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College Sex Crimes

March 9, 2015

Some people have a really cynical take on the Governor’s campus safety initiative. They say that it’s poll driven.  They say that he’s weak with women voters, and that this was merely designed to win political support.

That’s a harsh view to which we don’t subscribe. Despite disappointments and frustrations with Cuomo, we still think he’s a human being and that this is indeed a matter that affects him on a personal level as the father of three daughters.

That said, policy, as a general rule, is best developed dispassionately and analytically.

But it’s hard to do with this issue. That’s because the second you begin to question the underlying premise, as you’re supposed to do, it can trigger a very negative response. You’re thought to be ignorant, insensitive, or worse, that you’re attempting to “blame the victim.”

Realizing this, we’ll try to proceed carefully. Begin with basic questions: Is there a problem on campuses? What’s the size and scope of the problem? What’s the trend line?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a matter that easily lends itself to statistical analysis. That’s because many incidents of sexual abuse aren’t reported. And when the incidents are reported, it’s often very difficult for campus security personnel and local law enforcement to sort them out.

Why is that? Well, we’re not talking about situations in which a young woman is walking down the sidewalk and is accosted by a stranger who drags her away. That’s a clear-cut matter for law enforcement.

We’re often talking about situations in which the individuals involved know each other and were socializing together. Not to be too graphic, but the specific situation is this: The woman was drinking with the man at a campus party. The woman agrees to go back to man’s dorm room. They woman agrees to engage in a certain level of sexual relations, but man goes further than she wanted or intended.

How does this get sorted out by law enforcement? Many times it turns on the woman’s effort to stop the situation. If she doesn’t say no forcefully enough and make it clear to the other individual that she does not want to proceed, it’s a difficult case to make. The added complication, of course, is that when inebriated, the woman may not have been able to say no.

What then? Well, this is another area where everybody needs to be educated, including law enforcement officials.

Back to Cuomo: To the extent the Governor’s effort focuses attention on this problem and helps develop better policies to educate men and protect women, it’s an extraordinarily positive thing.

But as is sometimes the case with Cuomo, a well-intentioned effort on his part may not translated into the best policy outcome. In this regard, advocates in the field, campus officials and lawmakers are expressing some reservations about his approach.

It’s said that in his PR events across the state, Cuomo is making sweeping statements that aren’t true. Rather than this being a situation in which every woman on campus is in immediate danger, this might actually be a narrower and more insidious problem. It’s said that the core of the problem is a small number of individuals who prey on women. These individuals look for women who are drunk and then take advantage of them. These repeat offenders are the ones who should be targeted.

It’s also said that Cuomo’s approach has procedural flaws that will discourage reporting of incidents – like forcing victims into confrontations with accusers. It’s said that Cuomo appears to wants to drive up statistics on prosecutions without regard to due process.

Most problematic, however, is that Governor and his people simply aren’t listening to suggestions for improving the bill. In fact, people who are close to the matter and really want to get something done are afraid that this is the SAFE Act all over again. The Governor has a very good idea, but he’s pushing too hard, too fast.  He needs to slow down and get it right.

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