Friday, September 30, 2016

Urge Your University to Preserve Dus Process

Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) is urging its supporters to write their alma maters about the worrying trend toward so-called "victim-centered investigations." I've written a letter to Penn's President Gutman laying out the case against this approach:

I am very concerned about the threat to due process rights and the presumption of innocence posed by the trend toward so-called "victim-centered" investigations, primarily being promoted in connection with accusations of sexual assault on college and university campuses.

By substituting partiality toward the accuser -- even to the point of deliberately refraining from gathering evidence in some circumstances -- this approach not only increases the likelihood of false convictions, but ultimately can only undermine the public's confidence in judicial processes, and make it more skeptical even of true accusations.

Indeed, inasmuch as the push for this approach is mostly restricted to the context of sexual assault investigations, it could end up making the public even less willing to believe these allegations than those of other crimes.

Please commit Penn to maintaining neutral fact-finding as the standard for all its judicial processes.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Metaphor Is Bad for Our Health

In a solicitation from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I found a reminder of an irritating practice of theirs that I'd always meant to comment on. I've just done so now in an email to them as follows:

I'm writing to express my disapproval of your use of the phrase "food porn." Clearly you are trying to convey the concept of food that tastes good but isn't good for you. Trouble is, that's not true of porn itself.

Despite generations of attempts to scientifically prove the "common sense"* that porn is bad for us, such evidence is essentially nonexistent, and sometimes it suggests just the opposite. Here, for instance, is a court brief debunking the idea that it's "harmful to minors":
http://www.fepproject.org/courtbriefs/ashcroft.pdf

And here's a study refuting the idea that the availability of porn lowers women's status: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3812808?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

This isn't a merely "academic" question. These false notions about porn have been used to justify restrictive laws and customs which, so far from protecting people, may well contribute to psychosexual problems and leave children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, as discussed by Judith Levine in her book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex.

*"What many people refer to as common sense is nothing more than a collection of prejudices accumulated before the age of eighteen." -- Albert Einstein

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Call on UC to Reverse Its Sexual Consent Catch-22

In a very disturbing development, the University of California system has adopted a new policy on adjudication of sexual assault complaints that compounds the erosion of civil liberties already brought by its "affirmative consent" standard.

Now, any non-consensual recording of a sex act, even if it's never shared with anyone, is considered a form of sexual assault. This may seem reasonable until one remembers that verbal agreement isn't considered proof of consent if the accuser claims they were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Since such influence isn't always obvious, this means the very act of attempting to create proof of consent could get someone accused of sexual assault.

This prospect looms even larger because of another change. UC is now abandoning adversarial process in favor of letting a single administrator hear and decide a case -- an administrator who may feel pressured to produce convictions to justify Title IX funding. The accused's only recourse is to appeal to a higher administrative body, which would have the same institutional bias as the original hearing officer.

This isn't only an assault on due process; it's also an assault on sexual freedom. While encouraging people to be comfortable talking about sex with prospective partners -- or anyone else -- is absolutely a good thing, trying to prescribe forms of consent in this way can only have an intimidating effect on people as they explore their sexuality, something that typically involves a good deal of anxiety already. Taken to its extreme, it could lead to involuntary abstinence for women and men alike. Accordingly, I've written UC President Janet Napolitano (president@ucop.edu) as follows:
Dear President Napolitano: I urge you to reverse the new policy concerning adjudication of sexual assault complaints at UC. It is unacceptable to give a single administrator, possibly under pressure to get "results" to justify Title IX funding, the power and responsibility to adjudicate such serious accusations -- especially when the new definition of assault covers the very recording that the affirmative consent standard makes necessary for proving innocence. This puts the accused truly in a Catch-22.
The option to appeal does not adequately address these concerns, since it would still leave the ultimate decision in administrative hands. We have already seen examples of universities' refusing to consider clearly exculpatory evidence on the technical grounds that the original trial was procedurally correct, as illustrated here: https://kcjohnson.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/amherst-complaint.pdf
Please restore adversarial process and the presumption of innocence without delay.
For further information on this issue, visit Stop Abusive and Violent Environments at http://www.SAVEservices.org

Here's an excellent piece by Wendy Kaminer on what's wrong with "affirmative consent" as  a legal standard.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Stop HB 262

Responding to a statement from Sex Worker Outreach Project-Philly, I've written my state representative, Stephen Kinsey, regarding an ill-conceived bill, as follows: "Please vote no on HB 262. It would do little or nothing to help victims of sex trafficking while creating many new burdens and risks for voluntary sex workers. See Sex Worker Outreach Project-Philly's statement here: http://swop-philly.com/2015/10/07/swop-philly-votes-no-on-hb-262/"

You can contact your state representative via this page: www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/member_information/mbrList.cfm?body=H&sort=alpha

Friday, November 1, 2013

Deny Deni Again

I wrote six years ago about the effort (unfortunately unsuccessful) to unseat slut-shaming judge Teresa Carr Deni from Philadelphia Municipal Court. Well, she's up for retention again next Tuesday, so I've moved that the Green Party of Philadelphia call again for a "NO" vote. The party endorsed my proposal and asked me to write a letter to the local papers. Here's what I submitted to the Inquirer and Daily News:

On Election Day next Tuesday, Philadelphia voters have the chance to take a stand against sexual violence and send a clear message that everyone's human rights must be respected.
Six years ago, in what the chancellor of the Bar Association called "an unforgivable miscarriage of justice," Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni threw out sexual assault charges in a multiple rape, at gunpoint and without protection, simply because the victim was a sex worker. Foreshadowing the recent outrageous comments of some politicians, she said to do otherwise would be a disservice to the victims of "true rape."
Judge Carr Deni has never repudiated her actions in this case. While she may prefer to forget the matter, Philadelphia voters have no reason to either forget or forgive. Let's all vote NO on Judge Carr Deni's retention November 5th.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stop Iceland from Banning Internet "Violent Pornography"

As recently reported on FetLife, the government of Iceland is considering a ban on online "violent pornography," in the name of protecting children from its putative harm, of course. You can read the UK Guardian article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/16/iceland-online-pornography.
And here's what I've written the Prime Minister of Iceland at postur@for.stjr.is:

Dear Minister:

I am greatly concerned by the news that you are considering a law to ban Internet "violent pornography" in the name of protecting children.

In the first place, contrary to your statements, there is no consensus among researchers about this alleged harm. Consider, for instance, this statement by US scholars: http://www.ncac.org/media/related/20011205~USA~Letter_to_AAP_Concerning_Media_Violence_Statements.cfm.

In the second place, this is unquestionably an issue of free expression. Efforts to "protect" children with computer algorithms have had notoriously imprecise results -- including, for instance, the censoring of any and all gay-positive material -- so the only way to implement such a law would be to use human screeners, guaranteeing that those screeners' biases would come into play. Even terms like "violent" or "hateful" are construed in very different ways by different people. What one woman may call misogynistic, another finds arousing.

Thirdly, this goes beyond the desire of lone individuals to view erotica on their computers. Many people network online on the basis of shared erotic interests, such as BDSM (bondage and discipline/dominance and submission/sadomasochism). I belong to one such network based in the US. I am appalled at the thought that Icelanders with similar interests would become unable to find one another if this proposed law went into effect.

With a view to protecting their civil rights, I am determined that if this legislation is adopted, I will not buy any products from Iceland.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tell Radio Stations to Take Rush Limbaugh Off the Air

I got this message yesterday from Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress. When I signed, I added the comment that slut-shaming is actually unacceptable in any context:


It was bad enough that Republicans in Congress wouldn't let Georgetown student Sandra Fluke speak about contraceptives at an all-male hearing...
But then Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute" for wanting to get reproductive healthcare for all women.  Here's just a part of what Limbaugh said:
LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.
It's time for Limbaugh to be taken off the air.  Click here to send a message to all of the PA radio stations carrying Limbaugh.  You can alsohear the audio of Limbaugh making his disgusting comments on the site.
Pleae take action and send this email widely.
Enough of Limbaugh and the Right's attacks on women!
https://secure3.convio.net/pn/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2063