George Will and Sexual Assault


James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Excellent post professor.

    The claim of being the victim of any crime is a “coveted status” is so out there to me that I don’t know where to start. I suppose you can argue that there is some Munchausen syndrome going on but that is the sign of Munchausen syndrome or a similar ailment. Not the sign that it is a coveted status or desirable to be the victim of a crime.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Three are always a small subset of people who make up stories of victimization for their own benefit, but it is rare for such stories to have long legs. Since the minds that fashion such stories tend to be severely disturbed, the stories are usually extraordinary, and develop inconsistencies with each re-telling.Report

      • Avatar DavidTC says:

        There probably is some amount of people, not a high amount of people but maybe a few percent, that claim crimes were committed against them that did not happen.

        In a hypothetical world where being the victim of a sexual assault actually had some sort of social cachet (Which is not this world.), women might indeed claim something happened in the past, much like how in the real world I’m sure some idiot men run around claiming to have fought off muggers or whatever.

        But that’s entirely irrelevant here, because those pretend crimes were never, in fact, reported. People don’t say ‘I will pretend to be a victim of a crime tonight, and go to the police and file a false report’. That’s completely absurd. They set their pretend victimization in the past, somewhere else where it would be hard to check.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    James, some block-quote problems?

    I very much like your explanation of assault vs sexual assault; and wonder: does delineating a specific definition of sexual assault give it some higher degree of wrong, as battery does?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      It ought to. Simple Assault can be just as simple as someone shouting a death threat (or catcall, were you to actually fear rape, I suppose) at you.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      some block-quote problems

      Thank you. Fixed now.

      As to your question, I think that would not automatically be the case, but would depend on whether different–harsher–penalties were attached. If I’m wrong, I hope one of our counselors will correct me.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Would it be too much to ask that we refer to George Will as “Mr. Will” going forward? I don’t know that we have an OT style guide, but every time I seem him referred to as “Will”, I think of “Will Truman”, and I’m sure our beloved Mr. Truman would bristle at being associated with some of the things Mr. Will has said on this topic. Maybe this is not necessary, but I thought I’d at least float it out there.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Excellent piece, professor. Particularly the piece on “desirability”. There was a time, maybe a decade or so ago, where I was concerned about the potential for rape and sexual abuse laws/statutes to be abused. It bothered me that were to a young man and young woman both get drunk at a dorm party and then have sex, only the former could be guilty of a crime. I was wrong about this, on a number of levels. And I’m sure it was no coincidence that the time frame during which I held this belief overlapped with the time frame during which I was a young man who got drunk at dorm parties. One of the ways in which I was wrong was assuming that women would make rape or sexual assault accusations willy-nilly; the idea that they would turn a regrettable hookup into a rape allegation. Has that happened somewhere sometime? Will it happen again somewhere sometime? Yes and yes. There will always be people who falsely report crimes for god-knows-what-reasons. But reporting a crime is rarely easy. And all of the evidence points towards reporting rape and sexual assault as uniquely difficult. No sane woman (or man, for that matter) wants to be a rape or sexual assault victim. They do not want to experience what goes into substantiating that status. Furthermore, whatever privileges might exist for those who have been given that status are almost surely outweighed by the negatives associated with that privilege — even after we account for the fact that they were raped and/or sexually assaulted. No sane woman is going to subject herself to the scrutiny, the humiliation, the mental anguish, etc. that comes with reporting a rape or sexual assault just because they regretted hooking up with some guy or wanted to stick it to someone who never called them back. And it is callous, demeaning, and a whole host of other things to think anything else is true.Report

  5. Avatar Francis says:

    /start lawyer pedant/

    There is a big difference between assault and battery.

    Battery is unwanted touching. (eg, battering ram, not assaulting ram).

    Assault is both (a) attempted battery (trying to punch someone in the back of the head and missing); and (b) creating fear of battery (making fists and getting up in someone’s face).

    The problem with (b) is that it is inherently subjective. So to prevent the minor aggravations that exist in modern society from becoming crimes, the law required that the conduct breach the ‘reasonable man’ standard — would a reasonable man be in fear of battery. An objective component was woven into the law.

    Back in the early 90s when I was going to law school, a major revolution in assault was occurring in both courts and legislatures. When a man threatened a woman, the woman’s fear was no longer adjudged by a reasonable man standard. It was instead judged by a reasonable woman standard. And it turns out that once you start putting women in jury panels, on the bench and in police forces that there’s a lot of conduct that used to be non-criminal becomes criminal. What’s a few slaps to the wife after a few drinks? Felony battery. What’s threatening to slap, especially if you’ve done it time and again in the past? Felony assault.

    Mr. Will seems to pine for the day that the law was nominally sexless, but instead actually written and interpreted for the benefit of men. (My wife recently got a judge to dismiss the pending prosecution of a woman for murder based on a battered wife defense. That was a good day in court, and only available once women’s reality of violence was recognized in the judicial system.)

    /end lawyer pedant/ [And since I’m dipping in 20+ year -old memories, apologies if any of this is wrong]

    There’s a really easy way for men (and women) not to commit sexual assault — obtain affirmative, enthusiastic consent each and every time. We must get way past “No means no” and get to “Only Yes means yes.”Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Totally. With the caveat that folks ought to be able to sign reasonable contracts specifying what “no” means (If you want it to be a safe word, fine. But spell it out in writing. Ditto if you want it to be some sort of nonverbal communication).Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      +1 @francis

      Tell your wife thank you, she does us proud.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Congrats to Ms. Francis for a powerful victory. That sort of dismissal is a tough motion to win, even in our “enlightened” age, so again, kudos.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Pedantry appreciated, counselor, especially as you cleverly corrected me while still supporting my general argument. 😉Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      That’s some extremely interesting legal pedantry/history about the “reasonable man” –> “reasonable woman” standard.

      The definitions make it sound like a lot of the crimes categorized as “sexual assault” (e.g., groping) would be more accurately described as “sexual battery”, since they involve physical contact.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      I think with regard to the unwanted touching, the word “Intentionally” seems to do a lot here. In that the offender can’t be brought up on charges for tripping, putting their hands out in front of themselves, and grabbing a pair of breasts or buttocks inadvertently (absent any evidence of the trip being an intentional pratfall for the sole purpose of copping a feel).

      Basically, if you can’t show intent, you have a long road to climb for the charge. If you can, you should be able to lay in assault.Report

  6. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Good post, James. It highlights one of the points that I found the most preposterous in the piece – the idea that there’s something wrong and overreaching with treating sexual assault short of rape as a crime.

    Your logic deconstructing the idea of “victimhood as a privileged status” is also excellent, especially:

    We understand that nobody desires to be a victim, except in the case of sexual assault, where–uniquely, it appears–we think women are coveting that status.

    I think you got at the heart of the sexist attitudes underlying George Will’s comment with that line.Report

  7. Avatar veronica d says:

    Thank you for writing this, @james-hanley .Report

  8. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    …a year from now the first of my three daughters will be preparing to head off to college.

    One wonders if George Will would have written this piece 15 years ago, when his own daughter was preparing to head off to college. And if she would have called him an idiot for doing so.Report

  9. Avatar notme says:

    So does anyone feel that Will’s critique of the statistics is incorrect? As for the critique of the liberal fetish of victim hood, he is right. Victim hood is a special status which entitles ones to privileges. It is a group identity which seems to be at the core of liberalism. If you are a victim it entitles you to control the discussion, you can stop others from taking part b/c or even discuss certain topics b/c you are the all knowing victim. Liberalism encourages folks to be victims.Report

    • Avatar Francis says:

      Yes, I think that Mr. Will’s critique is incorrect. But don’t trust me, go review the math for yourself here.

      As to your last sentence, it’s well known that Conservatism encourages folks to be self-righteous sociopaths. Self-righteousness “is a special status which entitles ones to privileges. It is a group identity which seems to be at the core of [conservatism]. If you are [self-righteous] it entitles you to control the discussion, you can stop others from taking part b/c or even discuss certain topics b/c you are [] all knowing.”

      Gee, I built a strawman. Look how pretty it goes up in flames!

      [victimhood=power is really one of the most tiresome conservative tropes going around, promulgated only by people who have never met any victims. Do you honestly think that the woman my wife defended liked getting beaten up on a regular basis?]Report

  10. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “What exactly is desirable in victim status?”

    Moral authority. “Don’t you presume to tell me anything about sexual assault! I’m a survivor of sexual assault! That means my arguments are inherently more valid than yours, and if you say I’m wrong about anything then you aren’t just disagreeing with me, you’re conducting a direct personal attack on a victim, you heartless Republican turd!”

    It’s the flip side of “you’d think differently if this had ever happened to you!” but it’s going to the same place; an argument that someone’s experience (or lack of it) constitutes unquestionably strong support for (or counter to) their argument.Report

  11. Avatar Glyph says:

    This is completely OT and irrelevant (IOW, pretty much like 99% of my comments), but I really like how the FP picture makes it look like George Will is sinisterly lurking around a corner.Report