The powers that be at Oxford are determined to ignore the special challenges of sexual aggression among students, staff, and faculty. Now, the discourse is being shut down by a one-sided press and public hatred.
A few days ago, the police called Ben Sullivan, president of the Oxford Union, and informed him they would not be charging him with rape, after having arrested him on that suspicion last month.
The national press has since gone on a shouting spree about how awful it is that this innocent young man has been through “six weeks of agony” as the result of what they are casting as a false accusation. Sullivan began once again stumping for his future political career by saying the law should be changed to allow anonymity for all those accused of rape (but not murder or assault or burglary). (In the “mobile” press, this suggestion is translated as: “Men facing rape claims should have the right to anonymity, says Oxford Union.”) Privileged males are arguing online that Sullivan should be able to sue his accuser for slander.
“Those who accused Ben Sullivan should be named. Why can’t he sue them for slander and/or libel?. . . For a woman (and it is mostly women) it is a risk free way to ruin someones [sic] life. That is wrong plain and simple.” Andy, commenting in The Spectator
If someone makes an accusation of this gravity then I think it incumbent upon the system to take some action if the accusation falls apart . . . Whether that be a slander or libel charge is irrelevent [sic]. What is important is that spurious allegations like that just cannot be allowed go unpunished.” Tom, responding to Andy, in The Spectator
None of the press reports makes the important distinction between “innocent” and “not enough evidence” that was pointed out by a reader from Qatar:
“For Sullivan to have been arrested, there would have needed to [be] some evidence of a crime having taken place. Not prosecuting doesn’t mean a crime didn’t take place, it means the Director of Public Prosecutions thinks it’s unlikely a guilty verdict can be won. This decision will only have been taken once the prosecutors have gone thorugh all of the evidence. How does this mean a crime didn’t take place?” –RJW, writing from Doha
The interlocutors in this pile-on are simply refusing to acknowledge the well-documented difficulty of prosecuting rape cases in the UK even when there is substantial evidence.
“And what has ‘convictions rates’ got to do with anything? . . . maybe there aren’t as many rapes as the rent a mob want you to believe.” Andy, again.
Guys writing online refuse to listen to the facts about rape in the UK. I am hopeful that the bright, caring, and worthy young men I have known at Oxford will lead more responsibly than these readers would have them do.
Indeed, I am shocked to see, across the press reports and the responses online, a general disdain for official government reports showing the rate of rape in the UK is high, the number of convictions is low, the main barrier to justice is the overwhelming harassment of victims (not defendants), and the frequency of false accusations is miniscule.
The myth that all rape charges are baseless attempts by frivolous women to ruin a man’s good reputation has slammed firmly back into place. The return of the rape-is-not-a-real-crime stance has further stimulated serious hate speech, such as yesterday’s outrageous Daily Mail column by Jan Moir entitled, “Shame On She-Furies Who Always Assume Men Are Guilty of Rape.” Moir savages the students who tried to organize a Union boycott in order to focus attention on the wider question of sexual violence at universities (not substitute for a trial, as Ms. Moir leads her readers to believe) . Despite the hateful title and use of inflammatory language (calling the Union boycott a “witch hunt” and casting Sullivan as “a patriarchal cherry on the cake”), Ms. Moir makes a few well taken points. But her readership responded as if she had given them permission to air every ignorant prejudice they hold about women. It is this stuff that tells us why so few British women actually ever come forward about rape:
. . .if you are accused of a ‘sex’ crime you are not innocent til PROVEN guilty. You are guilty and a different set of laws apply. They want to humiliate you and scrape over every action you have ever taken regardless of relevance and convict you in the court of public conviction. Once convicted you will be treated with more contempt than murderers. It has to be one sided and if the convictions don’t come then we must lower the bar until they do. –Tony, from London
Well yes the police actually require a little thing called evidence and proof. I know that can get in the way on the crusade against men by the feminazis parade. . . .–Jimmy Widdle
Moir herself begrudgingly concedes that this kind of public outburst “makes it a tiny bit more difficult for women who have suffered a sex attack to come forward, for fear they might not be believed.” To his credit, Ben Sullivan exhibited a more gracious attitude: “I don’t doubt the organisers of the boycott have very good intentions and I do agree that sexual violence is a very serious problem at Oxford and other universities.”
Interestingly, the press are only alluding indirectly to the class issue underpinning the disproportionate attention to and very careful treatment of this case: they say Ben Sullivan went to a £22,000 a year prep school, St. Paul’s in London. This repeated observation, which in every case seems to come out of nowhere, is British codespeak for “This young man came from a rich and powerful family who could afford expensive lawyers.”
Sullivan makes much of how horrible this experience has been for him and his powerful family (and I am certain they have been through a nightmare no family could endure easily). The press obediently quotes him, but never even considers what this experience has been like for the accuser and her family. Having a daughter who you think has been raped is a horrible experience, at least as bad as having a son accused as a rapist. As a parent, you will believe her and you will bleed inside over this violence against your child. Now, this victim’s parents are also having to protect their daughter from a hostile public environment where she is being recast as a malevolent liar–with no one save the police having seen any of the facts of the case. Their daughter will likely be traumatized by this experience for years. Though the press wrings its hands over the potential damage to Sullivan’s future, he is strong enough at the moment to be grandstanding.
Female students will no doubt think twice before reporting sexual aggression after this public display. I wonder: how do all these ravings against victims help keep our daughters safe? No one seems to care about that right now.
The everyday world of sexual violence is perpetuated by such one-sided discussion. The ill-fated Union boycott tried to open a two-way conversation during the window of attention brought by the Sullivan case. Officials at Oxford took the stance that no one should talk about the issue until the case was resolved. Now it is resolved and we can see what always happens: a whirlwind of shame is blown up around the accusation and the entire topic is driven underground.
The window now has shut on having a dialogue about protecting female students from sexual aggression. Once again in place is the conventional wisdom that young men who attempt sexual violence against their classmates are actually being unfairly attacked by calculating tarts. Female students being harassed or otherwise victimized will learn the core lesson: shut up or else.