“We will now deliberate and return with a guilty verdict.”
~Judith Draper, 3rd Rock from the Sun
On February 27th, the Canadian federal government published the 2018 Budget. Titled “Equality and Growth for a Strong Middle Class” the budget had the advancement of gender equality as one of its primary focuses and, unsurprisingly, sexual violence was addressed as an area requiring improvement under the guidance of federal leadership.
According to the budget, 41% of all reports of sexual assault in Canada come from students. $5.5 million over a five year period was proposed to be allocated to the department of Status of Women Canada in their work with provincial governments to improve university policies.
The stated goal was “towards developing a harmonized national framework to ensure consistent, comprehensive and sustainable approaches in addressing gender-based violence at post-secondary institutions across the country.” Following this statement is a vaguely worded threat: in 2019 and onwards, if Canadian universities are found to not be “implementing best practices addressing sexual assaults on campus,” offending campuses may have their federal funding cut.
This proposal follows the disastrous implementation of the United States “Dear Colleague” letter enforced in universities in 2014 and rescinded in 2017 after multiple lawsuits by male students who had been wrongfully expelled.
The Canadian budget states that one in four female university students will be victims of sexual violence on campus. It also references a recent “report card” published by a student group called “Our Turn,” which has rapidly branched out across Canadian campuses. The report card grades various Canadian universities on their existing sexual assault policies. A grade of C or less was issued to 8 of the 14 institutions evaluated.
Our Turn’s report card got media attention in October of last year. Their report is based on an analysis of sixty unique policies, conversations with victims of sexual violence as well as other students, and “experts” to determine what constitutes a good sexual assault policy.
It is surprising that Canada’s federal budget would put any weight on the statements of a student advocacy group while ignoring evidence from the US of how it will fail.
Our Turn’s “report card” is not an academic publication. It has not been peer-reviewed, and it is not the conclusion of neutrally conducted or government-funded research. The “grades” assigned to Canadian campus sexual assault policies are coming from a collective of student activists who, from the looks of it, are having some sort of influence on the government’s financial decision making.
Who are these Our Turn people, and what is it exactly that they are advocating? The National Our Turn Action Plan from 2017 reveals much about the group’s motivations, background assumptions, and objectives:
- The creation and implementation of an anonymous and third party disclosure form.
- Adoption of “a survivor-centred approach [that] requires all those who engage in sexual violence prevention and support programming to prioritize the rights, needs, and wishes of the survivor.”
- Acceptance that victims are anyone who may “choose to self-identify as a survivor.”
- Allowance for “alternative means of recovery” for complainants who don’t wish to speak with authorities or police.
- That universities create a process better than the existing legal system, which they feel “unfounds” too many complaints.
- That advocates and support people, like the members of Our Turn, be paid for their work.
- The final suggestion was for factions of Our Turn to advocate for “legislative reform at the local, provincial and federal levels of government.” (Which has obviously happened already.)
No matter how well intentioned the students behind Our Turn may be, most of the suggestions they offer for policy makers go completely against any recognizable definition of justice.
It is Our Turn’s position that campus sexual assault policies should function as an alternative to the criminal justice system. An accused person need not be determined to have committed a crime when the existence of a complaint is enough to deem someone a “survivor.” Allowing anonymous complaints shows a complete disregard for the need to even investigate the accusations at all.
A student could find himself expelled at the whim of an anonymous group, making third party reports based on gossip.
This is not a true alternative to the courts, as the goal is not the pursuit of justice or discovery of the truth. Rather, the system these activists intend to create has as its end nothing but mere complainant appeasement. Actual justice does not mean that people with a grievance gets whatever outcome they want.
Our Turn is gaining a following on campuses and having increasing influence largely because of the propagation of fear-mongering, and misleading statistics. In their 2017 book, The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process At America’s Universities, K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr. meticulously debunk all the misinformation surrounding the campus sexual violence hysteria.
Although the book references American cases and statistics in particular, Canadian advocacy groups like Our Turn cite sources that lead back to the same debunked data.
Johnson and Taylor hold that the primary “myth” behind the campus rape frenzy is that one in five university-aged women will be sexually assaulted – a myth that Barack Obama stated as fact during his presidency. To debunk this myth, Johnson and Taylor cite a survey regularly conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
The 2014 survey looks at the aggregated data from 1995 to 2013 finding that only 0.61% of female students are sexually assaulted per year. Contrary to common belief, this rate is lower than that for non-student women of the same age group, which is 0.76%. In both cases the finding is less than one percent.
The BJS data supports the rough estimate that 6 of every 1000 female students will be sexually assaulted (0.61%), not 200 of every 1000 (20%).
Both the authors of The Campus Rape Frenzy and the BJS survey admit that the numbers may not be completely accurate, as many cases of sexual assault go unreported or misreported. At the very least we can be sure the BJS survey had a sufficiently large sample: 160,040 respondents, constituting an 88% response rate and, as such, must be more accurate than studies with a smaller sample size.
The starting point for Our Turn’s policy recommendations, like the disaster of the Obama era “Dear Colleague” letter, hinges on acceptance that we live in a “rape culture.” Their “report card” references what Time Magazine called the “nation’s largest and most influential anti-sexual violence organization” rainn.org, numerous times despite RAINN’s rejection of the concept.
RAINN, in fact, warned the government:
“In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
Universities are not, and should not, be in the business of police work. Sexual assault policies are not an adequate substitution and should only outline what accommodations would be made for students involved in a criminal investigation.
It seems strange that activists, wanting rape to be taken more seriously, would be willing to settle for campus-level punishments for a perpetrator of sexual assault.
Through the system of sexual assault complaint handling proposed by Our Turn, actual rapists can, at most, be expelled as the result of a university-led investigation. But this would not remove the threat they may pose to other, off-campus members of society. Outcomes would be less than ideal in a case where a crime had actually occurred, and catastrophic in the case that it had not.
In the worst case scenario, innocent people will have their educational and career aspirations crushed, likely impacting their long-term employability. They will have a note of the incident on their permanent academic record, like a sex offender registry within the Academy. In the best case scenario, rapists will have more time on their hands to attack others after expulsion and will no longer be bogged down by their studies.
Universities should have a support system for students who have made complaints of sexual violence. That doesn’t mean universities should take over the role of police. For those complainants unwilling to engage with a formal, legal investigation, the university can give a referral to a school counselor. And, yes, those counselors should be both trained and paid for their work.
The federal budget should concern itself with enforcing the Criminal Code and fixing the overburdened court system. It is not a viable solution for the government to shift the court burden onto educational institutions under threat of defunding.
These activists, brainwashed by ideological professors, are installing their own version of what they think “justice” should look like. And when they achieve a 99% conviction rate they will trumpet that “success” as a model for judicial reform.
Curiously missing from these policies are mention of civil rights for the accused or consultation with the Criminal Lawyers Association.