Poor Women, Wealthy Men, and the New School Sexual Assault Regulations

Because of the media’s focus on the coronavirus, one story that has gone somewhat (but not completely) under the radar is the changes that United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put into place for regulations that replaced Obama-era guidelines on how sexual assault accusations are dealt with at schools.

According to National Public Radio, which did a rather thorough piece on these changes, “Among the most significant changes are new regulations aimed at beefing up protections for accused college students, by mandating live hearings by adjudicators who are neither the Title IX coordinator nor the investigator, and real-time cross examination of each student by the other student’s lawyer or representative.”[1] I want to zero in on the change I quoted here, because this is a regulation that will likely end up harming poor women the most and helping wealthy men the most.

In making this argument, it’s worth saying that the real-time cross examination is something that advocates worry will open up wounds for survivors of the assaults under investigation. While yes, there are absolutely male survivors of sexual assault, as well as survivors who do not fall within the male-female gender binary,[2] this is a change that disproportionately hurts women in general, as women of school age are much more likely to be survivors of sexual violence than men of school age.[3] Therefore, when we’re talking about cross examination opening up wounds for survivors, we are most of the time talking about opening up wounds for female survivors of sexual assault. This change will harm women in general.

However, this change will harm poor women the most. This real-time cross examination by the other student’s lawyer or representative, in effect, results in a double whammy for poor people who are survivors: emotional wounds opened up by cross examination by the defendant, and then an inability to spend the money to hire a good lawyer or representative to answer in any effective way to the cross examination. As most survivors are women, this double whammy for poor people who are survivors will predominantly affect poor women. I just hope that there are lawyers/representatives out there willing to potentially do some pro bono work here because otherwise, I don’t see how poor women who are survivors stand much of a shot at getting justice in sexual assault cases under the DeVos guidelines.

On the other hand, these new regulations will likely end up helping wealthy men because: a) most perpetrators are men and b) the male perpetrators who come from wealthy families will be able to spend on the best lawyer/representative money can buy in order to fend off any accusations. Unless the survivor comes from a situation of economic wealth and can have the ability to hire good lawyers, the side of the wealthy male perpetrator is well positioned to win the legal case.

As to the results of these DeVos changes, I do tend to agree with advocates that this will likely have a chilling effect on reporting in general. However, I fear it will have a particularly chilling effect on reporting from poor women survivors of sexual assault. While some people may take pride in being right on something, this is a case where I really hope I am wrong.

Please note that because of Memorial Day, I will not publish a post next Monday.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/05/06/851733630/federal-rules-give-more-protection-to-students-accused-of-sexual-assault

[2] And if you’re a male survivor of assault or a survivor who doesn’t fit within the male-female gender binary, your story is no less valid because you are not a woman.

[3] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

We Need to Grapple With Sexual Misconduct From Politicians…Even when It’s Politically Inconvenient

Content warnings: Inappropriate touching, sexual assault

I don’t know how many of my readers caught this bit of news with the media being in all-pandemic-all-the-time mode, but there is an allegation of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States. Namely, Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer when he was a United States Senator representing Delaware, has accused her former boss of sexually assaulting her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in 1993.[1]

And yet, I have heard relatively few on the Democratic side even talk about the allegations against him, save a few disgruntled former Bernie Sanders supporters who are struggling to support Biden. Goodness, even the story about the accusations eight women (including Reade) levied against Biden last year for inappropriate touching seemed to disappear after a couple of weeks, even though there are photos of him touching women in ways that clearly made them uncomfortable. For a party that claims to be pro-woman, it’s pretty appalling that the representative of said party for the party has, at minimum, a well-documented history of inappropriate touching of women (and potentially sexual assault).

It’s not just Biden and the Democrats, though. With the Republicans…need I say more? If you’re a Republican reading this piece, with all due respect, your party continues to stand behind someone who says: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Your leader literally bragged about getting away with sexual assault. Yet, leadership in your party looked and continues to look the other way.

Examining how the Democrats have handled Biden’s different accusations, and how the Republicans handled Trump’s, there seems to be a commonality: these politicians’ misconduct against women is not scrutinized fully if it is politically inconvenient to do so. It is politically inconvenient for the Democrats to scrutinize Biden’s accusations of inappropriate touching and accusation of sexual assault because of “blue no matter who.” It is politically inconvenient for Republicans to scrutinize Trump’s past allegations of sexual assault because of “Trump no matter what.” Treating these accusations with the seriousness deserved has seemingly been sacrificed in the name of political convenience.

We need to scrutinize the accusations of misconduct against women that our politicians face, regardless of whether there is a D or an R next to their names. We need to talk about and grapple with such accusations of misconduct, even if it’s politically inconvenient, and even if the accused deny the allegations they face.


[1] https://time.com/5819939/joe-biden-accusation-sex-assault/

What Discussions on Joe Biden’s Unwanted Touching Need to Address

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you would know that likely candidate for President of the United States Joe Biden has been accused of unwanted touching, and has since then made jokes about consent and touching. As a result of these accusations, there has been conversation, but most of those conversations have surrounded the former Vice President of the United States himself: about whether accusations against him are true, whether his jokes about touching were in poor taste, and about whether these things should disqualify him from being a serious candidate for President of the United States.

While these are all valid and important conversations to have, I think we would be doing an injustice to ourselves, and to American society as a whole, if we do not have conversations that go beyond the purview of Biden himself—conversations like these:

  1. We need to have a conversation about the warped power dynamics of someone touching from behind. Yes, unwanted touching of any sort is a problem, and there should be a discussion about unwanted touching as a whole. However, with unwanted touching from the back, the nature of it is such that the victim does not have the opportunity to say “no” because the victim did not see the person moving toward them. That warped power dynamic, which comes with the inability to say no with a touch from behind, needs to be addressed.
  2. We need to have a discussion about the fact that “jokes” involving inappropriate behavior, of any kind, are not funny. Stalking “jokes” are not funny (which I wrote a whole post about). Rape “jokes” are not funny. Unwanted touching “jokes” are not funny. “Jokes” related to any form of wrongdoing need to be addressed, because while Biden’s jokes were inappropriate, there are many places where I’ve heard jokes about inappropriate behavior, and unless we address that fact, we will just see such jokes get told over and over and over again.
  3. We need to continue discussing consent. For the umpteenth time, if there is no confident “yes,” then the answer is “no”! How many of these stories is it going to take before that fact dawns on people who are most likely to be tempted to act badly and commit an act of unwanted touching, sexual harassment, or sexual assault? 

I am sure there are many other things that can and even should be discussed, given the recent stories on the former vice president (and if that is the case, please let me know in the comments below). That being said, we must at least start by expanding the discussion beyond Biden himself. After all, Biden may only be around for a couple more decades on this earth (if that), but issues regarding touching from behind, jokes about inappropriate behaviors, and issues about consent may last much longer than Biden himself.

Ideas on How Men, Even “Good Men,” Can Respond to #MeToo

About one year ago, actress Alyssa Milano helped put a spotlight on sexual harassment and assault when she said #MeToo.

While a victim of sexual harassment or assault could be someone of any sexual orientation or gender identity, and while a perpetrator could be a person or any sexual orientation or gender identity, the fact is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the victim is a woman and the perpetrator is a man.

Ever since that fact has become a central topic in American discourse, men have reacted in a variety of different ways. These reactions have ranged from vocal support of those who say #MeToo (and even a few male friends who’ve said #MeToo) to vocal opposition and even mocking of the movement (for reference, see: Trump, Donald and others).

But how should men respond, one year after the #MeToo movement went viral? Especially if any of us don’t necessarily view ourselves as “bad guys” who committed any form of sexual misconduct?

Here are a few tips I offer, as a fellow man, after much thinking and reflection about my own past actions (good and bad) as well as the actions of men around me:

  1. Listen to the experiences of the women in your life, even if it is painful to listen. Without listening to the women in your life, you might remain oblivious to how big the problem of sexual misconduct and assault is, let alone figure out what some of the solutions are. On the other hand, I can definitely say that I have been blessed to listen to the experiences of the women in my life (including painful experiences), and I am better for it. Others would be better for it by doing the same.
  2. Deeply examine your own actions. And when I ask men to “deeply examine actions,” it’s not enough to have not committed sexual harassment or assault. We men need to seriously examine whether we have, as individuals, treated the women in our lives with the respect that everyone deserves. Because if we don’t—if we make rape jokes, brag about sexual conquests, cross emotional boundaries, cross other physical boundaries (even if it’s an unwanted hug), defend the actions of known predators, consistently shut down and interrupt women, and/or do nothing when we see other men committing the aforementioned actions—then we are showing the same lack of respect for women that leads to sexual harassment and assault. Deeply examining your own actions toward the women in your life may be difficult—even painful—because you realize that some of your actions are not as good as you want them to be. (I can say that for myself, too.) But I also know that this is an important first step in changing your own actions for the better.
  3. Hold the men in your life accountable for their actions, too. I know from experience that this is oh so difficult when you feel the need to confront a friend you care about deeply. Maybe that’s why I’m often not good at it, even when it really is But it is also extremely important to show that tough love every so often if, say, you notice another male friend constantly interrupting women. And, if your male friend is willing to listen, it will make him a better person for your tough love.

These are just a few ways that men, even “good men,” can respond to #MeToo. I’m sure there are other ways men can respond to #MeToo in a productive and positive way. If you think of any of those ways, please reply in the comments section below!

Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault

Some of the questioning of recent days has focused on why Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, would even consider not testifying on her sexual assault.

In her piece, Jill Richardson explains that there are actually many reasons why women might not want to report sexual assault. Furthermore, quite a few of those reasons involve the unjust ways in which our society treats survivors of sexual assault.

For more details on the reasons why women might not want to report sexual assault, I encourage people to read her original post. As a man, I found it very informative to read why someone like a Dr. Ford may be hesitant to talk about her experiences. Hopefully, others will find Jill Richardson’s post to not only be informative, but also a call to be less judgmental to sexual assault survivors who don’t report their assaults.

Post: “Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault”