. I do not agree with Reiskin’s belief regarding the current Skidmore policy, and I think the bigger issue is the presence of several misleading assumptions in Reiskin’s piece.
In the first paragraph, Reiskin draws us in with a personal anecdote that occurred at an administrator’s office. He was told, “Don’t have sex with anyone you don’t really trust.” The implications of this statement are that there is an administrator on campus who believes that false sexual assault accusations are a problem at Skidmore. If this is what Reiskin is implying, he does not provide an estimation of how likely one is to be falsely accused, whether at Skidmore or in general. We should look at the numbers.
Many different studies estimate that the amount of false rape accusations out of total rape accusations comes to be around 2% to 10%. In a study done at a Northeastern University over a 10 year period, the percentage was 5.9%. Basically, it is extremely unlikely you will be falsely accused of sexual misconduct. It is more likely that you will be a victim of sexual assault. Reiskin did mention the likelihood of this occurrence when he stated, “If the statistic that 1 in 5 students are sexually assaulted is correct, then colleges require serious reform.” This statistic is correct and can be seen in the “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct,” which concluded through surveys on 27 college campuses that 1 in 5 college women have experienced sexual assault. It is worth noting that these statistics likely vary from college to college, but due to the countless sexual assaults that go unreported because of the stigma and fear felt by victims who are afraid to come forward, the numbers are much likely higher—not lower.
Reiskin goes on to argue that “affirmative consent—if it happens—is often a private exchange behind closed doors. So, when an individual comes forward with a sexual misconduct accusation, it can sometimes amount to a ‘he-said, she-said.’” When he talks about “he-said, she-said,” Reiskin implies that people have the power to falsely accuse a partner of sexual assault. Obviously, false accusations are serious. But, as shown before, they are extremely rare. It is a much more common occurrence for someone to be raped behind closed doors. And when it comes to the “he-said, she-said”, the rapist is believed.
Skidmore’s Title Nine Coordinator, Joel Aure, found issue with Reiskin’s phrase, “he-said, she-said,” as well, because Reiskin is making an investigation and decision sound like it’s “automatically 50/50.” Aure believed that this phrase suggests that a “student could all of a sudden find themselves suspended or expelled because of a coin flip.” Aure made the point when I interviewed him that this is not, in any way, what occurs when an investigation takes place.
Aure said that investigations into accusations always aim to create a “360-degree view of the entire situation.” There has to be enough evidence, which goes back to Reiskin’s main point about the preponderance of evidence standard. The preponderance of evidence standard is that “it is more likely than not that sexual assault or violence occurred,” which is the rationale outlined in the Dear Colleague Letter released in 2011. The reason for using this standard, instead of the “clear and convincing standard,” is that it is not consistent with “the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX.” Although the preponderance of evidence standard is still in place, what Reiskin did not address is the fact that the investigative Panel must decide by unanimous decision whether or not the Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy was violated.
Now, this is not to say that a higher standard for evidence might not be the better route, but it is something we should talk to our teachers and our administrators about. The main problem with Reiskin’s article is not in pointing out this standard of evidence. Rather, it is the way in which he frames this evidence. Even with the title, “Sexual Misconduct Policy Leaves the Community Vulnerable,” he implies that the problem of sexual assault and the problem of false accusations are on the same level. We should be clear; these issues are nowhere near the same level. However, this does not mean we should not be working to address false accusations. Both issues should be recognized, but it still remains that sexual assault on college campuses is a more pressing concern.
The rhetoric in place in Reiskin’s article, even if it is not intended to be so, is extremely harmful to victims of sexual assault. By questioning the validity of sexual assault accusations and claiming that this is a “he-said, she-said” matter, Reiskin is perpetuating stereotypes about sexual assault. Sexual assault is a very real issue, and all who come forward saying they were sexually assaulted should not be thought of as deceptive. Aure emphasized that on Skidmore’s campus, “any student who comes forward to report sexual assault will be treated respectfully and with the utmost seriousness. The student will be afforded the full complement of options, rights, and resources that Skidmore can provide, and that student will have the opportunity to have their voice heard.” Although it may not have been Reiskin’s intention to discount the experiences of sexual assault victims, he did. In a world with rhetoric that has shaped decisions on sexual assault cases, it is important—now more than ever—to focus on the validity of sexual assault victims’ experiences. Questioning the honesty of sexual assault victims directly conflicts with Skidmore’s core values.
Photo courtesy of North County Public Radio