My experience at Ohio University offered me a first-hand glimpse into the mindset of anti-due process activists, and the subsequent media coverage has indicated a troubling willingness for misdirection.
Austin Linfante, a reporter for the OU campus news site New Political, noted that the protesters furiously tweeted how the talk doubted that “the justice system favored white men accused of rape over African American men accused of rape.” Yet the only reference in the talk to the justice system was about the lacrosse case, an instance in which the accused people were white (and who clearly didn’t receive preferential treatment). And while I observed that colleges treat all students accused of sexual assault unfairly, regardless of race (as the Dez Wells case showed), the only reference in the Q&A to the justice system came in my positively citing Harvard Law professor Janet Halley’s recent point that, historically, weakening due process safeguards have disproportionately harmed minorities. It’s hard to imagine how an endorsement of Halley’s thesis could be labeled a denial of racial injustices in the criminal justice system.
One of the protesters, Katie Conlon, subsequently penned a letter to the Athens Postjustifying the failed efforts at a heckler’s veto, on grounds I had committed a worse offense: “calling victims of sexual assault ‘comically unbelievable.’” First, the phrase I used was “almost comically non-credible,” not “comically unbelievable.” In the talk, the phrase described not “victims of sexual assault,” but summarized the ever-changing and wildly inconsistent claims presented by one person—Crystal Mangum in the lacrosse case.
Mangum, of course, wasn’t a “victim of sexual assault.” I realize that most newspapers don’t employ fact-checkers for letters to the editor, but did Conlon write her letter unaware that a tape of the talk exists? Or did she assume that misrepresentation, on behalf of a broader cause, is acceptable behavior?
As Daniel Stein-Sayles, a reporter at the Brooklyn College Exclesior, noted, another of the protesters, Claire Chadwick, asserted that I “denied there being a rape culture at OU.” Unlike Conlon’s alleged quote, which was outright deceptive, Chadwick’s statement described a talk that didn’t occur. My only use of the phrase “rape culture” came when a protester, at my request, offered his definition: “The normalization and acceptance of things like alcohol-involved cases, where it’s just OK for a rapist to walk free.” I noted that probably everyone in the room had their own definition of the term. Indeed, in her letter to the editor, fellow protester Conlon proved the point; though she used the phrase “rape culture” eight times in an eight-paragraph letter, she never mentioned any role for alcohol or alcohol-involved cases.
In the event, the subject of the talk was due process in how campuses respond to sexual assault allegations, not whether “rape culture” exists at a single campus. If 20 percent of Ohio female students reported being raped, as opposed to the 0.5 percent who actually have so reported, it wouldn’t have changed my argument that universities aren’t equipped to investigate serious felonies, and have unfairly handled this issue in the adjudication process.
I previously had expressed my belief that the protesters were utterly sincere, even in their off-the-wall statements (such as the claim of one that the odds of a false rape report are 2.7 million to one). It’s harder, however, to attribute good faith to after-the-fact misrepresentations. Much like the aborted attempt at a heckler’s veto, such conduct demonstrates the protesters’ lack of faith that their approach can triumph in the marketplace of ideas.