I’ve often noted the poor, one-sided reporting on campus sexual assault—highlighted by a trio of publications (the Times, BuzzFeed, and Huffington Post) that seem to see their coverage more as advocacy than neutral reporting. In such an environment good journalistic work particularly stands out, as in Robin Wilson’s recent items in the Chronicle.
Wilson had one piece looking at one of the many anomalies of the campus crusade against sexual assault: why colleges, as part of an effort to diminish rapes on campus, don’t caution women about excessive drinking. The reasons, unsurprisingly, are a combination of government pressure against raising the issue and hard-line ideology. Wilson obtains a quote from Connecticut College’s “director of sexual-violence prevention and advocacy” (a quite unusually-named position): “The first things we hear are ‘What was she wearing?’ and ‘How much alcohol did she drink?’ . . . But those are not causing a sexual assault to happen. The perpetrator is the problem here.”
Quite so: just as a person who robs a student walking in a dangerous part of town is the “problem” in the commission of the crime. But is there any reason for a college not to warn students against behavior that might expose them to unnecessary risks?
Wilson also obtained a quote from Peter F. Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, who defended the lack of emphasis on potential accusers avoiding getting drunk in the following manner: “Sexual predators weaponize alcohol . . . Your typical sexual predator will stage an attack and place alcohol where it’s heavily camouflaged, in sweet drinks.” There have been dozens of OCR complaints filed by accusers, and myriad due process lawsuits filed by accused students. Allegations originating from “sweet drinks” rarely, if ever, have appeared in these actions. Doubtless some rapists spike the drinks of the students they eventually assault. But shouldn’t Lake have to present some data before insinuating that this sort of behavior is the norm?
Another Wilson article, entitled “Presumed Guilty,” examined the denial of due process experienced by students accused of sexual assault, featuring an impartial discussion of cases like Caleb Warner’s at North Dakota and Joshua Strange’s at Auburn.
As with her piece on alcohol and sexual assault, Wilson spoke to both sides, a journalistic approach that appears to have eluded figures such as the Times’ Richard Pérez–Peña. David Lisak (last seen as a keynote speaker in Dartmouth’s one-sided campus sexual assault conference) told Wilson, “It’s a little hard to believe that we can go for generations where rape victims are ignored, disbelieved, and disregarded, and now the battle cry is out that we’re ruining the lives of untold numbers of innocent young men.” The reporter then paraphrased Lisak: “People accused of assault, he says, frequently contend that they’re innocent.”
Is Lisak suggesting that any of the men profiled in Wilson’s article weren’t, actually, innocent? If so, what’s his evidence for the claim? Does he believe, for instance, that police in the Warner case incorrectly charged the accuser with filing a false police report? If not, it seems as if Lisak is, at best, indifferent to innocent students being branded rapists.
Presenting both sides of the issue has the effect of highlighting the extremism of the anti-due process activists. Perhaps that’s one reason why so many advocacy publications have chosen not to do so in their reporting on campus sexual assault claims.