I already wrote about Emma Sulkowicz. She reported a man to Columbia University for raping her, but the panel cleared him. She went to the police, but they treated her poorly and did nothing. Then she formulated a performance art piece, Carry That Weight, which has been widely covered and has received a great deal of support both within and without the university.
Her parents wrote a letter identifying the man she reported, and shedding significant additional light: the same man, Jean-Paul Nungesser, was previously adjudicated responsible in an incident of violence sexual assault against a different female student, following her to her room and shoving her inside. And Emma Sulkowics made her decision to report him after learning from other women about incidents indicating that his behavior was part of a pattern. Here’s one thing they say:
3) The fact that Nungesser had previously been found “responsible” by a Columbia panel for following another Columbia student to her room, shoving his way in, forcefully pinning, and groping her was not allowed as evidence in Emma’s hearing. Just days before her hearing, Dean Valentini granted an appeal of this verdict, which re-opened the case and consequently disallowed it as evidence. This effectively hamstrung Emma’s case. (An aside: The final hearing for this other case was scheduled and held at a time the complainant had specified that she was not available to testify. Without her presence, the original panel’s “responsible” verdict was easily overturned.)
Much of what they say is about Rosalie Siler, the Columbia minion who acted as Sulkowics’ sole advisor and who, her parents say, essentially hindered rather than helped the presentation of the evidence of Nungesser’s misconduct. One might suspect, given both that the grant of appeal managed to fortuitously keep the prior conduct out as evidence in Sulkowics’ hearing, and that the University scheduled the new hearing for a time when the complaining witness was unavailable, and that the Sulkowicss allege that Emma was advised not to get her own lawyer (though Nungesser had one) and that her advisor did more to interfere with her case than to present it, that this was an effort to protect Nungesser.
The social dimension of the current political moment is this: universities are not willing to do much of anything to stop rape, but are willing to put quite a lot of effort into hushing it up, including putting a thumb on the rapist’s side of the scale in their adjudication processes. That’s what Columbia here stands accused of.
A federal judge once said to me, when I was just a young’un, that this is how you read a statute: “from left to right; stop at punctuation.” You don’t know what this thing says unless you read the text. TL;DR from the headlines does not an analysis make. So here is the pertinent text, the text of section (a), which is the part people are talking about:
(a) In order to receive state funds for student financial assistance, the governing board of each community college district, the Trustees of the California State University, the Regents of the University of California, and the governing boards of independent postsecondary institutions shall adopt a policy concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, as defined in the federal Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1092(f)) involving a student, both on and off campus. The policy shall include all of the following:(1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.(2) A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in any disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse to alleged lack of affirmative consent that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the sexual activity under either of the following circumstances:(A) The accused’s belief in affirmative consent arose from the intoxication or recklessness of the accused.(B) The accused did not take reasonable steps, in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.(3) A policy that the standard used in determining whether the elements of the complaint against the accused have been demonstrated is the preponderance of the evidence.(4) A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in the disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse that the accused believed that the complainant affirmatively consented to the sexual activity if the accused knew or reasonably should have known that the complainant was unable to consent to the sexual activity under any of the following circumstances:(A) The complainant was asleep or unconscious.(B) The complainant was incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication, so that the complainant could not understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual activity.(C) The complainant was unable to communicate due to a mental or physical condition.
In some corners of the rape denial universe it is popular to say that this doesn’t happen, that all reports of drugged drinks are merely voluntary overconsumption. There are two kinds of people who say that: (1) those who have chosen to believe it, because they don’t believe anything women say anyway and because it’s convenient for them to believe it; and (2) those who know first-hand that it isn’t true, but want to protect those who deliberately and involuntarily intoxicate others.
When people say, “rape culture,” some people say that there isn’t one. Even some people who should know better say that. Everyone agrees that rape is bad, right? But they don’t. In the comments and threats that assail women who speak out about rape on the internet, when the trolls know people are unlikely to uncover their identities, they say what they really think. They approve of rape.
These allegations admit of no possibility of accident or miscommunication. Instead, this required a conspiracy of the bartender and the doorman, at a minimum, and probably at least the silent complicity of several members. Someone said, “let’s roofie a bunch of girls …” and someone else thought it was a great idea. As it became clear that someone wasn’t joking, but was actually planning and preparing, nobody, nobody, said, “no, actually that would be a felony and we cannot do that.” If you want to know what “rape culture” is, it’s a culture where someone could raise this idea and instead of a chill falling over the whole room, the other people either strain to pretend it’s a joke or gleefully join in. If you want to know what “social license to operate” is it’s that the idea that women at fraternity parties are targets to be intoxicated and sexually molested is so powerful that the guy that thought this up not only had friends willing to defend his idea, they agreed to help, and they believed that they would get away with it.
As a general moral proposition, to hell with loyalty. If you are ever so loyal to any person that, when that person says, “let’s rape someone,” it even occurs to you that going along with it is a viable option, your moral compass is shot and you need to cut all ties with every single person you know, pack up and walk as far as you can get into the most desolate wilderness until the ruinous effects of your social environment wear off and you once again develop the ability to hear your conscience. You. If you’re reading this now, and you’re thinking, “well, I don’t know, I might …” Stop. Stop, turn off the computer, and pick a spot on the map where nobody is, and go there. Until you do, you’re a danger to us all.
Another criminal prosecution arising from abuse in a kinky relationship. There are so few facts thus far that I won’t write much, but this is on my radar.
I don’t know why the report even notes that she’s trans. In fact, after the first paragraph, they follow the sensible rule for avoiding shitty trans coverage tropes: if it’s irrelevant to the story, don’t bring it up. But that fact, her trans status without more, appears in the headline and first paragraph, perhaps for no reason other than clickbait, or because while the style guidelines say that trans women are women, some reporter or editor couldn’t bring themselves to apply that without an implied asterisk. At least after mentioning it they left it alone, so that’s progress because the bar of better-than-usual is pretty low.
I’ve said before that the only way kink-abuse cases get prosecuted is if there is hospitalization or video; reading between the lines, I think we’ll find out that video evidence was seized.
There are screeds coming. In the course of this, as more facts develop, I expect I’ll write about the slave register site and the positioning of 24/7 and TPE within BDSM communities and spaces, like I do. I expect I’ll write about the application of trafficking laws to situations where people are literally not free to leave. I expect I’ll write about press coverage of her trans status, though I hope I don’t; maybe if it’s not relevant as the story develops, they could just leave it alone? Perhaps, but I doubt it. All these conversations will wait until the factual record is more developed.
I’d rather not write about this. It’s not exactly fun. I’d rather not, but the things I expect I’ll say, I’m not counting on anyone else to say. So I will.
I blew my stack on Facebook this morning, after reading one of the many threads where women are trying to have a conversation around the Isla Vista shooting and the #YesAllWomen hashtag campaign. I blew my stack because there are two things derailing these conversations. One is misogynist men trying deliberately to derail, deny and distract. The other is men who want to do the right thing, who mean well, but who feel the need to insert their insecurities, their disclaimers and clarifications and make the conversation about their feelings.
Here’s what I said:
JESUS CHRIST SHUT UP AND LISTEN. IF YOU ARE A MAN RIGHT NOW DO NOT TALK OVER WOMEN. AT ALL. SPEAK ONLY AMONG MEN about whatever you think your valid point is that you so desperately need to hear yourself say and just SHUT THE FUCK UP. Why have I not written about Rodgers? BECAUSE MEN NEED TO SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LISTEN. Two weeks. Just shut your fucking facehole for two weeks. NO! Zip! It! If it’s that fucking brilliant, it will be brilliant in two weeks.
But I know, because women who want the same kind of change that I want are telling me, that if you and me and the guys who care duck out of the conversation for two weeks, we’re only leaving the field in possession of the enemy and abandoning the people we want to support. If you care enough about what I think to follow my example if I decided to stay silent, you’re actually the guy who should stay in the conversation.
But just because we’re talking doesn’t mean we’re helping, and right now I think to help, I have to be willing to do some really specific stuff. Here’s what I think I have to do:
(1) Not talk about my insecurities when women are trying to talk about their struggle.
(2) Signal-boost the women who are saying important stuff.
(3) Shut down, shout down, and push back at misogynists who are trying to make the conversation not happen.
So if you care what I think, I’m asking you to do this with me. Women need to let the anger and fear and frustration speak now, to know that we’re listening; and we need to hear it. Lots of us are going to have that queasy, “she thinks that might be me, and that’s totally not me” feeling. Here’s what I want to do: just lock that down and keep in on ice until June 13. Don’t do the “not all men” thing, not even a little; don’t say it. Live the example, stand by the women you support and don’t let your insecurities get in the way. Let them know you by your works. If I need to vent about my feelings, I’ll do that in private with friends, not where the public conversations are happening.
Everything I write in public about Isla Vista or Rodger or masculinity, misogyny or entitlement for the next two weeks, I’m going to ask myself, “is this helping my women friends have their conversation?” If not, I can change it, or I can hold it.
We need men to talk about how we feel about manhood and violence and the reality of rapists and abusers among us and in our social circles and families, out own sexuality and consent and all the nuanced and complex stuff. We need that, but not today, not right now, not in the immediate aftermath of a guy planning to slaughter a sorority and trying to do it. The nuances that men’s experiences add will still be valuable in two weeks; women need two more weeks to talk about the things that scare them out of their minds and the shit they have to live with, and they need us to clear the way for them; not engage to qualify, explain and redirect.
I have a small but influential social circle and readership, and I see a lot of really good stuff that’s being said and written right now, especially stuff by women talking about their own experiences, and I’m going to popularize the good stuff and let it speak for itself.
What I’m not going to do is leave the assholes in charge of the conversation. I’m going to point out their agendas, their distortions and lies. I know my skillset, and smacking people around on social media, litigating issues, and showing the bystanders that these people are wrong factually and morally; that I can do. That’s not about me. That’s about pushing back on their bullshit so the women who are trying to have the conversation in public spaces right now feel our support.
If I have something to say about my feelings and my masculinity and how this affects me, if that’s so damned brilliant that I should share it with the world, it will still be worth sharing later. I can keep that on ice until June 13. Two weeks. It’s not about me for two weeks. That’s not much to ask.
So I’m asking. Not about me, not about us, just support and defend the conversation that is happening, for two weeks.
I’ve written more than a little lately about how rape survivors reporting to “the proper authorities” get stonewalled, abused and ignored. I wish I had said all that needed to be said about that. I have not.
[Content note, graphic description of the rape included]
Today’s story is about one particular survivor’s experience. She’s using her name, and she refuses to be ashamed. She is Emma Sulkowicz. She took her complaint to the “proper authorities.”
First, Sulkowicz went to the Columbia University administration, then the NYPD. What happened?
- Her best friend and chosen support person was disciplined by the school for talking about the rape in violation of Columbia’s nondisclosure policy- that is, their silencing rule.
- The friend was required to write a “reflection paper” from the rapist’s point of view.
- The university found the rapist not responsible, though she testified that he pinned her down and forced his penis into her anus with no lubrication.
He was found not responsible, so why do I think he raped her? At least one other woman independently reported the man to the university for sexual assault, according to the story I linked, but other sources say there are at least two other women who reported him. There’s rarely one roach in the cupboard, and most rapes are committed by serial rapists.
The Columbia Spectator has published his name. They explained their reasons here. He is reportedly one of the names that appeared on the fliers and graffiti at Columbia. Jezebel has also published his name.
So after Columbia’s bullshit process failed her, she reported to the NYPD. How did they treat her? The police officer who reported to the scene, according to the Al Jazeera story, told her: “You invited him into your room. That’s not the legal definition of rape.”
You can read the story for the rest of what the NYPD did, but I want to bold that part. This is a sworn police officer, making a statement that’s appalling not only culturally, but in its sheer, astounding legal ignorance. The cop, at least according to the account in the Al Jazeera story I linked above, purported to make a statement about “the legal definition of rape” and just made up some good-girls-don’t moralizing bullshit where rape can only be illegal if it’s done by a stranger in a dark parking lot. In addition to the cruelty and dismissiveness, the incompetence is breathtaking.
(Just for a grim, angry laugh, I’ll include here the actual statute:
§130.35 Rape in the first degree.
A person is guilty of rape in the first degree when he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person:
- By forcible compulsion; or
- Who is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless; or
- Who is less than eleven years old; or
- Who is less than thirteen years old and the actor is eighteen years old or more.
I don’t see anything in there about inviting the rapist to one’s dwelling.)
The Columbia Spectator story adds details: she had had consensual sex with him earlier that night, but then he strangled her and anally penetrated her, which she told the police she did not consent to.
Sulkowics says to survivors, “If you want to go to the police, this is what to expect: You’ll be verbally abused. But at least no one will yell at you for not going to the police and getting verbally abused. Just take your pick.” But it’s not only survivors like her expressing the view that the system isn’t working for rape survivors. David Lisak,* the psychologist who started the research into undetected rapists and who regularly advises college administrators on rape, said that law enforcement has hundreds of years of history where any survivor without cuts, bruises or broken bones could expect nothing from reporting.
I want to be fair to the people in the system here. What we know so far is that Sulkowics said that her experience was searing and emotionally abusive. We don’t know that they won’t do anything. She just reported. It is possible that the police are investigating, and despite the way Sulkowics was treated, they will find multiple victims, put together a case and prosecute. It’s early enough to say that the way the police treated Sulkowics explains why many survivors don’t report. It is too early to say they didn’t do anything.
Sulkowics’s complaint, like that of almost all survivors, has never reached the punishment stage. Columbia had at least two and possibly three reports about the same man but let him go. The police report was recent, just days ago, and perhaps they will still make an arrest, but have not yet.
But even when a survivor reports to the police, the police make an arrest, the prosecutors file charges, go to trial and the jury convicts, it doesn’t mean that the rapist will actually go to prison.
In Indiana, David Wise drugged his wife without her knowledge, raped her, and filmed it. Not once, but as a pattern for three years! You would think that a person capable of this conduct – planned, premeditated, and keeping souvenirs — would be deemed so dangerous that any right-thinking judge would want him behind bars for a very long time. But the judge, elected Marion County Superior Court judge Kurt Eisgruber, sentenced him only to home confinement. By the way, he’s up for reelection this November.
Systems Are Made Of People
Police are people. Administrators are people. Judges, jurors, prosecutors … all people. The laws are interpreted and applied by people, who bring to them their prejudices. In a racist culture, the most perfectly written law will be applied and enforced in racist ways. In a culture that refuses to take rape seriously, no matter what the statutes say, the actual behavior of the people who interpret and enforce those laws will reflect the refusal to take it seriously. First degree rape is a Class B felony in New York, a really serious crime. People in the system are simply not willing to say that that applies to people who don’t fit their preconceived notions, and there is no magic bullet to change that. Changing the statute, training the police, giving the administrators incentives for transparency, there are lots of things to be done and not one of them alone will make all that much difference. The rapists’ social license to operate is woven deeply into the fabric of how people think the world works: it is a specific set of threads in a very big and interconnected piece of culture. Pulling them out, pulling them all out, one at a painstaking fucking time, is the work. That’s what we have to do, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re not serious.
*I’ve done a great deal to popularize Lisak’s research both into the identity and methods of rapists who have not been caught. It has filtered back to me that some people assume that I think everything he says is right, or that I somehow generally endorse him. I don’t. I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, I have not spoken with him, and I don’t have a good handle on what he tells consulting clients when the doors are closed. He puts on his pants one leg at a time just like the rest of us.