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Pundits, Protests and Due Process

By on Nov 6, 2014 in Viewpoints | 3 comments

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Pulitzer Prize winning George Will, political pundit and right wing columnist, is an intelligent man and a man of conscience. He proved that to me when he reported about Nixon’s interference in the peace talks prior to the 1968 presidential election. The choice that year was between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon and it was a close race. Then President Lyndon Baines Johnson was in the process of brokering a cease-fire to end the Vietnam War and if he had been successful, the election may well have tipped to favor Humphrey. Nixon was afraid that his chance to win the election would be lost, so feeling in a bind, he sent word to the South Vietnamese to “hold on, we are gonna win”.[1] As a result, the peace talks ended and the war continued. Between 1968 and 1972, 20,000 US troops died and 100,000 were wounded. Without Nixon’s interference, the war may have ended and 20,000 lives may have been saved. There is no way of knowing what would have happened if Nixon had not put in his interfering thumb and pulled out the presidential plum. George Will is a conservative and a Republican but, when his president and party went too far, he was there to expose it. I admire George Will in many ways. He is a good journalist and writer. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know everything. He thinks he does but he’s wrong. His now infamous June 6, 2014 column on the subject of rape in colleges and universities is a case in point.[2] More on this later.

Right now I’d like to talk about George Will’s opinions as expounded in a June 19, 2014 interview with Brian Lamb of C-SPAN when he defended and expanded on his position.

Will said, “You’re going to have charges of sexual assault and you’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this — don’t get into medical school, don’t get to law school, all the rest — and you’re going to have litigation of tremendous expense as young men sue the colleges for damages done to them by abandonment of the rules of due process that we have as a society evolved over many centuries and are now in danger of casually shoving aside.”[3]

The rules of “due process” in regard to rape have indeed evolved over centuries. Unfortunately, they have evolved to protect the rapist, not the victim. The laws are designed to protect men from the possibility of scurrilous accusations by scorned women and I’m not saying this doesn’t happen but our rape laws were written by men, enforced by men and interpreted by men for centuries. That’s why they’re antiquated and that’s why they need changing. In fact, our laws and attitudes are remarkably similar to Roman times. The word rape comes from the Latin word, raptus, which also means theft. In other words, it wasn’t the victim who was violated; it was the head of household, the paterfamilia.

The Romans weren’t alone in this view. In the Hebrew social order virgin maidens were sold for fifty pieces of silver.

“What the father sold to the bridegroom was title to his daughter’s unruptured hymen, property he wholly owned and controlled. With a clearly marked price tag attached to her hymen, a daughter of Israel was kept under watch to make sure she remained in a pristine state, for a piece of damaged goods could hardly command an advantageous match and might have to be sold as a concubine.”[4]

Little changed over the ensuing centuries. By 1700, by interaction between the courts and the Parliament, the basic framework was laid. The law continued to be refined during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In order for rape to have occurred most of the following elements had to be present.

  1. The element of force—The complainant must fight almost to the point of death.
  2. The pregnant complainant—There is a popular misunderstanding that in order for conception to occur, intercourse must be accompanied by desire. Therefore if a complainant is pregnant, she must have enjoyed it and is therefore lying. In case there is anyone out there who still believes this, let me say that this is untrue.
  3. The Marital rape exemption—A woman cannot be “raped” by her husband. He received a right to sex when they married.
  4. Proof of emission of semen—Semen must be present either on the person or the clothing of the complainant.
  5. The moral character of the complainant—It would be best to be a pre-pubescent girl or a nun in order to prove virginity. Previous sexual experiences could be used against the complainant.[5]


” Most of our present-day laws are based on Mosaic Law (Moses), the Code of Hammurabi, etc. There was language in English Common Law that put into law men’s fear that women would lie about having been raped. There developed out of this fear a system of proofs to “guard” against women lying. To prove that she didn’t want this “sex” forced upon her she had to struggle, and to prove that she had struggled, she had to be physically damaged (torn, bruised, beaten, etc.) in addition to the rape. The violation of the rape was not counted. It only counted as a “real rape” if the victim was additionally “damaged.”

Two ugly things follow from this:

1) The rape itself was discounted. There was little recognition of the pain and torment caused by these forced acts of intercourse. Most people misunderstood rape as sex; how could there be “too much” sex they wondered.
2) If the victim had no other damage (besides the rape itself) in most instances the rape was not prosecuted.”[6]


And thus the double standard asserted itself in an early and powerful interpretation of the law and the “rules of due process that we have as a society evolved over many centuries”[7] that George Will is referring to evolved to protect the rapist not the victim. This is what he wants so much to protect.

The law needs to change and it has needed to change for a long time. In 1975 Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will which influenced changes in the law regarding rape, such as state criminal codes that required a corroborating witness to a rape, and that permitted a defendant’s lawyer to introduce evidence in court regarding a victim’s prior sexual history.

“Against Our Will was also revolutionary in its unprecedented citations of the sociological findings that dismantled the popular conception of the image of a rapist as someone exhibiting deviant behavior and inversely correlated frequency of rapists and socioeconomic status. The image of the rapist was not a lonely psychopath, but in fact an average boy.”

Did you notice that last statement? The face of a rapist is not a lonely psychopath; it is the face of an average boy. 1975 was 39 years ago and the changes while revolutionary were minor. What other changes have occurred to aid the victim of rape? The answer: none. Amazing, isn’t it? Except for a few changes that occurred after the Susan Brownmiller book, very little has changed since Roman times. I guess that is what George Will was talking about. He doesn’t want it to change.

Miami Protest

Photo is from Media Matters for America

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, George Will spoke at Miami University.
There was a protest. Why? According to a letter signed by 1,179 members of the Miami community, including 61 full professors, 86 associate and assistant professors, 7 chairs, 5 distinguished professors, scores of other faculty and staff members and many hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students,[8] George Will’s presence was offensive to many people on campus because of his views on rape as delineated in the June 6, 2014 column. The letter was sent to the university president, provost, board of regents and the dean of the business school requesting that the speech be cancelled. In part the letter said:

First, George Will implies that a drunken person is capable of consent. In his column he says that the “doctrine that consent of a female who has been drinking might not protect a male from being found guilty of rape.” The code of conduct at Miami and other schools is that “An individual cannot consent who is substantially impaired by any drug or intoxicant.”

Secondly he denigrates the “preponderance of evidence” standard that Miami and most universities use. Given the nature of sexual assault, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is an impossible standard that prevents many victims from getting justice.”

The third issue was with the now infamous phrase about the “coveted status of victimhood” that confers privileges on the rape victim. It is difficult for me to imagine how anyone would think that being a rape victim confers status. It confers shame, embarrassment, depression, problems trusting others, bad grades, and a decrease of self-esteem. It does not in any way confer status.

One of the reasons we need universities to adjudicate rape is because the legal system isn’t doing it. George Will accidentally misread the portion of the White House Report, RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT: A RENEWED CALL TO ACTION. George Will wrote:

“The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous.”

The President’s report clearly said, “on average only 12% of student victims report the assault to law enforcement.”[9] Will apparently doesn’t understand how statistics are generated. The 12% does not refer to the number of women raped. It refers to the number of women who reported it. It doesn’t say that 12% were raped and it doesn’t say that they didn’t report it. It means only that they didn’t go to the police. The 12% statistic comes from a survey done by the CDC, The Center for Disease Control. That reference was clearly available to him. He chose to ignore it. The statistic is that 12% of the women in the survey who said they were raped actually reported it. That’s clear to me and it should be clear to most people. The women in the survey came forward because they were promised anonymity and the practical assumption is that they answered truthfully.[10]

If the University handles the case, the he may at worst be suspended or expelled. I use the masculine pronoun because 98% of rapists are male.[11] Students are also expelled for plagiarism or for cheating. It’s not a bad result. Why would a victim prefer this? Maybe because she or he won’t have to sit next to the rapist in classes, have to watch the case ignored by the police, and by the prosecution. One in five women and one in seventy-one men are raped during their lifetimes. According to Rainn (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), only about 3% of rapists will ever serve a day in prison. Why so few? Because rape laws are designed to protect a male from being falsely accused. They are not designed to protect the victim.


Photo is from Media Matters for America

I was visiting Miami and attended the protest. George Will did speak and, depending on the source, either 200 or 500 people attended. If 500 attended then that’s a cost of about $100 per attendee (Will was paid $48,000). If only 200 attended, the cost goes up to $240 per attendee. I think it is interesting to note that about 200 people attended the protest outside the building where he spoke. Those at the protest didn’t cost the university anything. The protest was free. Who was better off for the time spent? The people at the protest learned a lot about various organizations that are active on campus and where they can go for counseling and help. I’ll name a few that came forward and identified their organizations that day along with their web addresses.

These are some of the groups who announced their presence at the protest. I regret I didn’t get all of them. I think those who attended learned that they are not alone, that there are others like them and that action is being taken on their behalf. A lot of people care profoundly about this issue. I think those outside the lecture hall doors had a deeper and far more fulfilling experience than those inside and it was cheaper. So, in a way, Miami University, thank you for inviting George Will. This is important dialogue and the opportunity for it could not have happened in any other way.


[1] and and Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair and the Origins of Watergate, by Ken Hughes, 2014.



[4] Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will.





[9], page 14.

[11] Ibid, page 9







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  1. Cathy

    November 7, 2014

    Post a Reply

    From a faculty member at Miami — thank you! We so appreciate the support. You have given an eloquent explanation of the problems and resistance that still faces people seeking justice for sexual assault.

    • hannahpowers

      November 8, 2014

      Post a Reply

      It’s a shame George Will so obviously skipped over the information methodically and carefully given by the White House about campus college and university rapes. Unfortunately George Will is believed. He should have gotten his facts straight before he commented publicly. He did not. It is obvious he got upset and immediately confused the statistics. I encourage him and all people to go back to the source. Read the article, Six Charts that Explain About Sexual Assault on Campus. The address is
      or go back to the original publication, Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action. You can find it at the following address,
      Please copy and paste in your browser. I’m unable to create hyperlinks in the comment section.
      Resistance coupled with misinformation is a huge bugaboo to understanding. I encourage everyone to get the facts.


  1. » Anatomy of UVA Rape Cover-up Or The Washington Post vs. Jackie Hannah Powers - […] [3] Please read my previous post, Pundits, Protest and Due Process. […]

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