Thigh-High Politics is an op-ed column by Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca that breaks down the news, provides resources for the resistance, and just generally refuses to accept toxic nonsense.
In an interview with The New York Times published last Wednesday, the Department of Education’s top civil rights official, Candice Jackson, discussed her plan to protect those accused of campus rape and sexual assault, saying that “the accusations — 90% of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.’” Jackson, who is herself a survivor of sexual assault, later apologized for the statement, but she did not back down from her assertion that colleges need to do more to protect the rights of alleged rapists. This advocacy for the accused comes in spite of the fact that the highest estimate of false reports is 8%. But in a world of gross injustice, where accused rapist Brock Turner spent less time in jail than kids spend at summer camp, are we surprised?
The explosive response has included Senator Patty Murray calling for Jackson’s resignation. But this is indicative of more than the “usual” verbal gaffes coming out of the White House (of which there are many). Jackson’s self-admitted “flippant” remarks are further reflected in her proposed agenda, as the Department of Education considers reducing federal guidelines that dictate the way colleges respond to accusations, as well as potentially no longer publishing the list of universities under investigation. Egregiousness be damned: Education secretary Betsy DeVos actually consulted with men’s-rights groups on this issue.
Men need to do their part to stop sexual assault. But in addition to working under a blatantly misogynistic president, the Department of Education is moving to institutionalize victim-blaming by emboldening accusers in a system that is already set up to protect them.
This ought to be painfully obvious: There is simply no incentive for colleges to aim for conviction. All schools have a vested interest in maintaining a positive reputation through which to recruit as many applicants as possible. It follows that schools have a financial motive to not only avoid prosecution, but to conceal all knowledge that a sexual assault ever even occurred. Overall, as public awareness of the frequency of campus sexual assault grows, there may be even more pressure to regard reports of sexual assault as a public relations issue. Instead of having compassion for victims and protecting other students, universities are working desperately to avoid being labeled as “the rape college” through the same fastidious pruning with which they maintain their brochure-ready landscaping. The accused are not the ones in need of advocacy here.
The implications of Jackson’s views could be truly devastating not only in terms of how they impact future cases, but also for all of the victims who will be further dissuaded from reporting an incident — already a staggering 88% of women who experience sexual assault do not come forward, according to one study. Through the gender equity law known as Title IX, the Department of Education is one of the few tools through which those victims may be emboldened to fight against their college’s suppressive policies. The so-called “Dear Colleague” letter, sent from the Department of Education in 2011, explicitly insisted on schools’ responsibility to protect students from a hostile environment due to gender discrimination and emphasized the administration’s right to enforce the law. Under DeVos’s rule, that progress toward accountability may very well be reversed.
Jackson purports that schools are too aggressive in their hunt for convictions, while history proves that the exact opposite is true. No one deserves to be wrongly accused, but the reality is that false reports should not register as a statistically relevant concern for the Department of Education. There is a ton of fear-mongering by men in power who have publicly fought their accusations in this regard, but little evidence beyond that discredited Rolling Stone story, and, I don’t know, the fact that Chaz from the football team says he didn’t do it. While the Obama-era focus on enforcing Title IX has increased victim protection in recent years, Jackson’s assertion that any university would be biased toward the victim is patently illogical.
That the White House is actively working to dismiss the credibility of sexual assault victims on college campuses is both totally horrifying and perfectly in keeping with the current administration’s seeming inability to view women as human beings. Look no further than the president himself, who has repeatedly proven that he sees women as objects to be gawked at and grabbed by any man who feels so entitled. In response to being accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, Trump has dismissed his accusers by insisting they wanted it, or implying they were not attractive enough to deserve an attack in the first place. Dismissing 90% of rape and sexual assault cases under “the category of ‘we were both drunk’” is yet another way to increase the impossibility of conviction in a system that already refuses to believe women, and it’s straight from the playbook of America’s groper-in-chief.
Much ink has been spilled on the potential impact of having a self-identified predator in the White House. It is a shameful mark on the American electorate that we could elect this man to our highest office based on his sexual misconduct alone, and his misogynistic statements shouldn’t be written off as mere gaffes. Trump’s Department of Education is inextricably linked to his grotesque normalization of “locker room talk,” and Jackson and DeVos are now working under his guiding philosophies, unabashedly sexist and otherwise. The reach of their power means their comments will induce not only outrage, but potentially significant, dangerou
s change that risks students’ physical safety, while actively discouraging victims from coming forward.
We can sit back in our armchairs and debate mass cultural effects, what the president’s disgraceful personal history means about condoning assault, if he means the awful things he says, or whether that makes any difference, but make no mistake about this: If Jackson is able to pursue her agenda, Trump’s disregard for women’s bodies will become public policy.
Things to Read:
Take a long, hard look at The New York Times‘s most recent interview with Trump, which is perhaps most accurately described as a word salad from hell.
Be sure to read our breakdown of the problematic laws Trump has passed during his first six months in office, including legislation that makes your Internet browsing history available to big corporations.
The GOP health care bill is temporarily dead, but the fight is far from over. Check out this piece from The Nation on what’s next for Obamacare.
Things to Do:
Run. For. Office. Or at least think about it? These resources from Emily’s List are a good place to start.
Call your representatives and let them know your thoughts on the Department of Education’s policies, maybe starting from an easy-to-use database like 5 Calls.
Keep an eye out for protests around the issues that matter to you, or think about putting together one of your own. Here’s our guide on how to organize a march or rally.
Related: But His Emails! The Donald Trump Jr. Revelations Make It Impossible to Dismiss the Russia Scandal
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