Clueless in C-ville

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVa.

by James A. Bacon

I feel so much safer  now! Well, I would if I were a 20-year-old female student at the University of Virginia. Acting under a national media spotlight in wake of allegations of gang rape at a university fraternity, the University of Virginia Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution yesterday declaring itself to be unalterably opposed to rape. More specifically, the board approved “a zero-tolerance stance on sexual assault,” according to media reports.

Wow, what a profile in courage!

The details of the zero-tolerance stance have yet to be worked out, however. And that is the problem. The devil is in the details. The question that I did not see anyone address in the media accounts I read (Daily Progress, Times-Dispatch) is fundamental: In the alcohol-fueled hook-up culture of the contemporary American campus, what constitutes rape? Of course it’s rape when a first-year woman is lured into an upstairs fraternity-house bedroom and is sexually assaulted by seven men. Any imbecile can see that. Of course it’s rape when a young man slips a woman a date-rape drug and proceeds to have sex with her while she’s senseless. It takes no depth of moral conviction to denounce such an act.

The problem is that a large number, if not a majority, of alleged sexual assaults occur in ambiguous circumstances in a cultural environment pervaded by alcohol, drugs and sexual promiscuity. Typically, there is no violence involved. Sometimes the rape victim doesn’t even decide she’s been raped until the day after. Usually, it’s a he-said, she-said situation in which the memories of both parties are clouded by alcohol. Sorting out guilt and innocence in those circumstances can be exceedingly difficult.

Although the board failed to grapple with any of these essential issues, trustees did boldly consent to several anti-rape measures that will have no impact whatsoever upon the problem. “Lighting will be upgraded around the campus, use of surveillance cameras will be expanded, and a new police substation will be established at the Corner, a popular gathering spot for students,” reports the Times-Dispatch.

Those measures might prevent incidents in which UVa women walking down the street are jumped by armed assailants. But the university is not experiencing that kind of rape epidemic. The number of rapes by unknown men at gunpoint is tiny. The rape epidemic is occurring in fraternity houses and college dormitories.

But never fear! President Teresa Sullivan also plans to institute “training for faculty and students to intercede when they see a problem” and to increase oversight of the fraternity system. This, too, is laughable. I feel safe in saying that (a) a negligible number of rapes occur in the presence to university faculty, and (b) when unwanted sexual intimacy occurs in the presence of students, the witnesses are likely too intoxicated or too distracted by their own sexual designs to apply the fine points of sensitivity training to friends groping one another on the sofa across the room.

As for fraternity oversight, the administration’s most notable response at this point consists of shutting down social events by all fraternities and sororities, even though only one institution was implicated in the gang rape. The received wisdom is that the culture of fraternities and sororities is part of the problem — which, in fact, it probably is. Trust me, I am no defender of fraternities. I never joined one when I attended UVa. But I have seen no evidence that all fraternities and sororities are equally debauched in their behavior. An indiscriminate shut-down of all Greek societies in the absence of evidence of wrong-doing at specific houses smacks of hysterical over-reaction that, far from gaining buy-in and cooperation from the institutions involved, will serve only to alienate them.

There was some recognition in the board meeting that binge drinking is part of the problem. “Excessive drinking is the fuel,” said L.D. Britt. “It was the fuel when I was here back in 1968, and it’s the fuel now.” Likewise, Sullivan singled out the culture of drinking. “We need to wipe out the notion that the college experience is incomplete without drinking.”

But there was nothing resembling a consensus on how to address the problem. Should the university and the City of Charlottesville crack down on student drinking, imposing a neo-prohibitionist regime? Should authorities embrace the opposite strategy of making alcohol more readily available students so they don’t have to go to fraternity parties to obtain it? No one has a clue.

One other issue I didn’t see discussed was how the university responds to rape allegations. One of the more horrifying charges in the Rolling Stone article that started this brouhaha was that the rape victim’s friends and the university administration swept the problem under the rug. Another fundamental question: Why wasn’t the case turned over immediately to Charlottesville police for investigation? Rolling Stone asserts that the Sexual Misconduct Board wants to provide less traumatic options for rape victims than pursuing criminal charges. Is that — should that be — the University’s decision to make? Does the Board intend ever to discuss that issue?

 In a university that expels students for violating the honor code — no lying, cheating or stealing — it is a travesty not to expel students for sexual assault. But what standard of proof of guilt — criminal, civil or some other standard — should apply? Is the university set up to administer such judicial proceedings and to handle the inevitable appeals? These questions are not easily answered — and it doesn’t appear that either the UVa administration or the Board of Trustees is even asking them. So far, I have seen little to indicate that the university is willing to tackle fundamental issues. I have a sinking feeling that none of this will end well.

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23 responses to “Clueless in C-ville

  1. If a student or any other person is identified as committing a felony on or off campus then the university should not be sending such incidents to a non-legal committee. A university is not above the law and it is not law unto itself. If a murder is committed then the police should be called. And if any other crime is reported then the police should be called…no ifs and buts.”\

  2. UVA is not an entity unto itself. Rape is a serious criminal offense. Why is the location of a crime make any difference? A criminal act should be handled by the police. End of game. The University of Virginia and its students do not live in a world apart.

  3. A few points:

    The “lying, cheating, stealing” portion is blown way out of proportion in the coverage. That is a specific system set up to handle those 3 offenses: lying, cheating, and stealing. The Honor Committee does not have jurisdiction over sexual assault. So what “expelling a kid from school for lying, cheating, or stealing” has to do with sexual assault is unclear to me.

    Second…has anything about the RS article been proven? Either in a criminal conviction or civil judgment? There hasn’t been a civil suit filed, and the statute of limitations is 2 years for personal injury in Virginia….so there probably won’t be a civil suit filed. Claims against the state must be given within 6 mos. of the incident. Again…nothing filed.
    So let’s just run with one story in one magazine and proclaim a “culture of rape.” hmmmmm….I remember a certain writer who was furious when others were proclaiming McD’s “guilt” w/o a trial. How do we know ANY of this has happened? Let’s denounce and convict without a single shred of proof in a court of law….

    Third…if you want to know how ridiculous all of this is…..Rolling Stone’s “follow up” to the story included a compendium of “comments” to its original story. If you think that passes the smell test, then I demand that Bacon’s Rebellion post “follow up” stories after every one of Bacon’s posts with larryg’s comments. That’s not journalism and should discredit the publication to any reasonable mind. Online comments aren’t exactly fact-checked.

    • It is no just RS….the drumbeat goes on and on. read these articles.
      DEAN SEAL The Daily Progress
      The number of reported on-campus sexual assaults at the University of Virginia more than doubled between 2012 and 2013, according to an annual security report published by the school in late September.
      The data showed that 27 reported offenses occurred on Grounds in 2013, up from 11 the year before. Twenty additional offenses were reported to have occurred off Grounds last year, nine of which took place on public property.
      http://www.gvhlive.com/
      While all these responses from the university are generally positive and proactive in tackling the issue of sexual assault on campus, the sad fact is that this isn’t UVa’s first time at the rodeo. In 2003 a rape victim sued the school after university officials told her she would be expelled if she spoke publicly about the man who attacked her, even though he was found guilty by the university and still allowed to stay on campus and graduate. In 2004 a UVa student named Kathryn Russell gained notoriety after going public with complaints that the school had discouraged her from reporting her rape to the police. In 2008 the Department of Education ruled that UVa had violated the Cleary Act by requiring students reporting rapes to sign a nondisclosure form. Since 2011 the Department of Education has also been reviewing UVa’s compliance with a number of legal requirements for the handling of sexual assault.
      In short, the UVa administration has had a long documented history of failing to adequately handle sexual assault cases. The recent allegations published by Rolling Stone are thus just a continuation of UVa’s struggles with effectively combating sexual assault, rather than a shocking, out of character revelation.

  4. “Of course it’s rape when a young man slips a woman a date-rape drug and proceeds to have sex with her while she’s senseless. It takes no depth of moral conviction to denounce such an act.”

    Alcohol is a date-rape drug.

    Oh, wait, I forgot. She consented to drink alcohol. Which means she consented to her own drunkness. Which means that whatever happens to her body after that is her own fault unless she was gang raped by a bunch of guys with ties frat boys.

    “The problem is that a large number, if not a majority, of alleged sexual assaults occur in ambiguous circumstances in a cultural environment pervaded by alcohol, drugs and sexual promiscuity.”

    So it’s rape if there’s a drug involved, but only if that drug is classified as a “date-rape drug” and as long as there’s no sexual promiscuity going on.

    Explain to me again, though, how sexual promiscuity negates rape charges. Explain to me how it matters that if a woman has 300 sexual partners the claim that partner number 301 is somehow more questionable than a woman who claims that her third sexual encounter was rape. Explain to me when a prostitute can be raped.

    I gave you the multiple-choice option to choose what constitutes rape and you dodged it. Here’s a chance to answer it as an essay.

    “Typically, there is no violence involved.”

    I see someone is taking the assault part of sexual assault literally…

    And, of course, a man doesn’t have to be overly violent to physically domineer a drunken woman’s body…

    ” Sometimes the rape victim doesn’t even decide she’s been raped until the day after. ”

    When are they supposed to decide, the day before? When they’re in and out of consciousness? While their rapist is still in the room with them?

    Oh, hey, just so you know. I’m still loopy on whatever alcohol or drugs may be in my system and freshly traumatized by having my body used against my express consent, but I’m going to be charging you with rape. You certainly wouldn’t use physical violence against me while I’m so vulnerable, right?

    “Usually, it’s a he-said, she-said situation in which the memories of both parties are clouded by alcohol.”

    And here comes the ultimate in condescending ripostes to the rape victims: You’re a woman and we don’t trust that you know when you’ve been raped. You’re too emotional to know the difference between rape and regret. The fact that you’re too drunk to remember if you gave consent or not is not evidence that you were too drunk to give consent in the first place. It always comes up that maybe the women are lying to cover regret or don’t remember saying yes, it never enters into your equation that the man is lying to cover up a rape or about being so drunk he can’t remember whether or not a yes was given.

    “But I have seen no evidence that all fraternities and sororities are equally debauched in their behavior”

    #NotALLFraternities

    There’s such a pervasive culture of hedonism that we must tighten up our scrutiny on all women who have claimed anything less than gang rape, but it’s important that we not be too hard on Greek organizations. That scans.

    “Why wasn’t the case turned over immediately to Charlottesville police for investigation?”

    The victim has to consent to a prosecution. Many victims are unwilling to do so because of the retraumatization that occurs. I’ve posted links before about how police treat rape victims, and that’s before you get in front of a defense attorney for cross examination. UVA can shuttle whatever it wants over to CPD, but without victims willing to testify it’s not going to matter.

    “In a university that expels students for violating the honor code — no lying, cheating or stealing — it is a travesty not to expel students for sexual assault. But what standard of proof of guilt — criminal, civil or some other standard — should apply?”

    Why is the same standard that’s good enough for honor code violations not good enough for sexual assault violations? Is accusing someone of lying, cheating or stealing always less of a “he said, she said?”

    Just for the cheap sheets, here’s a quick run down of consent:

    Yes = Yes
    No = No
    Not Yes = No

    Yes may be revoked at any time during sexual activity.

    If they’re drunk to the level that a judge would not let them testify in court or an attorney would use their testimony as witness impeachment then they’re too drunk to give consent.

    Fin.

    • “Just for the cheap sheets, here’s a quick run down of consent:

      Yes = Yes
      No = No
      Not Yes = No

      Yes may be revoked at any time during sexual activity.

      If they’re drunk to the level that a judge would not let them testify in court or an attorney would use their testimony as witness impeachment then they’re too drunk to give consent.”

      I agree with you.

      However, that’s not what UVA’s code of conduct actually says.

      It basically says that any amount of alcohol may result in a person who does consent being able to say they were too impaired to consent.

      If your words were in the code of conduct I think UVA would be in a better position.

  5. I am surprised that nobody has made the connection between “Jackie” and Hannah Graham. Hannah Graham was the UVA woman who was abducted, raped and killed a few months ago. The man in custody for this is also suspected (based on DNA evidence) of having abducted, raped and killed another woman at a UVA event. He is also suspected of a rape in Fairfax county.

    The tragedy is that the suspect was thrown out of college for a sexual misconduct incident.

    Would Hannah Graham still be alive if that university would have called the police instead of deciding on their own kangaroo court?

    The reason that the police should be brought into the Phi Psi allegations is the same reason the police should be brought into all violent crimes – so that the perpetrators can be taken off the street before they do it again.

    As Jim, Les and JW all properly assert – the University of Virginia is not a world apart. Violent rape needs to be investigated, the accused need to be tried and, if found guilty, kept apart from society in a prison.

    • You are correct in linking these two cases. Somehow UVA does not see the similarity and tragic irony of Liberty University’s silent dismissal of Jesse Mathew, which allowed him to continue raping and killing, with UVA’s own policy of allowing dangerous sex offenders to apologize and get counseling rather than receive expulsion and a referral for criminal prosecution. At least Liberty got Mathew out of Lynchburg, whereas UVA allows their sex offenders to roam freely around Charlottesville and UVA after a slap on the wrist, and maybe a year off for bad behavior.

      State law should provide that university officials must report sex crime allegations to police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney — no exceptions. If some students do not want to prosecute and prefer to remain publicly silent, they should be referred (via a hot-line or other means) to a mental health professional who can help them deal with the trauma of rape and sexual assault.

      • I think the only change they need is to say: 1. – if you are charged with a crime -your enrollment will suspend until it is resolved – and 2. if you are convicted -you are expelled.

        and move on.

        get out of the business of the College substituting their “law” for Virginia Law.

  6. An excellent comment by “Dante Speaks” over at “Inside Higher Ed“:

    1. The chances of reducing the drinking age are small. MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) also did a great job lobbying for raising the drinking age. The drinking age had fallen during the Vietnam War (“old enough to die, but not to buy a beer”), but came back up after that war with the constant coverage of youth slaughter while driving drunk. Congress sealed the deal by tying the drinking age to fed highway funds. I think most parents would continue to support the 21 year old legal drinking age. In terms of actual youth alcohol consumption, it’s probably had little effect. Even granting some small reduction through the law, any uptick in sobriety has been more than nullified by the host of new ways to intoxicate oneself with drugs.

    2. Sex … has been loosed from any moral bearings, family shame, or child bearing inconvenience. Current students were exposed to pornography online by 12, sexually active by 13, and 60% have either sexted or shared a sext. In short, they’ve been initiated into a sexually risky, high intensity lifestyle earlier than those before them, without the maturity to navigate it. Sex now is an outlet, a way of blowing off steam (hooking-up). Risky behavior in the sense of sexting, sex with a stranger, combined with drinking and drugs, and the dropping of all societal checks has created an equal opportunity for both young men and women to experiment to the hilt with sex behaviors they may regret.

    I think lowering the drinking age would have scant effect. They’d just meet at the bar instead of an apartment for a few drinks first, then go off to the party. Risky sexual behavior that pushes the borders of consent has been culturally normalized. The blurring of all the traditional social boundaries and male/female roles has created a legal “consent nightmare” problem for prosecutors. So only rapes that are at the extreme end of lacking consent get prosecuted. The middle ground is so culturally and psychologically muddled that frequently women have to get counseling, go to the women’s center, overcome peer disapproval of those who were with them during the sexual act, and take days or months to decide they were raped. Conversely, men are thoroughly convinced the sex was consensual.

  7. I post this NYT article entitled ” The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault”

    to make a couple of points:

    1. – the first that somehow Colleges are to be somewhat excused for sexual assaults because the younger folks get all liquored up and get randy with each other.

    Read this article about men and women who are not College-aged youngsters and see if you see any similarities

    2. – In this article – which is a bit long but fascinating – it details how the career of the prosecutor, a veteran legal office with an exemplary record, was ended – when he successfully pursued and convicted a popular officer who had the support of senior officers.

    What this article shows – more than anything else – in my view – is that there has been and remains a “culture” of minimizing the crime of assaults on women – not just at college – and that people who try to advocate for the women can also suffer consequences if they find themselves at odds with the institutional culture – college – and the military.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/magazine/the-militarys-rough-justice-on-sexual-assault.html

    If you take the time to read this – while keeping the UVA issues in mind – I think it may convince the “boys and girls will be randy boys and girls when liquored up” folks that it’s not just a young folks raging hormone problem.

    And the military is still struggling with it… and perhaps the excuse de-jure next will be that some guys never really grow up, and so girls turned woman still have to bear that cross, eh?

    • Larry, I’m glad to know that you believe “culture” comes into play, at least when it comes to the interaction of the sexes in the military and in colleges.

      Just curious, do you think “culture” might be a factor in the interaction of the sexes in areas of concentrated poverty? Do you think that different racial/ethnic groups, or even sub-cultures within those racial/ethnic groups, might have different cultural attitudes toward the way women are treated?

      • I do. no question.

        there is a difference in my mind between a “culture” in a society – and the “culture” of the law and institutions.

        just as we would have racists discrimination against others in society – we have laws and regulations to protect the rights of those who would be victimized.

        But my motive was to point out the similarities of this issue between the military and the colleges – where we have grown up guys at parties with alcohol including women getting drunk – and then this very same pattern of men assaulting women but they are not in theory the younger “hormones wild” group.. … so do you have a similar theory about the military issues?

        • Yeah, I do have a theory about the military. It has a deeply ingrained macho warrior culture. On the one hand, you don’t want a prissy warrior culture — you might as well not have a military. On the other hand, military men have to conform to broader social norms.

          Distinguishing between a “culture” and the “institution” or institutions within which that culture resides is fool’s errand. They are inseparable. The culture shapes the institution; the institution shapes the culture.

          • Then of course we have militaries in other countries where women are also “maco warriors” rather than victims of that culture, right?

          • re: ” you don’t want a prissy warrior culture ”

            http://youtu.be/NVolRm1iqBY

            skip to 4:50 to see “prissy” women trained in the “macho culture” “helping” the guys work with the prisoners.

            you have incorrigible blind spots.. Jim B… “prissy”?

            😉

          • Larry, your capacity for misunderstanding and misinterpretation is unbounded!

            I did not say that the military has a “prissy” culture. I said we *don’t want* a prissy military culture. I said the military has a macho culture that is distinct from the broader culture.

            It wasn’t a long paragraph — only six lines. Go back and read it.

          • oh it was easy – I was responding to what your idea of what a “pissy” military culture might be which was consistent with your other words in general ..

            I was pointing out that the “culture” issue is way more than young folks raging hormones and the problem extends to the armed services where somehow the military version of sexual behavior got re-cast as a culture that did not want a “pissy” warrior attitude…

            but I’ll give you a bye – if you weigh in why we seem to have similar sexual behaviors in the military as some in colleges and universities and that extends to the people who are supposed to be investigating and sanctioning sexual misconduct.

            I think the behaviors both stem from similar attitudes..of men in society and embedded in our culture in general.. surely you remember Tailhook as well as the sex scandal at the Air Force academy – right? Sexual Harassment in the workplace… etc.. it’s systemic.. but it shows itself more egregiously in some areas – like college and the military.

  8. James A. Bacon wrote:

    The chances of reducing the drinking age are small. MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) also did a great job lobbying for raising the drinking age. The drinking age had fallen during the Vietnam War (“old enough to die, but not to buy a beer”), but came back up after that war with the constant coverage of youth slaughter while driving drunk.

    My opinion is that if that is the case, then the age of majority should go back to 21, not 18.

    I think lowering the drinking age would have scant effect. They’d just meet at the bar instead of an apartment for a few drinks first, then go off to the party.

    I vigorously disagree. Lowering the alcohol age and only allowing persons in the 18 and 19-year-old age group to drink alcohol at licensed establishments only would do two things:

    (1) Above all, remove the mystery associated with alcohol; and
    (2) End the “need” to visit fraternity houses (where the brothers 21 and older can and do purchase as much alcohol “as needed”).

    • I’m a bit half-amused by the alcohol factor … myself.. because “rules” along these lines for college-aged – as well as Military when they”re partying.. like Zilliacus says -will not stop the activity but it might move the venue around a bit.

      I also sorta wonder if alcohol was switched with Pot if the end results would be no different in terms mind-altering and unwanted sexual behavior….my perception is – it’s not the same but I could be totally ignorant about current practices.

  9. larryg wrote:

    I also sorta wonder if alcohol was switched with Pot if the end results would be no different in terms mind-altering and unwanted sexual behavior….my perception is – it’s not the same but I could be totally ignorant about current practices.

    Marihuana should be made legal and taxable.

    • re: ” Marihuana should be made legal and taxable”

      yes – but would the sexual escapades that we see with alcohol be the same with marijuana with no alcohol – just POT parties?

  10. The honor code page on the UVA website states that students make a commitment not to lie, cheat, or steal within Charlottesville, Albemarle County. As I recall from my days at the University, anyone who violates the honor code is basically banished from UVA for life.

    It sounds like a culture of trust and integrity, until you listen to Associate Dean of Students Eramo explain that committing rape is not a dishonor worthy of expulsion. She actually goes on the record to tell a student journalist from WUVA that it’s difficult to balance the rights of admitted rapist/sex offenders with the interests of confirmed victims. http://www.nbc12.com/story/27531597/dean-of-students-talks-uva-rape-cases.

    I doubt that many parents were told at orientations that serious criminal assaults are treated as mere administrative violations at UVA. Dean Eramo does not know of any student ever being expelled for sexual assault. At most, admitted and adjudicated-as-guilty UVA sex offenders get extended time-outs and counseling sessions. I find the University’s official policy and mind-set to be repulsive, absolutely outrageous, and completely unacceptable.

    As a UVA alumnus, taxpayer, and member of the Virginia State Bar, I demand that UVA amend its honor code to ensure that felony sex offenders are permanently removed from the University community. Until they do that, it will never again be a place of trust and integrity.

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