Senator John McCain is the latest conservative politician to complain that the Department of Justice has "redefined the meaning of sexual harassment" at U.S. universities by cracking down on Title IX violations that protect students from intimidation and assault — and he and his cronies think that's a bad thing.
When former University of Montana student Kerry Barrett reported an attempted rape to the cops, she was asked if she had a boyfriend, informed that most rape reports are false, and told "not to expect much." She was one of numerous UM students who struggled to report sexual assault during the 2012 academic year, prompting a Justice Department investigation into how both university officials and local police handle sexual assault allegations.
Last May, both the Missoula Police Department and the University of Montana reached an agreement with the DOJ in which they promised to take sexual assault cases more seriously via a set of policy reforms, one which defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome contact of a sexual nature.” The vague definition is meant to encourage students to come forward; the government has said over and over again that only harassment deemed "sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent such that it denies or limits the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program" will be penalized. Still, some conservatives are more concerned with eradicating hypothetical fake harassment accusations than protecting people from being harassed. Who will protect creepy, manipulative predators from the students who want to bring them down??
Think Progress has a good (scary) roundup of ridiculous op-eds ranging from “No Sex Talk Allowed” and “The De-Eroticized University” (!!!) to “Federal Title IX Enforcers Effectively Define Dating and Sex Education as ‘Sexual Harassment.’" Now John McCain is jumping on the fallacious bandwagon in a letter he sent to the DOJ last week criticizing the University of Montana-Missoula Title IX agreement:
Without congressional authorization or even any formal agency rulemaking, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and a group of lawyers in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division have single-handedly redefined the meaning of sexual harassment at all universities and colleges across the country that receive public funding.
According to the Civil Rights Division’s Letter of Findings, DOJ now defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” DOJ also requires that universities immediately take actions against students accused of harassment before the completion of any investigation. DOJ’s new interpretation of sexual harassment and its suggested disciplinary procedures are direct hindrances to students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights as well as their right to due process.
Here's just one of the concerned Senator's thoughtful questions:
Could the following scenarios constitute “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” and demonstrate reasonable grounds for filing a sexual harassment complaint under the new definition:
a. A professor assigning a book or showing a movie that contains content of a sexual nature.
b. A student who makes a joke of a sexual nature to a friend and is overheard by another student.
c. A student asking another student on a date.
d. A student listening to music that contains content of a sexual nature overheard by others.
e. A student giving another student a Valentine’s Day card.
f. A student or professor using masculine terms for generic pronouns (e.g., “Each student must bring his own laptop to the exam.”)
Do you ever hear about students claiming harassment after receiving an innocuous Valentine's Day card, getting politely asked on a date, or overhearing an Odd Future song? Of course not, because it doesn't happen, because it's not super fun and chill to report sexual harassment and assault. That's why even victims of serious incidents are unlikely to come forward; their peers and superiors are often involved, they know they won't be taken seriously, and they don't want the stigma associated with sexual harassment whistleblowing. Politicians should be more concerned that the DOJ's new guidelines are being implemented instead of fretting that students are taking advantage of them for kicks.
Image via AP.