I am writing in response to Professor J. Woods Halley’s letter on the sexual misconduct crisis.
First, the rate of sexual misconduct does not have to be on the rise for there to be a crisis. The rates of sexual misconduct are alarmingly high, no matter what source you decide to use. Anecdotes and statistics show sexual misconduct is common and pervasive. To claim otherwise is to be willfully ignorant. These cases are taking years to come to light because of the pressure, stress, strain, stigma and self-doubt victim-survivors experience.
Secondly, a common sense of human decency is not a new standard. What is new is men might finally start to be held accountable. People have known that requiring sexual favors for job advancement is wrong. People have known for a while that you shouldn’t touch someone sexually without permission. People have known for a while that using substances to impair judgment in order to get sexual benefits is wrong. The fact that these standards surprise anyone as new is shocking. Just because people could get away with it in the past doesn’t mean people didn’t know it was wrong. Decades of textbooks have covered the problems of repeated and harassing requests for dates, requiring sexual favors for job advancement, inappropriate touching, coercion, retaliation and more.
Thirdly, I find it interesting that Halley thinks an obligation to report sexual misconduct is going to create an environment of distrust. I know in many departments, there is an environment of hearsay around sexual misconduct. Is that a better way to do things?
I have twice reported sexual misconduct that was disclosed to me. I am glad I had that obligation because it took the onus off of me to decide whether or not I should report. The process that the Office for Equal Opportunities and Affirmative Action undertakes when someone makes a third party report is one I think the campus should become more familiar with because it will make the reporting obligation less scary. The EOAA sends a letter to the affected individual with resources and an offer to meet if that person would like. It is simple — it says the institution is here and it gives the reporter at least some sense that they did something.
The campus should be trying to combat rape culture. We should redesign the conduct process for faculty so they go through a panel of members of the campus community like students do for the imposition of sanctions. We should educate on consent, sexual health and healthy relationships, and push our K-12 system to do so as well. We should have a serious conversation about toxic masculinity. We should recognize and combat the intersections of sexual misconduct and racism, heterosexism, cis-sexism and ableism. We should push the University of Minnesota to go further, rather than asking them to do less. The email Halley received was correct — we have a sexual misconduct crisis.
This letter has been slightly edited for grammar and style.
Nicholas Goldsmith is a University of Minnesota Ph.D. candidate in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.