An Opinion piece published some weeks ago on The Sundial Press criticised Sciences Po’s treatment of sexual assault. Respectfully, I disagree with the two problems the article identifies and the solution it proposes.
To begin with, it notes that sexual assault is inextricably linked to young men going through college. They regularly sing chants glorifying sexual assault and satirizing consent, and our own school is no exception.
While it is true that colleges environments can encourage men to sexually assault, this is not the only reason. The dionysian environments in which young men drink and party in order to seduce women is a huge contributing factor.
Alcohol is a dangerous substance: in cases of violent crime, there is a high chance that those involved are inebriated. Alcohol affects your care for consequences, along with your ability to consolidate memories.
One study found that students with unhealthy drinking habits were more likely to report being sexually assaulted. It also found that for a heavy-drinking male population, 8% committed sexual assault, and another 8% said they were not sure whether they had committed assault or not.
Bourgeois cultural norms do not help the problem either. Cultural critic Camille Paglia points out that women are expected to be pleasing, to not offend, and to not cause a scene. As a consequence, they are not taught to be as assertive in the conversations and interactions leading up to sex, and during sex itself.
A program called Flip the Script which taught women response mechanisms to and warning signs of sexual assault found that after the program, women stopped two thirds of attempted rapes, and were 46% less likely to be raped two years after the program finished.
Finally, there was counterculture movements of the 1960s, which upheaved most sexual rules and procedures. Before the revolution, college women had to check into their dorms at night while the men could roam free. Why? Because universities, acting in loco parentis, were charged with protecting women from rape and danger.
Baby boomers used the sexual revolution to rip off the seatbelt of morality and sexual procedure in exchange for sex whenever, wherever, and however. Then, women became equal: they had the same freedoms as men did, and could leave their dorms at night. At the same time, this demolished an age-old culture of men treating women as respectable human beings. It tilted the playing field heavily to one night stands and hook-ups.
Thus, sexual assaults can be traced back predominantly to alcohol overconsumption on campus, the pervasiveness of bourgeois cultural norms, and the 60s.
What should an administration do about this? Sciences Po has said that it will make sure a victim and assailant are not in the same class, and they also show the unrealistic Consent as Tea video to freshmen. Sciences Po, however, does not punish the perpetrator at all. These three things are inadequate, according to the aforementioned Sundial Opinion article.
But bringing the administration into students’ personal lives is not a good solution either. We need only look across the pond to the US and the effects of Title IX to see what the price is.
Title IX is an American law modified by Obama which mandated universities to set up shadow justice systems in order to better serve students who were sexually assaulted by other student on campus. As a result, many universities have workers dedicated to sexual assault who prosecute students for sexually assaulting others.
What was the cost?
It was the unfair and indefensible derailment of many student lives: 73.6% of America’s top 53 universities do not presume the innocence of the accused, which means a person’s career can be completely blown off course from an accusation coming out of nowhere by someone unknown.
For example, one male student was (consensually) roughhousing with his girlfriend when a rumor of sexual harassment was started by a nosy neighbour. The rumour eventually reached the ears of a Title IX officer. Even though the girlfriend had consented to his conduct, he was expelled. She was cast as the victim, lying for fear of reprisal.
Most universities do not allow you to keep legal counsel during the proceedings. But that is not the only procedural violation. At Harvard, for example, you do not have access to the evidence or a written notice of the accusations. You may have conflicts of interest from the fact finders or indeed no right to counsel and no right to appeal. Universities do not have the knowledge, the expertise, or the wherewithal to set up a parallel court system.
Furthermore, universities will always be more interested in avoiding bad publicity than they are in justice. They will likely discourage police involvement in order to appear as a safe campus. As I showed in the paragraph above, when they want to “appear” tough on sexual assault, they will do so by taking away the standards developed by real justice systems.
In conclusion, if you want to stop sexual assaults between college students, turning university administrations into punitive bodies never ends well. Instead, administrations should, if at all, focus on prevention programs, like Flip the Script, which do work. The rest is for us students: perhaps it is time we stage a sexual revolution of our own.
Are you angry? Do you disagree? Write a response column by first contacting the editor, and we’ll publish your dissenting opinion.
Eugene Fernandes is an opinion writer for the Sundial Press and an exchange student from UBC Okanagan. When he’s not scrolling through twitter or arguing with the person closest to him, Eugene can be found reading, snacking, sleeping, or trying to teach himself something new. His interests include baroque architecture, Jordan Peterson, and mango macarons. Dislikes include Postmodernism and bureaucracy.