India, land of bride burnings, has more progressive rape laws than we do. Surprise!

Apparently, the Indian Supreme Court has decided that a victim’s testimony is sufficient to convict a rapist and that no further corroboration should be required. From now on Indian women who have been raped will (supposedly) not have to prove that they broke a constant legal state of consent when they go to court. The Indian Supreme Court, you see, has decided that the trauma involved in going through the investigation and trial will most likely weed out any false accusations. There must not be any MRAs in India. From the article:

“She would be conscious of the danger of being ostracised by society and when in the face of these factors the crime is brought to light, there is an inbuilt assurance that the charge is genuine rather than fabricated,” the bench said.

It also said that the deposition of a rape victim must enjoy the same level of court’s confidence that the testimony of an injured person enjoys about the physical assault.

The bench held that even if a court is not able to believe the deposition of a rape victim, it should at best seek some evidence to assure itself of the deposition, instead of seeking independent corroboration.

You hear that? In India they afford rape victims’ testimony the same weight they give to that of assault victims. What a revolutionary idea.

I know India is a vastly different country than the US, and I know that there are serious social and financial consequences attached to admitting (Hear that? ADMITTING!) to having been raped, since doing so means admitting one is not a virgin (that such a thing is a concern is a problem in and of itself), but I find the legal reasoning behind this decision to be of interest considering the fact that in our own legal system 6% or less of rapes end with the rapist receiving any punishment.

I suppose I’ll start calling India a feminist utopia when we no longer hear of bride burnings, sati, dowries, and the fact that women are ostracized for having “lost their virginity” by being raped, but, on a few fronts, they’re still making us look bad.

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Calculating risk: Should we avoid men?

Allecto has a post up that has gotten me to thinking. I used to watch To Catch A Predator with a friend, and we often speculated about the general male population and what percentage of them might be the kinds of guys we saw on the show. We came up with a 25-10-5 percent scheme, in which we surmised that 25% of men, if they were presented with the opportunity and were reasonably sure they wouldn’t get caught, would have sex with an adolescent girl, that 10% of men were one life crisis away from getting on the internet to seek out an adolescent girl to have sex with, and that 5% of men are currently on the internet seeking such. Real scientists, I know. We then went to Central Park and watched men walk by, trying to decide if they were 25, 10, or 5 percenters (not capital F, capital P Five Percenters). I admit that the whole thing was more about our own warped idea of humor than anything else, but I’ve started giving it more serious thought recently.

I’m generally not afraid of dudes, but I’m a 30-year-old woman at this point and I have yet to be mugged (I’m sure I’m up soon). That might be because I try to avoid getting into situations in which men can harm me, meaning I don’t hang out alone with dudes I don’t know very well. But I can think of about a zillion examples of times when dudes’ behavior has frightened me, whether harm came of it or not, and I’m generally more likely to feel threatened by men’s weird behavior than women’s.

I can already predict that there will be men who take offense to my bringing this subject up, but I’m going to have to ask them to calm down and think about what I’m saying, which is not that all men are dangerous, just that men are statistically more likely to be than women, especially toward women. I’m not arguing for any specific course of action, or for anything really, but rather exploring the idea of how we can know just how many men are dangerous, how we can figure out how to avoid the danger that some men pose, and what kinds of precautions are necessary and/or reasonable to take.

I know I often say that women shouldn’t have to alter our behavior to avoid being hurt by men, but I’m aware enough of how things work to know that, for now at least, that’s wishful thinking. Until the whole world listens to me and we raise an entire generation of people who treat each other like human beings, thus creating ourselves a little Nine Deuce-topia, I’d like to come up with a risk assessment and minimization plan.

What percentage of men are dangerous? Could it really be as high as 25%? More? How do we formulate such a statistic? We’d first have to figure out what “dangerous” means. I’d say it ought to include sexual predators of all stripes (and that includes men who coerce sex), domestic abusers, and men who are generally violent and abusive. How do we figure out, then, how many men have one or more of these tendencies? The only way I can think of to even attempt to get at such a figure would be through crime statistics, which would give us a very low figure that wouldn’t take into account all of the unpunished abuses that occur. We could use whatever logarithm government agencies use to figure out how many more crimes take place than are reported, but I still think that’d leave us with a lowball because a lot of abusive behavior exists in the “gray area” that the law can’t (or — more accurately — won’t) deal with (verbal abuse, sexual assaults that don’t leave evidence, etc.). Of course, not all men who pose a risk will abuse in all circumstances, so I guess we’d also have to figure out what kinds of men are dangerous in what kinds of situations.

I’ve gotten a lot of grief lately from people who think my rape law suggestions make the assumption that all men are rapists, but I’ve never made such a claim. I know not all men are rapists because I happen to know at least 5 that I hang out with regularly that have never raped anyone. I DON’T HATE MEN. I think most men are assholes (fuck, I think most women are assholes), but I don’t hate all of them. I honestly don’t really hate anybody (except maybe Diablo Cody and Chris Martin). This isn’t a discussion of whether men are evil, it’s a discussion of mathematical probabilities.  Just based on my own life experiences, I’d say that at least 1/4 of dudes (out of the probably thousands I’ve met) have had the potential to be threatening and/or aggressive enough to be considered abusive. Not good odds.

Could a quarter or more of men pose a potential risk to vulnerable women and children? If so, is it really all that unreasonable to avoid strange men or to avoid leaving children alone with men? Everyone has probably heard about airlines instituting policies in which single men will not be seated next to unaccompanied minors on planes. Is that unfair? I suppose if I were a dude who wasn’t dangerous it might bother me, might make me feel like I was being looked askance at. It might make me feel like I was being accused of something I didn’t do. It might feel like I was… a black guy or something. But is that really more important than women and childrens’ safety?

Like I said, I’m just sort of wondering aloud how we’d ever be able to calculate what kind of risk exists and figure out how to protect ourselves. Does someone with a more scientific education than I’ve got have any ideas?

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What about the poor rapists?

From the Cry Me A River Department, I’ve just heard that a Georgia Tech football player, Jerrard Tarrant (could we get a few more r’s in there, buddy?), has been accused of rape and that people who give a shit about college football think it isn’t fair. Somebody call the wahmbulance.

You might ask how I, a sports-hating media-avoider, heard about a case such as this.  I mean, among what I assume are the thousands of cases of athletes who have been accused of rape, how did I hear about this one? I was driving down Ponce de Leon here in Atlanta, minding my own business, when I ran headfirst into the most egregious example of misogyny I’ve seen since, like, at least two days ago. I turned on some FM radio station in an attempt to avoid listening to Sean Hannity or whatever super-obscure band’s CD that Davetavius had left in the CD player, and I came across a talk radio show in which two people, a man and a woman, were discussing the case.

They weren’t discussing the details of what had happened, the problem of college and professional athletes’ extreme egotism and disregard for the law, or the difficulty a rape victim faces when her attacker happens to be (somewhat/a little/locally) famous. They were talking about how shitty the whole thing must be for poor Mr. Tarrant. That’s right.

They spent probably a half an hour discussing the different aspects of how unfair the whole thing was to Tarrant and not one second discussing the fate of the accuser. First they talked about how unfortunate it was that Tarrant, some kind of big deal or other as far as football goes, would be suspended for an entire season. It would suck for him because it’s coming right in the middle of his rise to college football stardom, and it would suck for Georgia Tech because it’d put their team at a disadvantage this season. They also pointed out that it would make Georgia Tech look bad in comparison to Georgia, because I guess Georgia’s had their fair share of scandals involving Natural Ice-saturated ‘roid monkey players tearing up bars, kicking people’s asses, raping people, and stealing shit, and there’s some sort of rivalry going on between the two schools over that and whatever other bullshit makes people who didn’t go to college give a fuck about one school or another. I know people in the South are a little fruity about their college football, but is the most important thing here really whether or not a team has to make do without one of its players for a season? Guess so.

These two radio dildoes then began to wonder aloud what it must feel like to be Mr. Tarrant. The poor guy has to go to class with a bunch of people who know he’s been accused of rape. Aw, that really sucks, man. (Wait, why the fuck hasn’t he been suspended from classes at the school?) The radio hosts didn’t wonder what it might be like for the victim, who has, you know, been raped and all, and who has to go to school on a campus where people are more concerned with football stats than women’s human rights. If these two local radio “personalities” are any indication, I’d be a little more likely to worry about the victim suffering harassment and dirty looks than Tarrant. They were also worried about his future, because once these charges are dismissed (and they will be dismissed, you know), people will always remember him as the guy who got falsely accused of rape. John Bender was right, the world is an imperfect place.

They stopped just short of suggesting that men accused of rape deserve the same anonymity the courts pretend to guarantee for victims, although it was implied in a fairly heavy-handed fashion. I’m serious.

I personally don’t give a fuck, flying or not, about whether this woman’s story is true. What I do care about is the fact that these assholes on this radio program, one of whom was female (I just learned what “kapo” means – think I can call her one?), are operating under the assumption that the accusation is false. As in, a conviction would surprise these two like Milli Vanilli putting out another album or Eric Nies making a comeback would surprise me (I really want all three to happen).

As much as I try to avoid hearing or talking about anything having to do with the sensational crime case du jour, I have had to suffer through ignorant discussions of the Duke rape case. I’ve also been forced to hear a bunch of MRA bullshit about the Kobe Bryant case. Two cases in which rape charges failed to stick, one a bit of an embarrassment, the other a fucking travesty (I bet you have to think for a second about which of them I’m referring to with which noun). TWO. And sports talk radio knobs everywhere go on to assume that any woman accusing any athlete of rape is full of shit.

Well, guess what, assholes? Kobe Bryant did it. He’s gotten away with rape on several occasions in other countries by paying off or intimidating victims and their families, and he managed to do so here as well by hiring legal assassins to make the victim out to be a slut.

That’s how it works. People who have money and status get away with rape, and our culture’s tendency toward idolatry makes certain that athletes have plenty of both. The coaches, fans, and sporting media, all of whom are personally and/or financially invested in the success of “their” teams, all do their part to make sure that the general population (and the jury pool) know where their sympathies ought to lie, and the net result is that athletes get away with rape even more often than rapists who don’t wear protective undergarments do. Don’t believe me? Read this.

There’s no other way to say it: we as a culture care more about sports than a woman’s right to not be raped. Remember that shit. Write it down. Whether Georgia Tech wins a game or two this year matters more than whether or not you get raped.

I don’t want to get down on the South. I mean, I just saw a guy ride by on a motorcycle with a lot of chrome flames on it and its own sound system blaring a song I’d only expect to hear at around 3 AM at a gay dance club. It’s funny here. I kinda like it. But I don’t know whether the reaction to this case would be quite as counter-intuitive, counter-ethical, counter-logical, or counter-sane in another part of the country.  I know that sports obsession has allowed rapists to go unpunished nationwide, but I think the emphasis on college sports in this region might just work in Tarrant’s favor with the judges, prosecutors, and juries he may face to an even greater extent than it might elsewhere.

And people wonder why I don’t have a lot of good things to say about sports (that’s sports with a lower-case “s,” because I have plenty of good things to say about “Sports” by Huey Lewis and the News). Not only are team sports a training tool for creating jingoistic assholes who are incapable of independent thought, not only are they a huge waste of time, money, energy, skill, talent, and nachos, but they’re also yet another cultural institution that protects men who abuse women and who abuse the (totally flawed) legal system.

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Let’s talk some more about rape.

Every time I write about rape people freak out. I can honestly say that, as much time as I’ve spent thinking about rape and how to stop it, I never realized that rape was such a controversial subject (at least in the way I’ve come to discover). I never knew there were so many rape apologists (MRAs, regular dudes, even women) that would come over here and give me a bunch of shit for making the outrageous suggestion that we ought not to keep allowing rapes to go unpunished. I intended to show that our legal system doesn’t protect women from rape, but plenty of people missed that point, detoured by talk of castration and jettisoning the presumption of innocence. I see now that I should’ve written something much simpler and more obvious if I expected these 4Chan types to understand me.

Fine, then. Some people need a Fox News-style Outrage!(TM) in order to get a point, and I’ll deliver. In the lovely state of Kansas, where they still have analog gas pump readouts that only go up to $25, a 14-year-old girl has been raped. She was hanging out with three of her friends when two of them left the room and the third, a 13-year-old boy, raped her. She tried to deal with the situation on her own, but decided after about a month to tell a school counselor about it. The counselor told the cops, and guess what happened? The GIRL has been charged with “rape” and “criminal sodomy.” The age of consent in Kansas is 16 (yikes), but the state also has a law similar to that in California under which sex with someone under 14 is taken to be a more serious crime.

I don’t think I’d argue with the idea that someone who has sex with a child under 14 ought to face a stiffer penalty than an 18-year-old having consensual sex with a 16-year-old, but what the fuck? That isn’t what’s going on here. A 14-year-old girl goes to see her school counselor for help after having been raped, and SHE gets in trouble? There’s been no mention made of the boy having been charged with anything. I am assuming that the boy was charged and then denied that he raped the girl, claiming that the sex was consensual, which is to be expected, but is this prosecutor out of his fucking mind? The kid can mount a defense and can claim whatever he wants, but the idea that the prosecutor would charge a rape victim with a crime as a response to that defense is pretty fucking weird.

I know some of the Tom Leykis types will argue that maybe she did consent and only decided to call it rape once she felt some regret over the whole thing, but whatever. We have no way of ever knowing that, which I suppose means that the prosecutor can do little toward convicting the boy (remember that thing about the presumption of innocence working in favor of rapists and against victims?). But what is the value in charging the girl? The boy, according to all I’ve read about the story, has made no claim to having been forced or coerced into anything. While it may be true that the idea of consent by either of these two at such a young age is a bit of a joke, that doesn’t seem to have dampened the prosecutor’s enthusiasm for charging this girl with a crime that implies she took advantage of someone too young to consent, even though she’s only a few months older than he is. He has effectively chosen to ignore a forcible rape and to prosecute the victim for taking advantage of her rapist. Oh, the beauty of the American legal system.

What does this story say to the people who’ve heard about it (which includes every girl in the area it took place in, I’m sure)? First, it says that we have no idea how to deal with the issue of consent. When someone is under 16 in Kansas, they are unable to consent to sex, and so exist in a perpetual state of non-consent. All it takes for a rape to have been assumed to have occurred is the admission that intercourse took place. But that only applies if one of the participants was over 16. If they were both under 16, it’s all good. Unless, of course, one of them was under 14, in which case it’s not cool. Unless they’re both under 14. But if you step over the state line into Missouri, the age of consent goes up to 17. Apparently the kids in Kansas mature faster than those in Missouri. Good to know. The kids in California are immature as fuck, though, because they can’t consent until they’re 18. Schizophrenic, I know. But that’s not all. Once a person has reached whatever age of consent their state representatives have laid down, they go from a perpetual state of non-consent to a perpetual state of consent, meaning that once they pass 16, 17, or 18, they have to prove that they did not consent to a sex act in order for the person who forced them to submit to the act to be punished for doing so. Makes almost as much sense as Bush lyrics.

The second thing this case tells the girls of Kansas is that, if they ever get raped, they’d better think twice about reporting it to anyone, even if they need help dealing with the emotional effects of the attack. Rape victims everywhere already know that, if they report having been attacked, they’ll be called whores, be exposed to ridicule and slander, and be treated mercilessly in court, just in the hopes that their case will be one of the few cases that will be prosecuted or end in conviction. But now they’ve got the added fear of being charged with a crime if the prosecutor doesn’t like that they’ve reported having been assaulted. What the fuck is this, Afghanistan?

No wonder 60% of rapes go unreported. Even among those that are reported, only half of reported rapes lead to arrests, and of those, only 80% will be prosecuted. Of those that are prosecuted, only about half will result in conviction, with only 69% of those convicts getting any jail time. That means 16% of reported rapes end in jail time (and most sentences are pretty paltry), and that only 6% of rapists will ever see any jail time at all if we include unreported rapes. 15 in 16 rapists go free. What was the highest estimate for false rape claims? Like 7%? Suck on that, MRAs.

The third thing this law tells us is that our legal system is fucked. Not only do we have no way to determine consent and no method for convicting rapists, but we have no way to control prosecutorial bias. Here we have Ted Nugent prosecuting a case in which he’s decided, on his own, that the girl is lying and that she has victimized the boy. He’s clearly using his prosecutorial discretion and technicalities in the law to pursue some kind of agenda. (I wonder what kind of record he has when it comes to prosecuting rapes.) Rape victims are forced to reply on police, prosecutors, judges, and juries to take their claims seriously, to pursue their attackers, to prosecute them when they catch them, and to remove them from society in order to mitigate further damage. It’s too bad the people victims have to rely on aren’t very reliable when it comes to treating rape victims with dignity and respect, or even believing their stories.

The proverbial deck is proverbially stacked against rape victims. Victims are met with potential disbelief and disrespect at every stage of the process. The foundational concept of the presumption of innocence, coupled with prosecutorial, judicial, and juridical indifference to rape victims’ claims, has dumped us in a legal shitheap from which there doesn’t seem to be an escape. You may not agree that we should assume that defendants are guilty until they can prove otherwise, but you can’t claim that our current system protects women (or anyone, really) from rape. Deuce’s Law might be the only alternative. I’m just saying.

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How to End Rape: Deuce’s Law

Boy, was I conciliatory when I was younger. Either that or I was a realist. Or maybe I just wrote what I had to write to get an A. Whatever. I’m not conciliatory, realistic, or seeking a grade anymore, so I can now feel free to lay out a theoretical and hypothetical solution to the rape epidemic. If I had my choice, we’d do away with rape by changing our cultural attitudes toward gender, toward sex, toward power, toward everything, thereby creating a world in which rape could not possibly occur. That would most certainly be ideal, and I believe it’s possible, but I think it might take an awfully long time, and I’m ready for rape to stop right now. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are hate crimes and are among the most heinous manifestations of the misogyny that characterizes our culture. As such, eradicating rape, in my opinion, is one of the most pressing feminist issues. Our current laws are woefully ill-equipped to deal with rape, and I’ve devised a little thought experiment to illustrate that point and get people to thinking about possible solutions:

Deuce’s Law of 2008

  • Section 1: The presumption of innocence, as it is not specifically iterated anywhere in the Constitution, will not attach to sex crimes. Instead, all individuals will be presumed to exist in a state of non-consent, as per Twisty Faster v. Patriarchy, which will replace Coffin v. United States as precedent in determining burden of proof for sex crime cases. As such, defendants accused of sex crimes will bear the burden of proof, and will have to prove their innocence. There is a danger inherent in such a system that a few innocent men will be punished, and this is quite unfortunate. It is not, however, more unfortunate than men raping with impunity in epidemic proportions simply because their victims are unable to prove to a room full of misogynists that, despite the ridiculous presumption of a default state of consent, they did not consent to a sex act. Victims will decide whether a crime has occurred, and defendants will not. This might frighten men, some of whom will claim that women will use the law to punish men out of vengeance. That might happen once in awhile, but our job is to protect the largest number of people possible, and false rape accusations are about a hundredth as common as rapes that go unpunished.
  • Section 2: Rape will be broadly defined as intentionally taking advantage of a person’s physical or emotional vulnerabilities for sexual purposes, including creating fear in order to coerce a victim into performing or submitting to a sex act against her/his will. That includes fear of any kind, not just of violence. That’s right. Men will have to learn to have sex only with women who want to have sex with them, and will have to eschew high-pressure tactics, emotional and financial manipulation, as well as physical force if they want to avoid rape charges.
  • Section 3: Any defendant convicted of rape will be assumed to have proven he is incapable of responsibly exercising his sexuality in society. As such, the penalty for rape will be immediate and irreversible castration. If a weapon is used in the commission of the crime, or if the victim at any time during the crime feels that her/his life was in danger, the added penalty of life in prison without parole will attach. Prison sentences are to be served at specially-constructed facilities at which offenders will perform uncompensated labor in service of women and children. What such labor will consist of will be decided by the administrators of individual facilities, but the result of the offenders’ labor must meet two criteria: 1) it must provide tangible benefits for women and/or children, but 2) offenders shall not come into direct contact with any women or children at any time.
  • Section 4: Offenders may appeal their sentences one time only. Appeals must be made on grounds other than “women are emotional and unreasonable and so we shouldn’t let them define rape and decide who’s guilty.” Women, who have much less incentive to use sex as a weapon than men do, are much less likely to violate men’s rights through rape accusations than men are to violate women’s and children’s rights through rape. This is not up for debate, and is thus not sufficient grounds for appeal.

I’m pretty sure Deuce’s Law would bring us a dramatic reduction in rape, and most likely destroy the pornography industry and drastically curb sexual harassment (more on this later). Too bad men, even those with women and children under their care, will never submit to any sort of limits being placed on their sexuality (or, rather, their prerogative to use their sexuality as a weapon for controlling women), because this law would really work. It’s a shame they’re allowed to vote. They’re so hysterical and irrational about this sort of thing. Snarf snarf.

* Note: False rape charges are MUCH less common than rapes that go unpunished. Let’s say 1 in 100 rape charges is false (which is a VERY high estimate). Well, as it stands now, only 6% of rape cases ends in conviction. That means that of 100 rapes, 1 is false, 6 of the rapists are (often lightly) punished, and 93 go free. On balance, it seems that 1 innocent dude suffering is less of a problem than 93 rapists getting away with sexually abusing innocent women and children. Remember, I’m not talking about the death penalty here. Also, don’t you think, in the case of a false accusation, that almost anyone would recant before allowing an innocent person to be castrated? As it stands now, the legal system is asking us to trust men not to rape us, and they’re doing it anyway. If the legal system asked men to trust women not to have them castrated, I think it’d be more reasonable. Women are simply not as violent as men are. I know there are exceptions, but it’s a fact.

** Another note: credit is due to Davetavius for being one of the few dudes reasonable enough to think section 3 is a good idea, and for the conversations from which this post derived (though he would strenuously disagree with Section 1).

*** A final note: I’m not surprised or anything, but I’m getting some seriously gnarly comments about this. I suppose men don’t like to hear someone discuss treating them the way they’ve treated women throughout history. I wonder why? Anyway, if you’re thinking about commenting on this, have something to say or fuck off. I’m not posting bullshit insults, so if that’s what you’re planning to write, do one. Also, please read this before commenting as I’d rather not have to explain it.

**** And an even finaler note: Go look up the definition of satire. This post is meant to serve as a foil to our current legal system. I admit that it doesn’t provide men with safeguards against castration, but nor does our current system provide women with any against rape. Neither one is a satisfactory system. Stop bitching about this hypothetical and start coming up with a solution or go ahead and admit to being a rape apologist.

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The Background to Deuce’s Law

I was meandering through some old folders on my computer today when I stumbled upon a paper I wrote for my undergrad freshman composition class way back in 2002 on Megan’s Law. It’s funny that I found it today since I’ve been plotting out my next post, in which I plan to lay out my prescription for ending rape. I think I’ll post the whole thing here, and then write up a post explaining my proposal, which I’ve called Deuce’s Law. I warn you, this essay is a little silly and pretentious (I was a college freshman and thought I was smarter than everyone else), and I would argue and write it much differently today, but I still think it makes some sense (plus, it’s got lots of citations, which I know MRAs love, so I hope my small coterie of MRA readers will take note). Rest assured, though, that Deuce’s Law will be much more radical (though a lot less realistic). Here it is:

Megan Kanka’s parents, Maureen and Richard, had no way of knowing that their neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas, had been convicted of sexually abusing children twice before, nor that his two roommates were convicted sex offenders whom he had met while incarcerated, and therefore had not warned their daughter to steer clear of him or his home. Being that Megan was a friendly, trusting seven-year-old, it was easy for Timmendequas to ensnare her by telling her that he had a puppy for her to play with inside the house. That night, as police investigated Megan’s disappearance, the records of the three men across the street came to their attention, and they soon picked Timmendequas up for questioning. Less than 24 hours after her disappearance, Megan’s body was found in a box where Timmendequas had dumped it after raping her and strangling her with a belt. He confessed and was sentenced to death, but that has done little to bring relief to the Kanka family. It is hard to ignore the fact that, had there been a law requiring community notification of the presence of convicted sex offenders, Megan would still be alive as her parents would have been able to warn her of the danger posed by Timmendequas and his housemates. The nation was understandably outraged, and the event quickly led to the creation of New Jersey’s Megan’s Law, a law requiring authorities to notify the public of the presence of a convicted sex offender, a federal version of which quickly followed.Controversy has erupted over whether the privacy rights of convicted sex offenders can be balanced with the rights of parents to protect their children from sexual predators, leading offenders and their lobbyists to challenge the validity and fairness of the law. Megan’s Law can and should be perfected so that it can protect the most defenseless members of society while causing the least possible discomfort for released offenders; still, the fact that it is not yet perfect does not negate its future potential to save children from the worst varieties of sex offenders, nor does the fact that an offender cannot be guaranteed absolute privacy supercede the right of a child to live in safety.

The current version of the law has not been applied uniformly yet, but it has the potential to become an invaluable asset to parents hoping to protect their children from sexual abuse. Registration has been required of sex offenders since 1994, when the Jacob Wetterling Act, which also stated that authorities were permitted to release information to the public about the whereabouts of sex offenders, was passed. The only difference in Megan’s Law is that it requires, instead of simply permits, authorities to release the information or run the risk of losing federal financial support for law enforcement programs. Unfortunately, the act was misunderstood by almost everyone, mainly because police were unsure of how to disseminate the information and because the public was not informed about how the law worked and how to obtain information. In fact, “Most people have been under the false impression that the law requires nationwide law enforcement agencies to actively notify the community if a high-risk sexual predator moves in,” which was not a part of the law (Parents 2003). There are no specifics in the federal version of the law that explain how and to whom the information is to be distributed, which is where the controversy’s roots lie.

Each state has chosen to implement Megan’s Law in its own way and there is a wide variety of ways in which they do so. However, most states fall into one of two categories and practice either active or passive notification. The first category, active notification, includes mailings, community meetings led by police, and door-to-door notification by authorities. The other, passive notification, requires action on the part of the person seeking information, such as visiting a police station to view a list of registered offenders. Both of these categories are still open to wide interpretation by law enforcement and judges and manifest in myriad ways. In an extreme example, one Texas judge has ordered signs placed on the lawns of local registered sex offenders that read: “Danger! Registered sex offender lives here” and has ordered the offenders to display bumper stickers on their cars that include the same message (Axtman 3).At the other end of the spectrum, some states require that those seeking information about sex offenders call a 900 number with a specific name and reason for needing the information.

There are problems with both of these approaches. The goal of notification is to warn those who may come in contact with the offender about the level of risk he poses, not to publicly embarrass him. Posting signs on his lawn does not give neighbors sufficient information about the risk posed by the offender and fosters panic that may be baseless. But guarding the information too closely is also a mistake. Many parents have been unable to access registries because they are unclear on how and where to do so. The restrictions a state places on the release of information should not be such a deterrent that parents are unable to benefit from the existence of the registries. A program of prudent active notification combined with community and police education has the potential to provide an appropriate balance.Fortunately, this balance has been found and is being practiced in several states.

A fundamental problem when deciding who to notify and whether notification is fair to the offender is that of surmising the dangerousness of the offender and how likely it is that he will commit another sex crime. In Washington state, lawmakers have come up with a system of classification that serves as a model for other states. Before an offender is released, a panel examines his history and propensity for violence, how receptive he has been to treatment, whether he will have support from family and friends after release, and whether he will be able to find employment. He is then placed into one of three categories with corresponding notification procedures. With such a classification scheme, the level of risk posed is known and authorities will be clear on who to warn and what information to give them, minimizing the impact on the offender while providing parents with the resources they need to safeguard their children.

Members of the first category, made up of the lowest risk offenders, including those arrested for incest and indecent exposure, are required to register but are not subject to notification (California 2001). Opposition groups claim that adults arrested for consensual sodomy will be subject to notification and that the law violates the civil rights of homosexuals. However, very few states currently impose laws against consensual sodomy, and, in states where consensual sodomy is still illegal, laws do not require notification but only registration, with some states setting even this aside. Exposing adults convicted of consensual sodomy to their communities is unacceptable, to be sure, and an ideal state would not even have laws against consensual sodomy. However, the fact that not all states have perfected their laws as of yet to avoid such does not negate the positive aspects of Megan’s Law. (Note: this was written before the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, a decision which has only strengthened my argument, natch.)

Moving on to the second category of offenders, these positive aspects become obvious. Those offenders classified as serious have been convicted of crimes such as “rape, sodomy with a minor by force, … oral copulation with a minor or by force, continuous sexual abuse of a child, foreign object penetration, … kidnapping with intent to commit [a sexual assault], … [or] felony sexual battery,” just to name a few (California 2001). As recidivism rates in this group are high enough to cause alarm, law enforcement would be remiss if they did not warn those who might be in danger once the individual is released. Therefore, model states that practice active notification distribute information about offenders who pose a serious risk only to those likely to be in danger. Candidates for this type of targeted notification might include childcare centers, schools, and shelters for women and children. The argument that targeted notification violates the privacy rights of the offender is heavily outweighed, for example, by the right of a childcare center to know whether a job applicant is a convicted child molester.

High-risk offenders make up a small percentage of the total and, in model states, are subject to wider notification. The characteristics that could cause an offender to be classified as high-risk include compulsive violent sexual behavior, a sexual preference for minors, refusal of treatment, lack of remorse for committing sex crimes, or recent threats related to committing new sex crimes. “An alarming number of these offenders say, ‘Yeah, if you let me go, I may do it again…’” (Allen 1319). Considering the fact that, once he has served his sentence, the prisoner who warns that he will commit a new crime will be released anyway, leaving the members of his community in the dark about his propensity for sex crimes is unconscionable. As many of these individuals, when interviewed, have “… claim[ed] the ability to identify and use vulnerabilities in a potential victim to gain access to and maintain control over the child,” they are considered a real threat (“Sexual Offenders,” 2003). It is terrifying to imagine an offender who looks for children with single parents or children who display shyness, neediness, or unhappiness because he knows they will be easy to victimize. According to Ernie Allen, CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, “… the worst thing we can do is provide [these individuals] with anonymity” (1369). In high-risk cases, model states expand notification to those who would be likely to come into contact with the offender, including and limited to neighbors and, in some cases, employers. As “… a significant subset of the sex offender population represents the highest risk of reoffense [and is] coming back into our communities,” parents need to be armed with the information they need to protect their children from these predators (Allen 1369).

The likelihood of recidivism among sex offenders is a contentious issue. The problem is that any statistics regarding recidivism are limited by the fact that the majority of victims do not report being assaulted. With child sexual abusers having an average of 72 victims (“Sexual Offenders,” 2003), it is no surprise that 13% are convicted of another sex crime within five years (“Myths and Facts…” 2003). Some sex offenders are not arrested for another offense within five years. When the time limit is removed, 43% of untreated child sexual abusers will commit another sex crime against a minor (“Sexual Offenders,” 2003). As far as treatment is concerned, it cannot be very effective if “less than 25% of probation officers…” think it works (“Sexual Offenders,” 2003). That point is driven home by the fact that, because almost all states exempt juvenile sex offenders from notification, “The average adolescent sex offender will, without treatment, go on to commit 380 [future] sex crimes…” (“Sexual Offenders,” 2003). Add to these numbers the fact that for every sex crime reported, several go unreported and it becomes difficult to argue that recidivism rate are not high enough to warrant notification.

Opponents have also attacked the effectiveness of notification. A commonly cited ten-year study claimed, “public notification… made almost no difference in the rate at which sex offenders re-offend” (Axtman 4). There are several reasons this could be the case. With parents and police keeping an eye on the offender, he may be more likely to be caught. Also, when parents are aware of an offender’s identity and warn their children, victims are more likely to report the assault because fear of disbelief is cut down. Aside from these problems, the study is irrelevant as an argument against the law because an offender’s choice to commit a new sex crime does not invalidate the right of a parent to be aware of a dangerous individual with access to his or her child.

Regardless of whether they cut down on rearrest, police generally believe that notification and registration do cut down on sex crimes because parents are given more power and responsibility in protecting their children. Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, claims that notification laws “only violate the civil rights of adults [and are] …merely symbolic…” (Allen 1369). A mother who has information about the sex offenders in her neighborhood would probably disagree. Strossen also stresses that narrow notification would leave those outside the scope unprotected, which counters her own argument that notification is not necessary.Strossen repeatedly argues that parents need to take more responsibility for the safety of their children and not rely on authorities to notify them of the presence of offenders (Allen 1369), butMegan’s Law allows them to do so by equipping them with information about where the danger lies and how to avoid it.

Two other issues have been frequently broached as minor arguments against Megan’s Law. Both are valid concerns, but, with time, they will be worked out as states perfect their laws. One is that compliance with registration and notification laws is a concern among law enforcement officials. With the disparity between states on the implementation of Megan’s Law, it is argued that offenders are likely to migrate to areas with less vigorous notification programs. However, as the bugs are worked out of the law and it becomes uniform, these offenders will no longer be able to find places to live in obscurity. Additionally, arresting offenders who do not register will further cut down on noncompliance. The second problem is that police agencies are unsure of how the law works and are afraid of making mistakes that might cause community unrest. This is a real problem, but, as the law is refined, officers will be equipped with the education they need to apply the laws in their jurisdictions and inform their communities. As Ernie Allen has pointed out, this problem has been eliminated in Washington state with educational programs for police and with police-led community “…discussions before the offender is ever released” (Allen 1369). This cuts down on harassment of the offender and gives parents an idea of what they can do to protect their children. Again, it will take time to iron out both of these problems, but they do not render Megan’s Law useless, only in need of improvement.

Opposition groups often claim that Megan’s Law focuses its attention away from the real danger to children: their own families. They argue that our fears of local registered offenders are blown out of proportion because approximately 80% of sexual assault victims are acquainted with the perpetrator. There are several holes in this argument. First, Megan Kanka knew Jesse Timmendequas, as most children know their neighbors. Children are also acquainted with teachers, childcare workers, Boy and Girl Scout leaders, sports team coaches, employees of stores in the neighborhood, and many others. In fact, Ernie Allen countered this argument with the fact that only about “one-third to one-fifth of sexual abuse cases against girls are perpetrated by family members,” with even lower numbers for males (1369). A second problem with this argument is related to recidivism. The recidivism rate for incest is 9% within five years, while the rate for non-family sexual abuse of female children is 18% and an alarming 35% for males (“Myths and Facts…” 2000). Yet a third problem with the argument is that, in a model state, incest is not even subject to notification unless a child has been continuously sexually abused, in which case notification would be justified. Finally, Megan’s Law does not pretend that it can remove all danger to children, so the fact that it does not protect children from family members is irrelevant because no one has claimed that it can.

Offenders and their supporters complain that notification is a form of ex post facto punishment and that they have already paid their debt to society by serving their prison sentences.Unfortunately for them, the United States Supreme Court does not agree. As recently as March of 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that Megan’s Law was regulatory and did not constitute further punishment and that states could even make sex offender registry information available on the Internet (Willing 2003). Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “The act’s stigma results not from public display for ridicule and shaming but from dissemination of accurate information about a criminal record, most of which is already public” (Richey 2003).Offenders also claim that they are unfairly shamed by notification, but “any stigma that flows from this information is a product not of registration and notification but of the criminal offenses for which theses offenders have been convicted” (Allen 1369). Just as a murderer knows that he may face the death penalty when he commits his crime, a sex offender is aware that, if caught and convicted, he will be subject to community notification. That a sexual predator does not take the consequences into account before destroying the life of a child does not make those consequences unfair.

An issue repeatedly raised in arguments against community notification is vigilantism.Offenders claim that they are exposed to harassment and, in some cases, violence once the community is made aware of their presence. Harassment does occur, but it is quite rare. In Washington State, almost 10,000 sex offenders were registered between 1990 and 1996.Of this group, 940 were subject to notification. Out of these 940, only 33 reported incidents of harassment, just over 3% (Allen 1369). This number is tiny when compared with recidivism rates. As a preventative measure, when citizens are notified of an offender’s presence they are usually warned at the same time, as in Washington, that vigilantism and harassment carry stiff penalties. This is usually enough to deter a potential harasser, but it has been demonstrated that penalties do not deter sex offenders. On top of that, while harassment is unfair and arguably should never occur, it is much less damaging than a sexual assault. Both sides are attempting to prevent new crimes from being committed, but sex offenders are simply more likely to commit new crimes than regular citizens.

A perfect balance between the rights of children and their parents and the rights of convicted sex offenders may not be possible. When considering these rights, most would tend to favor innocent children over sex offenders. The unfortunate reality is that, in several areas of our society, “… laws reduce the rights of some… in the name of protecting others,” and we have to choose whether we want to infringe upon the rights of “…offenders who represent the highest risk… to the most vulnerable sections of the community” in order to protect those sections (Allen 1369). It is a fact that society has deemed certain crimes worse than others, which is why sexual assault is a felony and verbal harassment is not. The suffering experienced by Maureen and Richard Kanka, and by their daughter, is exponentially worse than that suffered by a convicted sex offender whose house has been picketed. Because it is not possible to protect the public from sexual predators at the same time we protect the absolute privacy of offenders, we have to accept the less potentially damaging of the two options.

The fact that Megan’s Law is not perfect does not render it useless. Applied uniformly and perfected, it has the potential to drastically cut down on some of the worst crimes our society faces. Stiffer prison sentences for sex offenders would be ideal, but until legislatures across the nation make major changes in the way they hand out penalties, something has to be done to protect the public from the most dangerous criminals. A combination of stiffer sentences, treatment during incarceration, and risk assessment for parolees, if implemented nationwide, would remove a large part of the risk alone. Then, after release, cautious active notification coupled with police and community education would offer the maximum protection for both the sex offender who wishes to live free of harassment, and, more importantly, the family who deserves to be able to protect their children. Stiff penalties for noncompliance on the offender’s part and for vigilantism on the community member’s part would eliminate peripheral concerns. Each of these ideas has been successfully implemented by at least one state as of yet. If they were all applied consistently, sexual predators would have no place to hide without community awareness and we could reap the maximum benefit of Megan’s Law while still minimizing the impact on offenders who are trying to rehabilitate themselves.

Works Cited

Allen, Ernie, Walter Pincus, and Nadine Strossen. Transcript of a panel discussion. “Megan’s Law and the protection of the child in the on-line age.”American  Criminal Law Review 35.4 (1998): 1319.

Axtman, Kris. “A Tussle over Right to Know Where Ex-Sex Offenders Live.” Chrisitan Science Monitor 30 May 2001: 3-4.

California. Dept. of Justice. Office of the Attorney General. Registered Sex Offenders (Megan’s Law). 2001. 14 Oct. 2003 <;.

“Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders.” Center for Sex Offender Management. Aug. 2000. 5 Nov. 2003 <http//>.

Parents for Megan’s Law. 2003. Megan’s Law and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention  Clearinghouse. 14 Oct. 2003 <;.

Richey, Warren. “Megan’s Law Upheld: High Court Allows Internet Lists That Track Sex Offenders.” Christian Science Monitor. 6 Mar. 2003: n.p.

“Sexual Offenders.” Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. 2003. 15 Nov. 2003 <;.

Willing, Richard. “Albuquerque’s targeting of sex offenders challenged.” USA Today. 11 May 2003: n.p.

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MRAs: A bunch of crybabies?

I spent a little time this weekend conversating with a men’s rights activist (MRA) on his insane little blog, which I posted something about here (that has now been deleted because it sucked), and I’ve decided to tackle the borderline oxymoronic concept of men’s rights activism. I’ll do my best to avoid mischaracterizations, because that’s an MRA tactic; most of their arguments are made in genuine Bill O’Reilly style by cherry-picking quotes in order to create straw men in place of legitimate arguments and by exaggerating the frequency and importance of such “outrages” as they think prove their argument that men’s rights are in serious danger of being trampled upon by “lesbians,” “feminazis,” and “lying whores” (their favorite labels for women who aren’t picking up what they’re laying down). Besides, I don’t think I’ll need to resort to any of that, since the general concept and all of its tenets are entertainingly absurd enough on their own.

Not all MRAs are advancing the same set of issues, but the Wikipedia entry (see what an advanced researcher I am?) has outlined the central features of the (capital M, capital R, capital M) Men’s Rights Movement as “the promotion of male equality, The rights to equal treatment in custody battles, rights, and freedoms in society [sic].” Their main areas of concern are “the effect that Divorce, Custody, Rape and Violence Against Women Act-type laws have on men’s rights and freedoms. It is argued that these laws cause violation of Constitutional rights such as the right to a fair trial and the right to due process [sic again, sheez].” In addition, “Men’s Rights Advocacy and Masculinism also promote the concept of ‘defending male identity’ [sic, what’s with all the capitalization?].” They’re also concerned that our education system, health industry, and laws leave them unprotected from the predations of vindictive and man-hating women. Let’s have a look at these concepts one at a time, shall we?

  1. The promotion of male equality. Equality with what, or whom? I have been thinking about this all day (OK, 45 seconds), and I cannot seem to come up with a group of people with higher legal, cultural, and social status than men. Are these guys honestly claiming that they are subordinated to women somehow? Whatever claims MRAs want to make about our legal system (which I’ll get to shortly), none of them can seriously claim that the status of men in our (or any) society is unequal to that of women.
  2. The right to equal treatment in custody battles. I’ll say up front that I think fathers, unless they’re total assholes, ought to be involved in their children’s lives. I had one around and it was an important factor in my personal development. That said, most fathers are fairly minor actors in the raising of children, which is simply a manifestation of the fact that our culture places the onus of childcare on women, and the fact that childbearing and rearing is seen in our society as nearly synonymous with womanhood. If these MRAs want to get all butt-hurt about the fact that our court system tends to favor mothers in custody hearings (which I doubt anyway), they ought to at least take these factors into account. I’m willing to bet that a lot of these disgruntled fathers, if they were honest with themselves, would have to admit that before the end of the relationship, it was the mother who provided most of the care for the child(ren), otherwise the judge would be unlikely to award custody to the mother in the first place. That men feel entitled to a woman’s labor in the form of childcare, and then to custody of the child(ren) that she raised in the event that the relationship dissolves, is pretty unreasonable. I think that in normal cases custody ought to be awarded in a ratio proportionate to the time that each parent spent with the child before the dissolution of the relationship.
  3. Divorce and men’s rights. We live in a society in which a large portion of women’s labor goes unpaid, and in which women’s paid labor is undervalued. Our social mores have loosened to the point where divorce is more often considered a given than an unthinkable outcome for a marriage (I ain’t saying that’s necessarily a bad thing). That combination of factors puts women in an often untenable situation: they are asked to give up their own career/life plans in order to work in the home, or to put their careers on hold in order to provide care for children, and are thus economically dependent on men, or at least put at an economic disadvantage by being out of the labor market during a crucial period in the development of their careers. That the law (partially) takes this into account is to be expected. If a woman expends her labor in order to make a home from which her partner can work outside the home to earn money, she ought to be considered to have contributed to the family’s combined property. MRAs assume women ought to be left at the mercy of their husbands in the event of divorce. I understand that they find the thought of having to give up a portion of their assets disquieting, but I imagine that fear is a little easier to deal with than the fear of being abandoned with no money and no job skills, which is something that many women, especially those in the generation before ours, are faced with. Men can’t expect the freedom to divorce dependent partners at will, and also the freedom to leave those partners with nothing with which to support themselves. And community property laws work both ways; if a woman earns a larger amount of money than a man, she may also be required to turn a portion of her income over to him after a divorce. The fact that this rarely happens doesn’t make the laws unfair, it merely points to the fact that men are still paid more than women for the most part and that women are rarely the chief breadwinners in a family because they are usually expected to take a backseat to their husbands and take care of the work required in the home.
  4. Rape and men’s rights. Twisty Faster wrote a post once about the legal presumption of innocence in rape cases in which she posited an alternative legal framework in which rape accusations were presumed legitimate unless proven otherwise. As at odds as that idea is with the entirety of American legal philosophy, it is worth thinking about. As things are now, as few as 10% of rapes are reported, and among those, as few as 6% of the rapes that are reported result in convictions. Those are pretty shitty odds. The reason the odds are so bad are many, but the chief reason for the low number of victims that report their assaults is the humiliation and trauma involved in most rape investigations and trials. Most rape cases come down to an accusation and a denial which, because defendants are presumed innocent, means that cases are usually decided in the defendant’s favor. I find it hard to believe that 94% or so of women who report rapes are vindictive assholes who are willing to endure being called a whore in open court in order to get back at a man who slighted them. I don’t deny that false rape accusations happen, but the numbers have to be quite a bit lower than that. Let’s say, as a joke, that 1 in 100 rape accusations is false. Without evidence other than victim testimony, that 1 in 100 is still likely to walk on the charges. But with as many as 94 in 100 cases decided in the defendant’s favor, doesn’t that mean that about 93 rapists are walking free? The MRA obsession with false rape charges, the arguments for which are usually based on overblown interpretations of extremely rare cases, points to a general reluctance to afford women the right to decide what they will do with their own bodies, a reluctance that stems from the male sense of entitlement to women’s sexual favors. It’s that same entitlement that fuels most sexual assault. Surprise, surprise. Men’s rights, gawd. How about the right to not get raped?
  5. Domestic violence and men’s rights. If a man beats anyone, he ought to go to jail. If a woman beats anyone, she ought to go to jail. What’s the problem? Again, this is an issue of MRAs claiming that women falsely accuse men of domestic violence out of vengeance. That probably happens sometimes. Know what happens more? Women being beaten to death by their partners, many of whom have been picked up for domestic violence several times before they eventually kill their partners. There just isn’t a way to structure the law to deal effectively and uniformly with cases in which two emotional (opposite of rational) people are giving contradictory stories, as evidenced by how many men go free on domestic violence charges when there is no corroborating evidence to back up the victim’s testimony. Our legal system favors defendants in all cases in which the case comes down to conflicting testimony, which means that more often than not, men who assault women are not punished.
  6. Men’s rights and the law in general. Our legal system, and its central concept of the “rights”of “citizens”, is a descendant of the ancient Roman law system that spawned both concepts and the British legal system from which our own legal tradition takes most of its central tenets. Rights in the Roman, British, and American legal systems transcend the rule of man and inhere in each citizen under a rule of law that binds all citizens equally. But citizenship has been founded on several bases throughout history, the most common of which has been maleness, the second most common being property (and/or slave) ownership. After a tradition of defining citizenship through maleness for over 2000 years, women have been awarded citizenship by men (despite the fact that legal rights purportedly transcend the rule of man) just in the last century or so in the western world. But equality before the law, which all men enjoy in America, is something that American women have not yet attained, despite being recently included in the category of “citizen” that ought to have guaranteed equality before the law according to the foundations of our own legal philosophy. We still, 43 years after the Civil Rights Act that awarded equal rights to all men under the law, do not have an Equal Rights Amendment for women. Additionally, as of today, men still make the laws in America; of 435 members of the House of Representatives, only 70 are women, and of the 100 members of the Senate, a mere 16 are women. For those who are worried about “legislating from the bench,” there is ONE woman on the Supreme Court. I find it difficult to take pity on men for their supposed lack of legal rights within a system that they have created, that they control, and that they administer according to their own needs.
  7. The healthcare industry. Be serious. Men run the health care industry, as evidenced by the kinds of “advances” that industry makes year after year. We have Rogaine. We have Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. We don’t have a male birth control pill. Women are still held accountable for birth control, and most hormonal birth control methods pose serious risks to women’s health that include strokes and death. Plus, women’s health care costs more than men’s. Let’s face it, we are all in a shitty situation when it comes to health care, but men created this system, and it serves their needs better than it serves ours.
  8. The protection of male identity. OK, Bill Maher. I’m so sick of hearing about the “pussification” of American men. Jesus. Any time a dude treats a woman decently and realizes that the NFL is a boring, corporatized insult to the intellect, some asshole comes out and calls him a faggot. There is NO SUCH THING as a “male” or “female” behavior. All the bullshit macho nonsense these guys believe is inborn is virtually absent in cultures that are in some ways much more misogynistic than our own (India, China in some ways), but why would I expect an MRA to be interested in evidence?
  9. The educational system. MRAs are concerned that our educational system devalues and sidelines boys. What a fucking laugh. This argument is based on complaints that girls are allowed to wear things like “Boys are stupid” t-shirts without getting in trouble, whereas boys could do no such equivalent thing. That makes about as much sense as the old “It’s OK for black people to be racist, so why can’t I say the n-word?” argument. Don’t get me wrong, I think those t-shirts are stupid and parents shouldn’t let their daughters out of the house in something so uncool, and I suppose no one ought to be wearing fashions that denigrate any group based on immutable characteristics, but is this really a sign that our educational system is anti-male? There’s a general argument by MRAs that boys just aren’t free to be themselves at school anymore, that women run the place. They complain that girls are allowed to vent publicly about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and the boys “just have to sit there and take it.” What it looks like to me is that schools are trying to correct the long-standing problem of unequal treatment and rampant sexual harassment. As it is, girls are still being discouraged from pursuing subjects like mathematics and science that would bolster their future earning potential by teachers who (consciously or not) think girls ought to study “feminine” things like the humanities, and teachers still tend to call on male students more often than female students and assume that their male students are brighter than their female ones. Our entire public school system was designed in the first place to train boys for the workforce, a legacy that has far from disappeared. What these MRAs are complaining about is the gradual (though far from complete) diminishing of male privilege in schools, which they incorrectly perceive as the ascendancy of girls over boys.

This last point highlights the central feature of the MRA movement: these men see a zero-sum game when they look at relations between men and women. When women gain, they lose. MRAs are expressing the kind of anger that comes from feeling threatened but not being able to say clearly why. They feel entitled to the privileges they have come to see as their birthright, and when women want the same kind of treatment that they feel entitled to, they feel that their territory is being encroached upon. That mental process is understandable (though not excusable), but it’s intellectually weak and dishonest to argue that men’s “rights” are in danger. What these guys are doing is fairly transparent: they’re arguing for the maintenance of male entitlement and privilege and for the limitation of women’s rights vis-à-vis men, not for the protection of men’s rights. They can euphemize that in any terms they want to, but they still sound like a bunch of fucking crybabies.

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Have an eating disorder? Don’t expect any privacy.

I was just having a look at the Consumerist, where there’s an article about a court ruling in which a judge required that the families of New Jersey girls suing Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield turn over records of all the things they had written about their battles with anorexia on MySpace and Facebook, and to turn over records of e-mails that included discussions of the disorder. Apparently, the insurance company refused to cover the girls’ illnesses, claiming that anorexia and bulimia aren’t real diseases. So, since the girls’ diaries might provide evidence that their eating disorders were caused by emotional problems rather than biological factors, the company, under New Jersey law, is not required to cover the treatment that the disorders required.

I don’t think anyone thinks that there is a biological cause behind eating disorders. But are they purely psychological? I’m pretty sure that when you have a psychological disorder that causes you to do something that physically harms you, you’ve moved beyond the psychologist’s office. Still, as a joke, let’s say that anorexia is just a psychological disorder. When someone has gone so long without eating that their organs shut down and they have to go to the hospital, should the treatment that they receive be covered by health insurance? Guess not. These young girls who have been told from the second they were born that the only thing that matters about them is how closely they resemble an increasingly unrealistic and distorted beauty standard are now apparently to blame for a disorder that stems entirely from their attempt to control their lives in the only way that they see available to them.

This case points out some serious problems in American institutions and social structures. First, what the fuck are we doing when we are warping girls’ minds to the point that their desire to fit into the beauty mold is so strong that it overrides the instinct toward self-preservation? Eating disorders, along with plastic surgery, are the most striking examples of how distorted and grotesque our ideas of beauty, femininity, and sexuality have become. We now have an entire generation of young women who believe that sexually titillating men should be their priority numero uno, and that the way to do that is to look as much like a cross between a concentration camp inmate and a Bratz doll as possible. Fucking awesome. Second, we’ve allowed insurance companies to gain such a firm grip on our medical system that it has become nearly impossible to get proper care. That’s self-evident and I don’t think I need to go into it. Third, our medical system has somehow fragmented to the point that our minds, which reside in our brains, are considered entities completely separate from our bodies. Of course, that development is also a result of the fact that insurance companies control our access to medical care and will cover only that which will keep us alive (sometimes) and save them future expenses. But it also stems in part from the long-standing idea inherent in western culture that the body and the mind are indeed separate entities, and that the body is on a permanent quest to lead the mind astray. But despite adages like “mind over matter,” people seem reluctant to believe that the mind has the ability to cause dysfunction within the body. We really need to rethink the way we are treating the interaction between mental and physical disorders. Finally, it’s pretty clear that the law in this case is really not protecting these girls. The original order stated that the girls would even have to turn over their own personal writings, including their diaries, to the insurance company’s attorneys. I’m pretty sure having their innermost thoughts, feelings, and fears dragged out before scores of fairly unsympathetic strangers isn’t going to help these girls overcome whatever they need to overcome in order to get well again.

Overall, it seems like a lot of big institutional and cultural forces have lined up to make things suck as much as possible for these girls, and that those forces are created and perpetuated by, that’s right, the motherfucking patriarchy.

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