With respect to Sunday’s appalling New York Times op-ed making a series of disingenuous excuses for a rapist, Amanda found a Harvard Crimson article that details the faculty debate on the subject:
What some did have trouble with, Faculty in attendance said, was determining degrees of consent and miscommunication between Douglas and the woman he assaulted last spring.
In particular, some still had questions about the force with which the woman refused Douglas’ advances–whether she sent nonverbal signals which may have blurred any clear message about consent.
What we have here, essentially, is a genteel version of the “she did not present herself wearing a bonnet and crinolines” argument. Apparently, if a woman stops short of cutting off someone’s scrotum, there’s some measure of ambiguity–sure, every action taken by the woman in this case suggests that she did not consent, and nothing on the record suggests that she did consent, but…who knows, maybe her eyes were saying “yes yes yes” while her mouth was saying “get the hell out of my room!” Other than unfalsifiable nonsense, I fail to see where the ambiguity lies here:
Instead of “miscommunication,” the court documents reveal a situation in which the woman continually told Douglas to leave her House, her suite and her bed. Before entering her room, Douglas “slammed her against the wall” and began kissing her, even though she “told him to leave [and] was struggling to get away from him.” His advances continued even as she repeatedly told Douglas to leave and tried to push him off her bed.
The quality of the arguments inventing “ambiguity” out of pure nothingness are about what you’d expect:
Ryan said yesterday that some Faculty felt the woman’s behavior had created an ambiguous situation prior to the assault.
“There might be other forms of communication.It was the kind of non-verbal communication that might have caused some sort of confusion in the mind of the young man,” she added.
Other administrators confirmed that the debate focused mainly on gradations of consent.
“Most of the main points were not in dispute,”President Neil L. Rudenstine said. “It was really a question of how to weight the different pieces.”
Another senior administrator said that some professors still viewed this as a “hazy” situation. “It was friends who were together,” the administrator said. “He may have assumed one thing and she another.”
He said that several people supporting the requirement to withdraw held the position “that it was consensual,” the senior administrator added. “I think it was a substantial element of [their case].”
The first problem here is the classic problem of justifying date rape–the silly and extremely dangerous assumption that since were friends, there clearly must be some kind of implied consent. (Personally, I’ve been on dates where the woman I was out with clearly had no interest whatsoever in pursuing sexual relations. Shocking, I know!) In the real world, you are more likely to be raped by someone you know in any case, and knowing someone before the fact doesn’t imply the slightest consent to sex. But in addition to the fact that this is wrong on its face, it’s a highly misleading portrayal of the situation. The claim that it was “friends who were together” and hence “hazy” ignores the fact that she had been out with someone else and he insinuated his way into their outing, and that he entered her room against her consent.
Obviously, it’s good that a strong majority of the faculty rejected these kind of arguments. But the fact that a number of Harvard faculty members were willing to strain so hard to invent reasons to mitigate the inexcusable is a good demonstration of the prevalence of rape myths within society.