By Lily Zheng
Justice Delayed is Justice Protected, a piece written by Brandon Camhi and published in The Stanford Review late last month, argues against the changes to Stanford’s sexual assault policy proposed by the ASSU. Among the major points raised in the article were the arguments that the ASSU reform proposal pushing for default expulsion for rapists is too harsh, and that Stanford’s Alternate Review Process is biased against the accused.
While each of these individual arguments seems to hold some truth, the article itself seems motivated by a fear of false accusations of rape. This article, while superficially claiming that “sexual assault is a terrible crime” and that “Stanford should do whatever it can to assist victims,” makes no effort itself to promote alternative solutions to what it identifies as a problem, and only superficially engages Camhi’s concerns with the existing conversations.
Camhi argues against default expulsion for students convicted of sexual assault on the grounds that “the combination of default expulsion and the low standard of proof in these cases coupled with high levels of public pressure to investigate assault significantly endangers students accused of sexual assault.”
Though Camhi no doubt wishes for punishment for rapists, the “danger” he mentions refers to the idea of false accusations, a fear that is widespread among many in our society. Why else would a Stanford student be “endangered” by pressure to investigate assault? Camhi appeals to our conception of the innocent (male) student, falsely accused by a malicious woman, who is saddled with the ultimate punishment: expulsion. False accusations, Camhi suggests, endanger Stanford students.
Yet, these fears are hugely overblown. 95% of college women do not report their rape victimization to police; at least 90% (a low estimate) of all reports to the police are valid. While these statistics cannot be so easily combined, it becomes apparent that the overwhelming majority of accusations of sexual assault are real and that rape is underreported. Given these numbers, Camhi’s concern with false accusations fails to correspond to the statistics surrounding the issue, or may even be motivated by other reasons. As Belknap (2010) puts it:
“Determining whether rapes are ‘real’ is intensely entangled in rape myths that blame victims, excuse rapists, and erroneously support that false rape claims are a common problem. Even recent research (Cohn, Dupuis, & Brown; Franiuk, Seefelt, Cepress, & Vandello; Norton & Grant; Orenstein) indicates that adherence to rape myths is strong and very damaging to rape victims’ experiences and decisions of whether to report to officials. For example, the media frequently portray date rape complainants as ‘lying, vindictive shrews’ and date rape defendants as ‘folk heroes— innocent boys tragically charged by vindictive women.’”
Camhi also makes an argument concerning the Alternative Review Process. Training for ARP panelists and other Stanford staff is provided by the Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness, an organization that Camhi calls “biased.” Citing information available on its website and noting that one characteristic of abusers – that they often “act persuasive and logical” – Camhi expresses his outrage over “a training system…[that] is preposterous at best.” Camhi takes one of eight listed characteristic of abusers and mistakenly concludes that ARP panelists are trained to view logic as indicative of guilt, apparently failing to read the section labelled: “How to screen for perpetrators.”
This is a groundless and almost comical assertion. In any situation where a number of symptoms or pieces of evidence contribute to a diagnosis or a conviction, it is the combination of these differing criteria that leads to a conclusion. “Loss of energy” is a symptom of depression – does that mean that after a long hike, because I feel tired, I must be depressed?
Camhi’s article hinges on the assumption that we should offer more protections to the accused. He implies that the accused are often innocent; while he states that “Stanford should take the lead in advocating for reforms…that will enable victims to pursue justice,” he seems completely unwilling to participate in these reforms, except as a dissenting voice. Challenging the status quo threatens to topple long-held gendered, institutional and systemic ideas that have historically protected the abusers and silenced the victims. For this reason, Camhi’s arguments are unconvincing. His article refuses to interact with the voices, narratives, experiences and dialogues surrounding sexual assault on campus – rather, it aims to silence and derail existing ones.
Haven’t we all had enough of that?
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.