Lockwood v. Tooley on “Sexual Assault on Campus”


Heidi Lockwood (Southern Connecticut) and Michael Tooley (Colorado) met at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) earlier this month for a debate sponsored by VCU’s Department of Philosophy. The subject was “Sexual Assault on Campus.” A video of the event was kindly provided to me by Mikhail Valdman, who moderated the event and cleared its release with the relevant parties. Here it is:

"Sexual Assault on Campus" — A Debate with Heidi Lockwood and Michael Tooley from Daily Nous on Vimeo.

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Elijah Bruggliere
Elijah Bruggliere
6 years ago

Wait, in what sense are they squaring off? How are their positions about this topic in conflict with one another?Report

Carnap
Carnap
6 years ago

Thanks to all involved for what seems (on initial viewing) to be an interesting and helpful discussion.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Lockwood’s unwillingness to recognize distinctions between kinds, or degrees of, sexual assault, seems implausible to me. Of course there might be an individual who’s more traumatized by an unwanted kiss than another individual is traumatized by forcible penetration, to use her example. But these unusual exceptions don’t undermine an otherwise obvious distinction. Consider: A is so tough and B so fragile that B is more traumatized by a soft slap than A is by knife stabbing. Does that mean knife stabbings don’t generally involve a greater degree of violence than slaps?

It’s a consequence of Lockwood’s view that it would be no more disturbing to learn that 20% of women were forcibly penetrated than to learn that 20% were forcibly kissed. No one actually believes this.Report

Mike Valdman
Mike Valdman
6 years ago

Elijah: Tooley thinks that the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses has been greatly exaggerated, that colleges have set up tribunals that violate the due process rights of the accused, that it’s important to distinguish between degrees and kinds of sexual assault, and that law enforcement, and not colleges, should be handling such matters. Lockwood disagrees on all fronts. So I’d say that their positions conflict.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

JRS, I don’t think that’s a consequence of Lockwood’s view. It might be a consequence that it should be no more disturbing, but that’s not to say that is would be no more disturbing. I think, though, the consequence of Lockwood’s view is rather that this sort of limited description is not enough to determine the kind of harm done. And in distinguishing the kind of harm done, it’s not just a matter of how the wrongful action interacts with the toughness or weakness of the one acted upon–it can also be a function of, e.g., the type of relationship between a victim and assailant (for example, being assaulted by someone you trust may be more traumatic than being assaulted by a stranger in virtue of common psychological dispositions), social dynamics and context (e.g., because of cultural norms of masculinity men who are assaulted will face certain challenges women will not), and so on.

Thanks to both Lockwood and Tooley for doing this!Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Kathryn, I suppose I should have said ‘should’ instead of ‘would’. (Sigh.)

So Lockwood’s view is that we should not, for purposes of measuring the incidence of sexual violence, distinguish between forcible penetration and an unwanted kiss.

I agree with you that in individual circumstances, all kinds of factors can affect how much harm some act causes. For example, being slapped by someone you trust may be more traumatic than being stabbed by a stranger in virtue of common psychological dispositions (I suspect that this is only so in distant possible worlds). But this doesn’t mean that stabbing is generally more violent and harmful than slapping. Similarly, the fact that in some contexts (in distant possible worlds, I suspect), an unwanted kiss is more harmful than forcible rape doesn’t entail that forcibly penetrating someone is not generally more violent and harmful than kissing someone without their consent.

I have to say, this view seems so off to me, I get these tinges of concern that just by taking Lockwood’s view seriously, I’m being insensitive to rape victims.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

If it would make you feel any better, I know some victims of rape who think that to not take Lockwood’s view seriously would be to do them, and other victims of sexual violence, a disservice (which is not to say, of course, that you’d have to agree with it).Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

JRS, I’m not refusing to recognize differences between kinds or degrees of sexual assault. I’m just insisting on redrawing the lines, so that it is not based on physical violence or “force,” which was the focus of the now antiquated pre-2002 Department of Justice definition of rape. Your analogy with the knife stabbing doesn’t work — legally, or ethically — because there are other kinds of harm that would be done in the case of the knife stabbing.

The reclassification of the degrees of sexual assault that I’m proposing involves: (1) moving away from the cissexual heteronormative preoccupation with “penetration” (a move that many states have already made), and (2) focusing on the degree to which the act threatens or compromises one’s sexual *agency*, rather than sexual autonomy.

In other words, I want to insist that sexual assault occurs within a matrix of social norms and power structures which can profoundly affect the extent to which one is harmed. Most systems of differentiating between degrees of sexual assault (currently) overlook this fact.

For what it’s worth, I should point out that there are some readers of this blog who have been very significantly harmed by the equivalent of an “unwanted kiss.” To draw an analogy between this and a “soft slap” and to implicitly call the victims of this sort of sexual misconduct “fragile” is — well, offensive at best.

It’s also worth noting that your assumption that individuals who are deeply traumatized by unwanted sexual attention are “unusual” is unwarranted. I can think of about 30-40 victims in philosophy alone, many of whom have experienced clinical PTSD and symptoms ranging from anxiety to depression to BPD to suicidal behavior. There are of course some who have rebounded with comparatively few symptoms — I wish I knew how to can their resilience — but they are the exception, rather than the rule.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Kathryn, if your previous post is intended as a defense of Lockwood’s claim that data on sexual violence shouldn’t distinguish between forcible penetration and unwanted kisses, then it relies on the following premise:

– If an act of kind x is neither necessarily more harmful nor less harmful than an act of kind y (because, when certain factors are present it’s more harmful, when other factors present, it’s less), then we shouldn’t distinguish between x and y in our data.

This premise implies that our research shouldn’t distinguish between any harmful acts. So in particular, we shouldn’t distinguish between sexual assault and assault.

Maybe Lockwood misspoke and meant to say that we can draw such distinctions in our research. Maybe she instead meant to reject certain value judgments that we could make based on this research, for example, the assumption that, if it turned out that the 20% of women who have experienced sexual assault according to studies were forcibly penetrated, this would be worse than if they had received unwanted kisses. The reason for resisting this assumption would be that, as you’ve pointed out, there are distant possible worlds in which an unwanted kiss is more harmful than a forcible penetration.

The problem with this is that it’s obvious that the assumption we’re told to reject is true in the real world, given the realities of forcible penetrations and of unwanted kisses. There’s no need to avoid an assumption about the real world because of what happens in distant possible worlds–because there’s *some* set of conceivable, if far-flung, factors that makes the unwanted kiss worse.

I’m not saying there aren’t highly upsetting forcible kisses. But I am saying that, in the real world, the harm caused by the practice of unwanted kissing absolutely pales in comparison to the harm caused by the practice of forcible penetration. It’s the denial of this reality that I’m uncomfortable taking seriously.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

JRS, it’s false that what I said, even if it was a defense of Lockwood’s view, relies on that premise.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Heidi, right, you’re not refusing to distinguish kinds of sexual assault. But you are refusing to draw the distinctions Tooley mentions–for example, the distinction between forcible penetration and unwanted kisses. That’s what my arguments concern. And my objection is only to that–I don’t have any objections to, for example, including certain non-penetrative sexual acts as instances of rape.

I take your point about my underestimating the damage that an unwanted kiss can cause. However, you mischaracterize my view when you attribute to me the claim that people who have been harmed by an unwanted kiss are unusual. What I said was that it’s unusual for an unwanted kiss to be more harmful than an act of forcible penetration. And that’s presumably relevant to classifying kinds of sexual violence.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

JRS, your proposed conclusion that we shouldn’t distinguish between sexual assault and assault doesn’t logically follow from the specified premise. There might, for example, be reasons to distinguish between sexual assault and assault that are not related to whether or not the harms can be ranked — e.g., the nature of potential evidence in a typical sexual assault case, versus the potential evidence in a case of non-sexual assault.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Also, I disagree with you about what my analogy implicitly said. I added that the person receiving the slap was especially fragile to make it plausible that this could harm them more than a stabbing harmed someone else. The fragility wasn’t the analogy with unwanted kissing vs. forcible penetration; the analogy was that both are cases in which, typically, one kind of act is far more harmful than the other. And since it’s obvious that we should generally distinguish stabbings from slaps, so we should generally distinguish forcible penetrations from unwanted kisses.

I can see, though, that it could have been easy to read my post as you did, so I’ll just say that I don’t think that anyone who was harmed by an unwanted kiss is fragile.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Heidi, I’m confused. Of course the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise. The premise is a conditional, the conclusion is the consequent of the conditional. You need the antecedent too. And I was suggesting that Kathryn Pogin has inferred the consequent from the antecedent (and hence, had presupposed the conditional I supplied).

The conditional and the antecedent do logically entail the conclusion (by modus ponens).

It sounds like you reject the conditional premise; so we agree on that.

But if I may move on from this…

I wonder if we can make progress by working on the basis of your (2): the degree to which an act compromises someone’s sexual agency is relevant to its classification as a kind of sexual assault. Would you agree that, in our actual world, forced penetration tends to compromise sexual agency much more than unwanted kisses? (Working with my intuitive notion of “sexual agency”, it does.) And doesn’t that mean that we should classify the acts differently when trying to measure sexual violence?Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Sorry, my conclusion follows from the premise together with the premise (which I left implicit) that sexual assaults are neither necessarily more harmful nor necessarily less harmful than plain old assaults. I think this premise is obviously true.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

JRS, in response to your comment at 14:

No, I wouldn’t agree that forcible penetration compromises one’s sexual agency more than unwanted kisses. In fact, depending on the “grooming” that occurred prior to the first unwanted kiss, the reverse may be the case.

Let’s consider a couple of cases.

Case 1: Imagine, for a moment, that you are an undergraduate student, and your faculty adviser tells you that you are brilliant. The best student he (or she) has worked with in ten years, or perhaps ever. You’re a genius, destined for great things — and he wants to help you, to bring you to conferences, to spend extra time listening to your ideas, helping you edit your papers.

You’re flattered. You meet with him, you have lunch with him, you work harder than you’ve ever worked before.

And then one day, at a group dinner, he puts his hand on your leg under the table, and starts touching your thigh. You freeze, and tell yourself that you must be imagining it. But then the next day you’re in his office, looking at his books, and he comes up behind you, presses himself against you, and begins kissing your neck.

This is a case of “unwanted kissing” — and, like so many such cases, it is preceded by weeks or months of grooming. It is a violation of one’s sexual agency.

Case 2: Now imagine that you are an undergraduate student at a bar, not necessarily drinking but enjoying the music, the company. You excuse yourself a little earlier than usual because you’ve got an exam to study for, and a student you’ve just met offers to walk with you. On the way back, he (or she) pushes you into an empty room and forcibly penetrates you.

You don’t scream, because you’re terrified, overwhelmed. After it’s over, you go back to the dorm alone, and shower, trying to erase the feeling of disgust. You tell a friend what happened, and she (or he) persuades you to go to the police, to report what is clearly a criminal act.

This is a case of “forcible penetration.” It is a violation of sexual autonomy, but not clearly a violation of sexual agency.

~

In response to your comments at 11:

Both forcible penetration and unwanted kisses are non-consensual — and therefore constitute sexual assault, according to both the definition of ‘assault’ used by the DOE (and therefore many universities), and, for that matter, many states.

What I’m saying actually isn’t that controversial in terms of how university investigations and Title IX (or related) cases are actually conducted. So, for example, if a university is to be held liable for the tort of negligence in, say, knowingly hiring a faculty member who had a history of sexual misconduct, the victim’s attorneys must establish both harm and causation as components of the tort. Whether the proximate cause of the harm was non-consensual penetration rather than non-consensual oral contact is not relevant unless it caused further harm (via, e.g., an unwanted pregnancy).

The piece of what I’m saying that *is* controversial — or at least new — is that things like the power differential between the perpetrator and the victim need to be figured in to assessing and understanding the harm. As Kathryn has pointed out, and as I mentioned in the debate, the psychic fracturing and sense of interpersonal betrayal that can occur in cases that you would label as “lesser” forms of assault can actually (and frequently in fact do) cause much more severe trauma.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

JRS, I take it that since Heidi wrote, “your proposed conclusion that we shouldn’t distinguish between sexual assault and assault” doesn’t follow, that she meant not that it doesn’t follow by way of modus ponens on the premise you thought my earlier comment relied on, but rather that it didn’t follow from a modus tollens on the implied premise in your larger conditional claim: “[I]f your previous post is intended as a defense of Lockwood’s claim that data on sexual violence shouldn’t distinguish between forcible penetration and unwanted kisses, then it relies on the following premise: If an act of kind x is neither necessarily more harmful nor less harmful than an act of kind y (because, when certain factors are present it’s more harmful, when other factors present, it’s less), then we shouldn’t distinguish between x and y in our data.”Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Here’s a variation on Heidi’s Case 2 that I think is clearer: Say that someone is incapacitated by alcohol, but their partner does not realize this, forcible penetrates them as a result, but that someone would have consented had they been able to. This is a case of forcible penetration, but much less clearly a case of a violation of sexual agency on the part of the partner as Heidi is understanding sexual agency.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

The style of argument of giving two specific cases doesn’t address my question regarding the *tendency* of the two kinds of acts to compromise sexual agency or cause harm. (Heidi, you mischaracterize my view by leaving out the reference to tendency.)

On further thought, though, I’m less confident that forcible penetration tends to compromise sexual agency more than unwanted kisses.

So while I accept your points (1) and (2), Heidi, I don’t think effects on sexual agency are the *only* features of a crime that are relevant to its classification, for data collection, law, or moral evaluation. In particular, the *tendency* of a certain kind of act to cause a certain degree of harm is relevant. This is particularly so when we’re unable to acquire statistics about the degree of harm caused by all the instances of these kinds.

Example: it’s worth distinguishing armed assault from unarmed assault. If we were to find that in a county without law L, there were 7 assaults per 1000 persons and they were all armed, and that after passing law L, there were still 7 assaults per 1000 persons, we would be reasonable to assume that L was a good law. (We would perhaps want further data on, eg, rate of hospitalization. but even without that, the data on the two kinds of assaults would justify our conclusionabout L.) Why would this assumption be reasonable: because armed assault *tends* to be more harmful than unarmed assault. So it’s useful to distinguish between them. The analogy to forcible penetration vs. unwanted kisses is clear.

Of course, there are some unarmed assaults that are more harmful than some armed assaults. But, as I’ve repeated too many times now, an act doesn’t have to be necessarily different in some respect than another in order to be classified differently. It just has to *tend* to be different in this respect.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Kathryn Pogin, Heidi can speak for herself, but I don’t find your interpretation plausible.

(First, a minor point: sentences, such as conditionals, don’t have suppressed premises; arguments do.)

Second modus tollens on the larger claim would yield the conclusion that your (Kathryn Pogin’s) post is not intended as a defense of Lockwood’s claim. I see no evidence that Lockwood intended to dispute my reading of your intentions in regard to your post. The considerations she raises have to do with the classification of crimes, not intentions behind blog posts.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Oops! In the example I give above, after passage of law L, there are 7 assaults per 1000 persons, *and they are all unarmed*.Report

Johnny
Johnny
6 years ago

Professor Lockwood, could you explain a bit more about the distinction between sexual autonomy and sexual agency? I’m having trouble picking them apart.Report

Anon Grad
Anon Grad
6 years ago

I agree that unwanted kisses and forcible penetration both compromise sexual agency to the same extent. Insofar as they both are wholly non-consensual sexual acts they both _completely_ deny sexual agency to the victim.

What’s unclear in the exchange between JRS and Prof. Lockwood above is whether Prof. Lockwood thinks sexual agency is the only factor relevant to classification of the act for legal and moral purposes. It might even be right to classify unwanted kisses as “sexual assault” but seems wrong to punish that as severely as you would sexual assault through forcible penetration. When I think about why, it does seem like something about tendency to cause harm and the severity of the harm caused. To ridiculously oversimplify and use just one measure: PTSD diagnoses. I would suspect that the diagnosis is more common among victims of forcible penetration than unwanted kisses. Just like a physical assault where the victim walked away with relatively minor injuries is prosecuted differently than one that leaves the victim hospitalized, I would think it would be appropriate to punish unwanted kisses in a manner less severe than forcible penetration.

So, Prof. Lockwood, does your view that they should both be classified as “sexual assault” involve the view that individuals prosecuted for each should be prosecuted and/or punished in similar (if not identical) ways?Report

Rob
Rob
6 years ago

Does Dr. Lockwood believe that the prohibition on liaisons between faculty and students should apply beyond heterosexual couples?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

JRS, I said implied premise not suppressed premise. I am already aware of what a suppressed premise is, but thank you for that anyway–it would have been helpful were I not. As to your second point, that’s why I said implied and not suppressed.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Kathryn, if an implied premise is not a suppressed premise, then I’m not aware what an implied premise is (a quick google search only turned up results about suppressed/implicit premises). I’d be happy to learn. Since I don’t understand your use of the term ‘implied premise’, I of course don’t understand your response to my second point. But even so, I just don’t see how Prof. Lockwood’s argument could concern your intentions in posting, which is what you’re suggesting when you say she meant to resist a modus tollens argument involving the larger conditional:

If [your previous post is intended as a defense of Lockwood’s claim that data on sexual violence shouldn’t distinguish between forcible penetration and unwanted kisses], then [it relies on the following premise: If (an act of kind x is neither necessarily more harmful nor less harmful than an act of kind y (because, when certain factors are present it’s more harmful, when other factors present, it’s less)), then (we shouldn’t distinguish between x and y in our data)].

(The antecedent, the negation of which would be the conclusion of a modus tollens argument, is “your previous [Kathryn Pogin’s] post is *not* intended as a defense of Lockwood’s claim that data on sexual violence shouldn’t distinguish between forcible penetration and unwanted kisses”.)Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

JRS, apologies for the confusion. I wasn’t using implied in any technical tense, rather in it’s ordinary sense; as in, your comment implied a premise like, “If your conclusion is ‘this sort of limited description is not enough to determine the kind of harm done’ then you must be relying on the premise ‘[insert the premise you said I was relying on here]’, and then Heidi was offering reasons to do modus tollens on that conditional.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Kathryn, you’re taking Heidi to be arguing:

1. If your [Kathryn’s] conclusion is this sort of limited description is not enough to determine the kind of harm done then you [Kathryn] must be relying on the premise [insert premise].

2. Kathryn is not relying on [insert premise].

Therefore,

3. Your [Kathryn’s] conclusion is not that this sort of limited description is not enough to determine the kind of harm done.

Why do you think Heidi would want to argue that? It didn’t seem to me that she was talking about your conclusions. She seemed to be talking about my inference. Another weird thing about interpreting her this way is that earlier, you said (plausibly) that she accepts the thesis that, according to (3), is not your conclusion. Why would she have wanted to argue that you and she came to different conclusions?

As for whether the statement in question is implied by my comment: that’s not so–that conditional is not a logical consequence of anything I said. If you think it is, please lay out the argument from my comment to this conditional for me clearly; it would be quite hard to inadvertently construct a valid argument for such a claim. Maybe you meant to say my *argument* (as opposed to the conditional) presupposed the premise (and thus, that the premise is a *suppressed* premise). But this isn’t something to just assert. Show me which of my arguments is invalid and would at least appear valid were the premise in question supplied.

I find it hard to see how the premise you’ve stated is in any way related to my comment, given that I was talking about classification of kinds of harmful acts for purposes of research, whereas the premise you say is implied by my comment has to do with something quite different, viz. determining the kind of harm done by token harmful acts (this is the same confusion that keeps popping up).

Anyway, we’ve both already spent way too long on a pretty uninteresting thread in this debate–a thread that’s based on complete confusion on one of our parts. So this will be my last word on it; you can have at it.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

JRS, I’m laughing because I genuinely cannot tell if you’re trolling me or if we are really having this much of a difficult time understanding one another. If you’re not trolling me, I hope you think that’s funny too and aren’t offended by my finding it so humorous. In case, no, I didn’t mean “your” to be referring to me Kathryn, but as a kind of generic. If there’s an argument X, along lines Y, that concludes Z, it must involve premise W. And I thought this because earlier you wrote, “Kathryn, if your previous post is intended as a defense of Lockwood’s claim that data on sexual violence shouldn’t distinguish between forcible penetration and unwanted kisses, then it relies on the following premise: If an act of kind x is neither necessarily more harmful nor less harmful than an act of kind y (because, when certain factors are present it’s more harmful, when other factors present, it’s less), then we shouldn’t distinguish between x and y in our data.” You seemed to be.”

As to the substantive point, obviously Heidi can speak for herself, but one might think certain token harmful acts (which are no only in far off possible worlds) might indicate that where we draw the distinctions between kind could be rethought to include additional factors–that would be true even if your tendency point is right. If you lived in the Marvel Universe, for example, you might not want to distinguish between various kinds of violence purely in terms of whether they are, e.g., a slap or stabbing, as a stabbing committed by an ordinary human, Bruce Banner or Ant Man (particularly in his shrunken state) would be remarkably less violent than a slap committed by the Hulk, Colossus, Rhino, Thor, etc.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Kathryn, we really are having this difficult of a time understanding each other. Oh well, it happens. 🙂

I know I said I wouldn’t say anymore, but just to (hopefully) alleviate your concerns about trolling: the reason I interpreted ‘your’ as referring to you, Kathryn, is that the original large conditional (that occurs in the comment (#9), that has the other conditional as consequent, and that you say implies the conditional you stated in #27) was about your [Kathryn’s] intentions for your post (“If your previous post was intended as…”). I assumed this reference was supposed to be preserved by the putative implication to the new conditional. But if it’s not, that’s cool.

And if there’s anything in this post that seems terribly uncharitable or thick to you, I assure you, I’m still not trolling, it’s just that my understanding of the inference you have in mind is very, very dim.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

No, that makes sense, it’s just that if the reference was meant to be preserved I wouldn’t be making any sense–and I hope that I don’t appear quite that nonsensical. 🙂 But, you’re right this isn’t the substantive issue, so I’m happy to leave it too.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

In response to Johnny’s question at 22 above about the difference between sexual autonomy and sexual agency: great question.
First, I should remark that I’m *not* saying that the concept of consent and the corresponding notion of sexual autonomy is not important. The education about consent – including the importance of affirmative and active consent – has of course been a very important part of changing what many have called the “rape culture” on college campuses.

My point is that I think that hanging our laws and our legal definition of rape and our investigations on the hook of consent is not the direction in which we should be heading.

The problem with consent, and the corresponding notion of sexual autonomy, is that the notion of an “autonomous person” is incompatible with certain core realities about the worlds in which we move. Autonomy presumes, for example, that we are not systematically confined by differentials in power or in resources or in circumstances and background that can shape internal processes of judgment. Autonomy overlooks the fact that the self is socially constructed – and that that construction happens in a context of intersecting power inequalities. Gender and race and sexual orientation are just a few examples of loci of subordination, but there are others. Many others.

In other words, one can have autonomy without having agency. I can be autonomous, but nonetheless continue to be violated and harmed because I have failed to acknowledge the ways in which unequal power relationships animate and give collective character to what I can and cannot do. I can be autonomous, but fail to have agency because I have failed to seek self-definition and self-direction, because I have failed to recognize that, even in a world of inequities widespread sexual violation, women possess a sexuality of their own.

I don’t want to overstate the subtle difference between sexual agency and sexual autonomy — but agency, it seems to me, is better able to contemplate the complicated, power-infused dynamics that surround sexual relations. And agency leans toward a positive understanding of sex – sex not only as pleasure, but as resistance to subordination and the objectification of bodies.

Agency also has the potential to defy the repronormative sexual ideologies that still linger today.

Perhaps most importantly, in terms of rape law, agency can be threatened without any physical contact whatsoever. You can, for example, threaten my agency by reminding me of your relative power, by engaging in objectification of the female body, by using the power of your mind to mentally manipulate me, to persuade me – to, as one philosopher so memorably put it in the title of his book on the subject, “to mindfuck” me.

So the idea is that by contextualizing consent, by understanding that one can have de facto autonomy but not agency, we can generate a much more fine-grained and nuanced account of what putatively consensual but genuinely unwanted sex looks like.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

In response to Rob at 24: the problem of sexual assault on campus is not specific to heterosexual members of campus communities. prohibition on liaisons — and yes, prohibitions on liaisons between faculty and students should extend to all.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

In response to Anon Grad’s question at 23 about “whether my view that forcible penetration and unwanted kisses should both be classified as sexual assault involves the view that individuals prosecuted for each should be prosecuted and/or punished in similar (if not identical) ways”:

No, what I’m calling for is a more fine-grained approach to prosecution and punishment, one which is more sensitive to the harm that the victim actually experiences, rather than the harm that the victim “should” experience in the eyes of non-victims, many of whom do not understand the potential harm of acts that compromise sexual agency.

In my (admittedly limited) experience with approximately 75 victims of sexual assault over the past several years, the ones who are most profoundly affected are the ones whose sexual agency was very severely compromised. Some are also cases in which physical force was involved; others are cases in which mental manipulation was the primary tool.

I am of course not trying to downplay the effects of a physically violent sexual act committed by a stranger — anyone who has been raped knows how traumatic this is, and the sorts of PTSD that can be triggered when there are things that remind you of the person or place in which you were assaulted. The same is of course true of non-sexual assaults.

What I *am* trying to explain is that the effects of mental violence — of “mindfucking,” as McGinn calls it — and in particular of being the victim of a perpetrator whom you initially trust but who then systematically grooms and invades your mind as s/he simultaneously objectifies your body — can be equally and actually much more devastating. Survivors typically experience the full range of PTSD in these cases, often in response to a much broader array of triggers — but they also experience other mental health issues related to the fact that it’s very hard to trust, to become close to anyone, in the wake of the betrayal.

It’s also worth noting that when the mindfucking occurs in one’s own discipline — as it has with many philosophers — the harms include loss of educational and professional opportunities. This is a harm not just for those who leave, but also for those of us who stay without the benefit of their ideas, experience, and perspective.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

“what I’m calling for is a more fine-grained approach to prosecution and punishment, one which is more sensitive to the harm that the victim actually experiences, rather than the harm that the victim “should” experience in the eyes of non-victims, many of whom do not understand the potential harm of acts that compromise sexual agency.”

This sounds reasonable to me. The reason I was earlier making somewhat inflammatory claims about your views was that what you said in the debate was stronger than this. Tooley brought up the distinction between, e.g., forcible penetration and unwanted kissing not in the context of prosecution or punishment, but rather in the context of collecting data for the purpose of measuring the extent of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. It seems to me reasonable to deny that we need this distinction for prosecution and punishment (though I haven’t fully thought it through). But I don’t see how the distinction could possibly be irrelevant to assessing the extent of the problem of sexual assault.

To see why, here’s a variation on the kind of things I’ve said a few times. I’ll try to focus on the core issues so we don’t get distracted by red herrings, as we did before.

We know that roughly 20% of women are sexually assaulted in a sense of “sexual assault” that includes both forcible penetration and unwanted kissing. One possibility is that 3/4 of these women (15% of women) were forcibly penetrated and 1/4 (5%) suffered unwanted kisses. Another possibility is that 1/4 were forcibly penetrated (5% of women) and 3/4 suffered unwanted kisses (15%). Both possibilities are terrible. But it seems obvious to me that the scale of the problem of sexual assault would be much more catastrophic if the first possibility were actual than if the second were. Why? For the reasons indicated by myself and Anon Grad: in the actual world, it’s overwhelmingly likely that more harm is caused to female victims of sexual assault in the first possibility than in the second. If that’s right, then by distinguishing between the two kinds of sexual assault in our research, we learn something about the scale of the problem that we wouldn’t otherwise learn. Therefore, we should draw the distinction in our research.

Furthermore, suppose that we started distinguishing forcible penetration from unwanted kisses in social scientific research and we find that the first possibility is actual. Then we pass a law as a result of which we move into the second possibility (and nothing else of significance changes). Isn’t this a good law? Granted, it leaves work to be done (we should try to reduce the unwanted kisses too). But it seems to have brought about an improvement. If that’s the case, then, again it must be worth distinguishing between unwanted kisses and forcible penetration for research purposes (the purpose for which the question originally arose in your debate with Tooley).

Do you disagree with these lines of reasoning? If so, with which of my assumptions or inferences?

This last example is structurally similar to my previous one (comment #19) involving a country before and after a law that leaves the rate of assaults unchanged but that “converts” armed assaults into unarmed assaults. So if you have time, I’d also like to hear whether, if you think it’s not important to know the frequency of forcible penetration as opposed to unwanted kissing, is it likewise not important to know the rate of armed vs. unarmed assault for purposes of evaluating law L?Report

Johnny
Johnny
6 years ago

Thank you for the response, Professor Lockwood. This helps point me in the right direction. So if I understand correctly (and please let me know if I am off base), sexual agency is a broader and more encompassing term than sexual autonomy. Autonomy is concerned with the power of the individual to be independent, to make decisions on one’s own and take actions that are self-motivated. Hence the preoccupation with consent (I choose to engage in this act of my own volition), and the avoidance of notions of social construction and power differentials. Agency, on the other hand, includes not just this ability to choose and act on one’s own but also the ability define and direct the overall narrative of one’s life–and this can be done within the framework of a life that is socially constructed. Agency has to do with a broader notion of personal identity, where that identity can be (to a more or less degree) pushed upon, molded, or even determined by others who wield more power than us. Is this somewhere near the mark?Report

Rob
Rob
6 years ago

Dr. Lockwood,

Is there not a tension between your calls (1) for a categorical prohibition against liasions between faculty and students regardless of gender and/or sex, and (2) for “a more fine-grained approach to prosecution and punishment”? Is it your view that the gender and/or sex of the parties don’t contribute distinctively enough toward shaping the nature and/or severity of harm? Are there data or some other source of good reasons to believe that, say, homosexual liasons between faculty and students are similiarly enough (or identically) impacted by the other variables which contribute to the risky power differentials that concern you?Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I haven’t watched the entire debate above and may be missing important context for the discussion here in the comments. I agree that for purposes of defining offenses and determining punishments, it is valuable to distinguish between different types of assault and sexual assault. I think this approach is a more just way of responding to bad behaviors, and we tend to see better outcomes for victims in the judicial system when prosecutors can pursue a charge that most accurately reflects what occurred. For other purposes, however, including university efforts to prevent and address sexual misconduct, I don’t see much benefit to distinguishing types of sexual assault based on potentially faulty assumptions about which ones are more damaging. The point is that all of them are unacceptable for a learning, working, and living environment, and the university has an obligation to engage in preventative efforts and respond to all such violations.

Rather than hypothesize about what might happen if a useful distinction were found among types of assault that could help prevention efforts, I’d rather focus on what we already know. When we don’t take unwanted sexual contact seriously, even if it seems like a less terrible type, we communicate to members of the community that some types of sexual misconduct will be tolerated. I want students or employees at my university to know that any type of sexual misconduct they experience will be taken seriously, without any attendant judgments about how the victim of such misconduct ought to feel. The more important issue is the bad behavior, not the way it makes victims feel, on average, as if some objective determination of that were possible. I once had a student who was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend who had threatened her with violent harm and demonstrated his ability to carry out the threats, but at that point she hadn’t yet received any response from the police or the courts. When he made a point of walking by in the hallway and looking in at her during class, her ability to learn was seriously compromised even though he didn’t touch her at all. I can’t have that sort of thing going on when I am trying to teach, either. The issue is not the degree of unpleasantness that she or I may have felt; the issue is that it interfered with our ability to have a normal class and her ability to be safe in her living environment.Report

Random Viewer
Random Viewer
6 years ago

Thanks for a very interesting presentation, Heidi.

You opened your talk by handing several items to Michael, who put them on the table for you. You later said that doing this was a violation of his consent and autonomy, and you also said that the harm done by violating another’s consent is to be measured not by the nature of the action or by the intention of the agent, but by the feelings of the recipient (at least, you seemed to be saying that someone who kissed a student (s)he was supervising would be doing something far worse than someone who actually penetrated someone’s sex organs without another’s consent, so long as the student who received the kiss was far worse affected).

This seems to imply that your treatment of Michael could have been worse than the action of a pervert who jumps out of the bushes with a gun and demands that someone perform some sex act, so long as Michael had been badly enough affected and for long enough by your handing him the objects and so long as the person attacked by the pervert in the bushes managed to brush off the experience fairly easily. You seem to acknowledge that this follows from your view, since you made a point of apologizing to Michael and attempting to justify your handing him the items by saying that you needed to make the point somehow.

But if you are right, this apology and justification might not be enough. For Michael might have been extremely offended by your taking advantage of him like that. He might have felt humiliated in public by being treated as your servant whose role it was to bring the objects to the table. He might have felt taken advantage of by extending his courtesy to you and then having you walk all over it to make a point. Perhaps brooding on these transgressions of his good will toward you might lead him to feel withdrawn, depressed, and anxious for a long time. And while many would say that he would be reacting inappropriately and tell him to get over it, this option doesn’t seem open to you, since on your view the wrong is correlated to the subjective response of the person affected, not the nature of the act itself.

Imagine if someone in a similar situation to yours had tried to make a point about sexual harassment by unexpectedly groping a fellow panelist, actually reaching under the panelist’s pants in the process. After such an outrageous act, it couldn’t possibly suffice to give an apology and explain that it was necessary to illustrate a point about the nature of assault. I can’t imagine that anyone would dispute this, including you. Moreover, even if the panelist happened for some reason to find it very funny and not to mind, that would not exonerate the groping. Any reasonable person would understand that this is just an unacceptable way of treating someone who has not given consent. But in the case of handing Michael various objects, you (and we) could see that there was nothing unacceptable involved. The only conclusion must be that you, also, acknowledge that there is a world of difference between handing someone objects to put on a table and groping someone. What makes these acts objectionable is not purely in the mind of the receiver, contra your thesis.Report

faculty-type
6 years ago

Whatever one thinks about these fraught issues, it’s important to get one’s facts straight. Tooley had cited statistics from the Justice Department’s December 2014 report (“Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995–2013”) that are inconsistent with the one-in-five number that has gotten so much attention. Lockwood explained the low numbers in Justice Department report as follows: “The stats that Professor Tooley was showing us on the screen are the statistics of those who actually report, and what that suggests is that the campus reporting system is actually less effective than the criminal reporting system that’s available to students of college age who are not in college.” Lockwood is wrong about this, however. The Justice Department study had nothing to do with counting “those who actually report” either in a “campus reporting system” or in the “criminal reporting system.” It was instead based on a survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, that was “administered to persons age 12 or older from a nationally representative sample of households in the United States.” The sample was huge. “In 2013, 90,630 households and 160,040 persons age 12 or older were interviewed… Each household was interviewed twice during the year.” The response rate was impressive: “84% for households and 88% for eligible persons.” (The Justice Department report can be found here: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsavcaf9513.pdf.)Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

She may have confused Table 1 and Figure 1 since Figure 1 in that report *is* about those who report to the police, and she didn’t seem to have a copy of the report in front of her. In any case, as to whether or not Tooley is right that these data undermine the idea that sexual assault is prevalent in college, that very report he cites gives us good reason to think maybe not:

“The NCVS is one of several surveys used to study rape and sexual assault in the college-age population. In addition to the NCVS, two recent survey efforts used in research on rape and sexual assault of college students are the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and the Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSA). Each of these surveys has a different purpose and methodological approach than the NCVS. Depending on which of the three data sources are used, researchers will generate different estimates of the prevalence and frequency of rape and sexual assault victimization. Some of these differences include— „

Survey context and scope. In a 2014 report on the measurement of rape and sexual assault in the NCVS and other federal surveys, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies of Sciences described survey context as “a major contributor of differences in the estimates of rape and sexual assault” across different data collections.9 Survey context refers to how the survey is described to respondents through notification letters, survey questions, or the interviewer. The NCVS is an omnibus survey designed to collect information on experiences with a broad range of crimes. It is likewise presented to respondents as a survey about criminal victimization. Because victims of rape or sexual assault may not consider their victimization a crime, this context could discourage or suppress recall and reporting of those incidents.10 Additionally, because the NCVS covers a wide range of criminal victimization, the number of screening questions related to rape and sexual assault are limited.

In comparison, the NISVS focused on sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence and was presented as a survey collecting data on a range of behaviors that impact public health. This public health perspective may encourage respondents to recall and report on experiences that they may not typically think of as criminal victimization. It also may result in the collection of incidents that may not be considered criminal behavior. Similarly, the CSA study focused specifically on rape and sexual assault, also from a public health and safety perspective. „

Definitions of rape and sexual assault. The NCVS, NISVS, and CSA define rape and sexual assault slightly differently. The NCVS definition is shaped from a criminal justice perspective and includes threatened, attempted, and completed rape and sexual assault against males and females (see Methodology). Penetration due to coercion is included in the definition of rape, but the survey does not specifically ask about incidents in which the victim was unable to provide consent because of drug or alcohol consumption. Because the NISVS is focused on rape and sexual assault from a public health perspective, the scope of sexual violence included in NISVS is broader than the definitions used in the NCVS. In NISVS, sexual violence includes threatened, attempted, or completed rape, including incidents in which the victim was unable to provide consent due to drug or alcohol use; forced penetration of another person; sexual coercion, which includes nonphysical pressure to engage in sex; unwanted sexual contact, including forcible kissing, fondling, or grabbing; and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences, which do not involve physical contact. The CSA definition of rape and sexual assault included unwanted sexual contact due to force and due to incapacitation, but excluded unwanted sexual contact due to verbal or emotional coercion.

Longitudinal versus cross-sectional design. Both the CSA and NISVS were cross-section data collections administered to the sample a single point in time that asked about events that occurred during a specified reference period. The NCVS is a longitudinal survey administered seven times to the same sampled household, with questions asked about events occurring since the last interview. Longitudinal surveys like the NCVS have the advantage of bounding the reference period and ensuring that events occurring outside of that reference period are not included in estimates. Since research has suggested that traumatic events, such as rape and sexual assault, may be particularly prone to telescoping (i.e., the reporting of events occurring outside of a reference period as though they occurred within the specified period), unbounded surveys may have artificially high incident rates due to events occurring outside of the reference period being telescoped in. „

Question wording. The language and ordering of questions in a survey may affect whether a respondent indicated that an incident occurred. The three surveys used different approaches to asking about experiences with rape and sexual assault. The NCVS used a two-phased approach to identifying incidents of rape and sexual assault. Initially, a screener was administered, with cues designed to trigger the respondent’s recollection of event and ascertain whether the respondent experienced victimization during the reference period. The screener questions directly focused on rape and sexual assault were— – (Other than any incidents already mentioned), has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways:… (e) any rape, attempted rape, or other type of sexual attack; y Incidents involving forced or unwanted sexual acts are often difficult to talk about. (Other than any incidents already mentioned), have you been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by (a) someone you didn’t know before, (b) a casual acquaintance? OR (c) someone you know well?

Even if the respondent did not respond affirmatively to these specific screeners on rape and unwanted sexual contact, the respondent could still be classified as a rape or sexual assault victim if a rape or unwanted sexual contact was reported during the stage-two incident report.

Unlike the NCVS which used terms like rape and unwanted sexual activity to identify victims of rape and sexual assault, the NISVS and CSA used behaviorally specific questions to ascertain whether the respondent experienced rape or sexual assault. For example, one question on the NISVS survey read: y When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever… – had vaginal sex with you? By vaginal sex, we mean that {if female: a man or boy put his penis in your vagina} {if male: a women or girl made you put your penis in her vagina}. – {if male} made you perform anal sex, meaning that they made you put your penis into their anus? made you receive anal sex, meaning they put their penis into your anus? – made you perform oral sex, meaning that they put their penis in your mouth or made you penetrate their vagina or anus with your mouth? – made you receive oral sex, meaning that they put their mouth on your {if male: penis} {if female: vagina} or anus?

Questions on the CSA used similar behaviorally specific cues to identify victims of rape and sexual assault. „

Survey mode. The NCVS, NISVS, and CSA used different modes of administration. The CSA study was a self-administered web survey sent via email to students at the participating colleges. Self-administered surveys are not subject to interviewer effects, but may result in lower response rates or confusion over question wording that could otherwise be clarified by an interviewer. The NISVS was a random digit dialing telephone survey. Telephone surveys exclude respondents without a phone, may be subject to sampling bias because of multiple phones associated with particular households or individuals, and may be subject to nonresponse bias due to low response rates. The NCVS used a multimode design that begins with an initial in-person interview, followed by telephone follow-ups every 6 months for the 3.5 years the household is in the sample. While respondents can develop rapport with the interviewer and familiarity with the survey questions, the NCVS may be more subject to interviewer effects than the CSA or NISVS.”Report

AnProf
AnProf
6 years ago

Prof. Lockwood,
I’m having some trouble envisioning how your proposed change from consent to agency could be implemented in a practical way. Beyond the inherent difficulties already discussed about basing evaluations on the subjective feelings of the individual, you also propose to bring a power differential analysis into the mix. “The problem with consent, and the corresponding notion of sexual autonomy, is that the notion of an “autonomous person” is incompatible with certain core realities about the worlds in which we move. Autonomy presumes, for example, that we are not systematically confined by differentials in power or in resources or in circumstances and background that can shape internal processes of judgment. Autonomy overlooks the fact that the self is socially constructed – and that that construction happens in a context of intersecting power inequalities. Gender and race and sexual orientation are just a few examples of loci of subordination, but there are others. Many others.” This paragraph would seem to indicate that any power differential between two individuals would nullify the agency of the less powerful person and make any sexual relationship into a coercive one. Could a caucasian have a sexual relationship with a person of color without violating their sexual agency given the dynamics of structural racism? Could men and women do so given the dynamics of structural sexism? That surely can’t be intended, but could society resist drawing such conclusions if we start in with power analysis?Report

faculty-type
6 years ago

So where does this one-in-five statistic come from? Well, there seem to be two different “one-in-fives,” one for women during college and one for American women across their lifetimes. For those who (like me) are not social scientists or statisticians, a couple of the Washington Post’s Face Checker pieces are extremely helpful. Here are the links.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/12/17/one-in-five-women-in-college-sexually-assaulted-an-update/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2015/02/12/obamas-claim-that-one-in-five-american-women-have-been-raped/Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Alan Turing began a relationship with an unemployed 19 year old man in January 1952 in Manchester. A few months later, he was convicted for gross indecency and harshly punished by the state. According to the “power differentials” theory, Alan Turing “deserved” this – after all, he was a well-connected mathematics professor and his “victim” an unemployed teenager. Humiliated and shamed, Turing committed suicide on 8 June 1954.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

JRS @ 35: I disagree with your line of reasoning because I reject the soundness of the argument. Specifically, I don’t accept the assumption that “the scale of the problem of sexual assault would be much more catastrophic if [a significantly higher percentage of sexual assaults were due to forcible penetration.”
I am of course not denying that forcible penetration can cause very significant harm. I’m simply denying that it necessarily causes *more* harm than forms of sexual assault that involve mental coercion or force rather than physical coercion or force.
Part of the reason I’m denying this is because I have empirical evidence to the contrary. In my experience working with victims, I have actually found the opposite; when someone a victim knows — particularly someone in a position of relative power — employs mental coercion or manipulation to achieve sexual ends, the victim experiences a sort of PTSD with both physical and mental triggers, and is often unable to get to the point where s/he feels safe enough to openly engage in discourse or an exchange of ideas.
To use a thought experiment: would you rather be assaulted by a stranger in an alley, and then deal with PTSD and anxiety in connection with strangers, alleys, etc., or would you rather be, as Colin McGinn so colorfully put it, “mindfucked” by a philosophy faculty member, and then deal with loss of trust in philosophers and philosophy itself, and perhaps even an inability to become mentally close, to trust anyone again?
Obviously both are horrific. But I’ll take the first over the second.
Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

Anon @ 44: No — no such thing would be entailed by the remarks I have made. The 19-year-old did not complain and did not suffer any apparent harm.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

Johnny @ 36: Yes, your remark, “Agency has to do with a broader notion of personal identity, where that identity can be (to a more or less degree) pushed upon, molded, or even determined by others who wield more power than us” is a good start.

Let me try to say a little bit more.

First, it’s worth noting that there are various feminist critiques of the classic liberal theories of autonomy developed by theorists such as Dworkin and Feinberg. The basic idea behind these critiques is that the notion of autonomy should be guided by observations of the lives of diverse groups of actual persons, rather than, for example, theorizing about the overly-intellectualized ideal of an autonomous person as an isolated individual or cold and detached rational calculator.

Thinking about actual lives and actual persons very quickly leads us to the realization that there are various social forces which seem to restrict the autonomy of individuals. Institutional or cultural androcentrism, for example, may shape not just the choices that are available to women, but also the tendency of women themselves to value practices, norms, and characteristics socially understood as male — and to place these attributes, as well as the men who exemplify them, at the center of institutional or cultural practices.

So the puzzle is: how do we make sense of autonomy in light of a deeper understanding of the impact of socialization and interconnectedness?

Some feminists argue that socioeconomic influences should be seen as restricting or qualifying autonomy, rather than eliminating it. So, for example, Diana Meyers argues that autonomy is a multifaceted, refinable competence — a gradable attribute, rather than a binary all-or-nothing. Later structural and post-structural feminists (e.g., KP Addelson) introduce the notion of power into the puzzle by focusing not on vague, undirected “social construction,” but rather on the ways in which the complex mosaic of intersecting practices of social construction are shaped by power — and in particular, the sorts of power that enable one group to socialize another group in a manner that encourages or requires subordination. In recognizing that the sort of self-direction that is required for autonomy doesn’t occur through a process of extracting the pre-social self from a nexus of power (this would be futile), some of these feminists make the shift from autonomy to agency (e.g., Hilde Lindemann, who argues for a narrative conception of agency).

The reason that I’m encouraging a shift from violations of sexual autonomy to violations of sexual agency in our understanding of how to assess harm in cases of sexual misconduct is because power is an obvious factor in the practices of sexualized dominance which shape both women and men. Feminists such as MacKinnon have described women — paradigmatically — as being subjected to sexual assault or threats of assault, harassment, and pornography. And these practices are often accompanied by insidious arguments and linguistic constructions that hold victims responsible for the harms they suffer… or dismiss the harms as private matters… or even try to justify the harms in terms of the perpetrators’ civil rights. To restrict our attention to just those forms of sexual misconduct which violate sexual autonomy (e.g., forcible non-consensual penetration) is to overlook the fact that sexualized power structures are grounded not merely in violations of sexual *autonomy*, but rather in more insidious restrictions on an individual’s sexual agency.

Note that I’m not calling for an abstract reconception of sexual autonomy or an (impossible) overnight reworking of the various social, political, and economic influences that combine to create the sorts of power at play in sexual relationships. Nor am I calling for the elimination of power from sex. What I *am* calling for is a heightened sensitivity — both in our cultural understanding, and in our policies and investigations — of the ways in which power can compromise sexual agency and make it impossible for a superficially autonomous agent to genuinely consent. As I indicated in the debate, sometimes yes means no.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

Rob @ 37: I don’t see any tension between my calls (1) for a categorical prohibition against liaisons between faculty and students regardless of gender and/or sex, and (2) for “a more fine-grained approach to prosecution and punishment.”

The first is a preventative measure. Prohibitions against faculty/student relations have been adopted at many universities, and have been the norm outside the academy for decades, because there is a very real risk in liaisons in which power differentials exist — and because when things go bad, it often affects the entire working group in addition to the individuals involved in the liaison.

The second remark was made not in relation to prophylaxes, but rather in connection with normative claims about responses to complaints.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

Random Viewer @ 39: This is a great question — your thought experiment beautifully illustrates precisely the point I am trying to make.

Giving the sock to Michael was an extremely risky move. As one member of the audience pointed out, he might well have had a foot fetish, in which case it would (under very slightly different circumstances) have been natural for him to interpret the inexplicable gift as a sexual advance. I took the risk — and will accept criticism for my reliance upon moral good luck — because I felt it would be a helpful and memorable illustration of several points I wanted to make.

One of these points is that many sexual predators engage in a process called “grooming,” in which they test and stretch the limits of the object of their attention by incrementally pushing (and then sometimes retreating from) the boundaries of the acceptable. What I was doing was attempting to simulate the beginning of the process of grooming Michael. It might well have progressed beyond just giving him my phone, the markers, and the sock, to something more explicit and unacceptable, involving, say, unwanted sexual contact.

In other words, you have nicely drawn out the point that I was making. Most of us would *not* intuitively find the act of giving him the sock clearly problematic. I think this intuition is wrong. Our intuitions fail us here for the same reason that we are beguiled into accepting the sock, or worse. After all, what could possibly be wrong with a sock, right? (I didn’t, as you note, engage in unwanted sexual contact.) And then what could possibly be wrong if I touched Michael’s back, right? (It’s not, after all, sexual contact.) And so on. Almost all of the victims that I know who were subjected to unwanted sexual contact were not randomly and suddenly groped. The move to physical touching comes after a long string of questionable but acceptable or at least explicable/dismissible odd behavior.

Although the act of public sock-giving was not problematic in isolation, it can be problematic when understood as part of a larger process of grooming behavior — which would most likely culminate in the kind of behavior you describe, or worse.

Michael asked to keep the sock, by the way. I was initially conflicted about this — I of course didn’t want to add insult to injury by asking for a return of the gift, but it did mean that I’d have to wear slightly dirty socks on my trip to DC the following day. Then he explained that he was asking to keep it because he wanted to take a picture of it and put it on his web site with the caption “I was socked by Lockwood.” And… well, how could I say no to that?Report

Adam Antoszek-Rallo
Adam Antoszek-Rallo
6 years ago

Heidi, in response to your analogies in #16…
You claim that a forced kiss may violate sexual agency in some circumstances more than forced penetration. If in the first example, if the student was forcibly penetrated instead of kissed, would this have diminished the violation of sexual agency? If in the second example, the student had been forcibly kissed instead of forcibly penetrated, would this have increased the violation of sexual agency? In my opinion, in either case the hierarchy of the severity of the acts is not changed. The circumstances may increase or decrease the severity of the violation, but the hierarchy of perceived severity does not change based on circumstances.Report

JRS
JRS
6 years ago

Heidi,
Thanks, for your response. You ask me to answer some questions. As I’ll explain below, I think you’ve changed the case I described. I think that indicating the ways in which you’ve changed my case should answer the question you have for me. I’d also like to hear about whether you agree that the changes to the case that you made are significant for the reasons I discuss and why. Of course, if agree that the changes are significant, then I’m still interested in your take on my original case of the two possibilities (15%/5% vs. 5%/15%).

Before I get to that, though, you say: “I’m simply denying that it [forcible penetration] necessarily causes *more* harm than forms of sexual assault that involve mental coercion or force rather than physical coercion or force.” The suggestion is that you’re denying something I’ve asserted.

I wish I could once and for all convey that I’m *not* assuming that forcible penetration *necessarily* causes more harm than unwanted kisses. It seems like every response to my comments attributes this view to me, no matter how many times I disavow it, but I’ll try once more. (Compare a feminist claim about some tendency of men to do x and the response, “not *all* men do x”.)

Now, on to the changes to the case I presented. You move from unwanted kisses (my example) to “forms of sexual assault that involve mental coercion or force rather than physical coercion or force”. This move would be licit only if the likelihood that unwanted kisses will be of this kind (call this likelihood ‘P(u)’) is not significantly less than the likelihood that a forcible penetration will be highly harmful (call this likelihood ‘P(f)’). Why this necessary condition on your move? Because if we avoid the distinctions you want to avoid, for research purposes, then it’s people who have received unwanted kisses generally, and not jut people who have been mindfucked, who will be lumped in with people who have been forcibly penetrated as victims of sexual assault.

So, our main question: is P(f) significantly greater than P(u)? It seems obvious to me that it is. In my experience (like you, I have to rely on it), it’s pretty common for a few undergrads to go out, get drunk, and for one to kiss another who doesn’t want the kiss. Or to rub up against another who doesn’t want to be rubbed up against while dancing at a party or bar. In both cases, the kiss/rubbing is generally somewhere between a nuisance and an infuriating affront; generally not a traumatic event. It frequently doesn’t involve mindfucking, but just someone having a really strong crush and losing too many inhibitions. I’m assuming, by contrast, that an insignificant number of forcible penetrations are merely nuisances, affronts, or something of the same degree of harm.

Like you, I’m partly relying on what I’ve personally experienced here. But what I’m suggesting also makes sense. There are many more opportunities to do unwanted kisses/rubbing up against a friend or a stranger you’re dancing with at a bar than someone you have power over–unless students socialized/drank with their professors/TA’s as much as they do so with each other–which they clearly don’t (for one thing, there are way more students than profs/TA’s). Also, the less harmful kinds of unwanted kisses are less risky. (Again: this is not to suggest it doesn’t happen, but only that it’s less common than the other kind of unwanted kissing.)

Regarding the personal evidence you (Heidi) cite working with victims of sexual assault: people who have experienced the kinds of (*generally*) less harmful kissing/rubbing I just described won’t (*generally*) report what happened to a sexual assault officer, and so won’t influence this personal evidence. Your personal evidence may give you a sense of the relative harmfulness of mindfucking and forcible penetration; but it doesn’t give you evidence about P(u), about how many unwanted kisses involve mindfucking. (Maybe you’ve had other experiences that do bear on this; I’m only responding to the specific evidence you described.)

So if my assumptions are true (and the empirical evidence you’ve discussed so far doesn’t contradict them), then it follows that forcible penetrations are more harmful in the aggregate than unwanted kissing (*not* that every possible forcible penetration is more harmful than every possible act of mindfucking). And we should therefore distinguish between the two in our research.Report

rdg
rdg
6 years ago

PTSD is a medically diagnosed malady that strikes some people that have been under extremely traumatic situations- not someone that was made uncomfortable by anunwanted kiss. To even suggest this is ludicrous and pathetic. People that serve 3 tours in Iraq diffusing IDEs get PTSD. People that went through the dust bowl in the 30’s probably got it. People that were subjected to an awkward kiss don’t.

Almost every aspect of college liberalism is completely out of control. Your students are adults and if they’re really that fragile our country is in deep, deep trouble.

The more specific problem with the professors suggestion that an unwanted kiss could be more traumatic than forceable penetration is that it means should a court find a defendant guilty they could face 25-life as a “rape” sentence. For a kiss.

This is indicative of the mentality that’s sweeping colleges and reform can’t come soon enough.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I was violently assaulted. Then pursued and stalked for years. PTSD is a clinical diagnosis reserved for extremity level experiences such as near death (as commenter above 52 explains). An unwanted kiss is not the same as being assaulted and stalked. This is an extract from my medical diagnosis: “I assessed X on … X’s scores, on the Beck Anxiety Inventory, indicated X was suffering from clinically severe levels of anxiety. X’s scores on the Beck Depression Inventory … were of clinical severity … The Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation – Outcome Measure (Core-OM) recorded the following findings: impairment to wellbeing of clinical severity, clinical severity for problems and symptoms, clinical severity for functioning; no clinically signficant risk of harm to self and others;, and clinically severe distress levels. … scores above 36 on this scale [the Impact of Events scale] indicate the presence of trauma symptoms … X scored 84 out of 88.”Report

Philomena
Philomena
6 years ago

To be clear, the accepted definition in the medical community for PTSD is based on that in the DSM. There is nothing within the DSM criteria that attempts to rate the relative severity of the type of trauma; it simply focuses on the symptoms experienced by the patient. There is a lot of additional research into forms of PTSD not covered in the DSM. Complex PTSD for example isn’t in there, and this diagnosis and Heidi’s description of sexual agency versus sexual autonomy have quite a bit of bearing on one another. I’ll let you google that one if you’re interested. Finally, resilience has been a very sexy area of psychiatric research for the last fifteen years or so–resilience being the term that describes why, all else being equal, one individual will develop psychopathology following a certain traumatic event and another will not. People are examining the individual functioning of the HPA axis during stress and the various expressions of the serotonin transporter genes like 5-HTT. Sufficeth to say, less extreme sounding events can and do inspire severe psychological consequences. The important thing is the symptomatology experienced by the individual, not our subjective judgments of the event that caused it.Report

Philomena
Philomena
6 years ago

Leaving trauma out, let’s take the example of depression. Someone with a seemingly stress free life–upper middle class, great parents, solid social support network–could develop severe depression while someone living in extreme poverty working two jobs to feed their kids doesn’t. It doesn’t mean the former is weak or shouldn’t be depressed; it just means there’s a lot about the brain we don’t understand yet. And regardless, the former individuals depression is real and valid and it requires treatment. Same with a traumatized individual, regardless of what someone else thinks of their trauma.Report

Philomena
Philomena
6 years ago

And for good measure, I’ll throw in personal experience. I was raped, and while I was affected by the trauma, I don’t have PTSD. My boyfriend was in Afghanistan and he has trouble going to sleep at night because night is when they attacked. That’s not enough for a diagnosis of PTSD. Should we take from that that being raped or going to war aren’t bad enough to develop PTSD? (Answer to rhetorical question: No. That’s absurd.) Extrapolate from that as needed.Report

Philomena
Philomena
6 years ago

On a separate note: The CDC released a report in Oct. 2014 that supports the 1 in 5 statistic.Report

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
6 years ago

rdg @52 and Anon @53:

Out of respect for PTSD victims and survivors who have not suffered “near death” experiences, and with due respect to the victims and survivors who have experienced physical violence or near-death trauma (including myself), I need to gently but firmly correct you:

PTSD is *not* a diagnosis, as Anon @53 claims, “reserved for extremity level experiences such as near death.”

A medical diagnosis of PTSD is based on the DSM-IV or V, both of which focus on symptoms.

I think the misunderstanding here may be related to the use of the dainty phrase “unwanted kiss,” rather than the more explicit phrase “mindfucking,” which captures the process of grooming and manipulation that precedes the unwelcome sexual contact. Unwelcome sexual contact is usually not an isolated incident.

If indeed the unwelcome sexual contact is an isolated and non-threatening incident, it is not something we need to worry about, because it will not result in a complaint. (Remember that filing a complaint of any kind is still an *extremely* risky thing, often with subtle retaliatory consequences.)

In any case, let me simply say that I could excerpt passages from professional medical diagnoses very similar to the one Anon @53 describes above — for victims who have experienced “only” mental violence, as opposed to “only” physical violence. There is a network of victims who discuss the relative merits of various therapies for PTSD — EMDR, CBT, SIT, CT, etc. (my learning curve on these issues in the past few years has been steep!) — and almost all of those in the network are victims of mental manipulation.

Please note that I’m not trying to downplay the effects of physical violence. But I am insisting that victims of physical violence should not cause additional secondary trauma for those who have experienced mental violence by minimizing or dismissing the harm they have suffered.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Let me correct you, Heidi. As someone who has been violently assaulted, I know the symptoms (hypervigilance, flashbacks, triggering, sleep disturbance and so on), because I have them. I know the criteria, because my therapist is an expert on PTSD, a specialist in treating trauma. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s guidance on DSM-5, PTSD is based on the criterion:
“The diagnostic criteria for the manual’s next edition identify the trigger to PTSD as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation.”
http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/PTSD%20Fact%20Sheet.pdfReport

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Anon @59: yes, and the “exposure to… threatened… sexual violation” criterion you have quoted from the DSM-5 guidance is consistent with the unwelcome sexual contact I’ve described. Unwelcome sexual contact can be perceived as a threat of sexual violation. And mental violence can be just a violent as physical violence.

My remark that one can experience very severe PTSD without being physically assaulted is not controversial in the medical community. There are victims who are reading this exchange (with all of the symptoms you describe) who are experiencing re-traumatization because you are at least implicitly criticizing them for experiencing the symptoms. So: please, let’s take this discussion off line.

Nothing I said has even remotely suggested that victims of physical violence have not been harmed. I acknowledge and fully respect the gravity of the harm done to you. Please grant other victims the same respect.Report

anonymous person
anonymous person
6 years ago

At the risk of beating a dead horse–no, the kind of “grooming” Heidi is talking about is not consistent with complex PTSD either. complex PTSD is not in the manual. I’ve been diagnosed with it, and I’ve read a huge amount about it, and consulted with experts about it. Complex PTSD is the result of things like: prolonged exposure to military combat; prolonged kidnapping and torture; prolonged domestic abuse; prolonged stalking and attempts at murder. It’s an important feature (one can read all about this in e.g. Herman’s “Trauma and Recovery” book) of complex PTSD that the person be in captivity or entrapped, that there is a genuine loss of control over the situation for a prolonged period of time. If you’re getting diagnosed with complex PTSD because a faculty member sexually groomed you, the person diagnosing you is unfamiliar with what the term ‘complex PTSD’ means. Frankly: I am sympathetic to the idea that we need to support all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. I am also sympathetic to the idea that there is something especially pernicious about faculty members doing this sort of thing to students, grooming them. Anyone who knows me knows that. But this doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we should treat this experience as on a par with (or worse?) than someone being kidnapped and tortured for four years straight, or someone being forced to engage in intense combat for years, or someone being trapped in an incredibly violent, abusive relationship with no “out” due to *genuine fear for their lives* if they leave. It is very, very different to be in a situation in which your only alternative to that situation is death, or death of your closest loved one, or anything remotely like that, than to be groomed by a faculty member. Death is not the alternative in that case.
I am really, really sick of people treating these kinds of issues as on a par and as though the same reactions are appropriate or reasonable in either case. They are not.

All that being said: why are we obsessing over how mental health professionals define various mental illnesses and disorders? It’s highly doubtful that they’ve got it right. They might, for example, sometimes only be *thinking* about emotional and psychological effects of events in people’s lives, and not those events themselves, because that is what is relevant to them–they are trying to treat the emotional and psychological effects. But that doesn’t mean that everyone who has the same emotional and psychological states (say, in this case, symptoms of PTSD) necessarily deserves our equal sympathy and care, nor that some of them are not being unreasonable. (I am not claiming that it is *true* that some of them are being unreasonable–I am just claiming that this is a question for philosophers, not mental health professionals, to debate.)Report

anonymous person
anonymous person
6 years ago

(Whether something is real and valid and requires treatment is a totally separate question from how we should think about how to deal with the *causes* of whatever the real and valid thing that requires treatment is. It just cannot be right that we should use people’s emotional and mental states as a guide to how to deal with the things that caused those emotional and mental states. Philomena’s depression case is a case in point. Just because one person reading a headline can cause them to spiral into a deep depression, does not mean we should not publish the headline. Just because someone might exhibit mental and emotional and physical states after her dog eats her ice cream cone similar to those of someone who has suffered a grave trauma does not mean we should treat the event of a dog eating an ice cream cone similarly to the event of grave trauma. But I think the case of trauma is extra tricky: should we *really* be required to tiptoe around the person who experiences the dog eating her ice cream cone as traumatic? Philosophers should at least grant that this is not a settled question–right?)Report

anonymous person
anonymous person
6 years ago

One last thing: As someone who has experienced both the mental violence of which Heidi speaks, and extreme, prolonged physical violence/threat of physical violence, I would be very surprised if they were on a par. I disagree that mental violence is as violent as physical violence. I am wondering why that discussion needs to be taken offline (in particular, I am wondering why Heidi thinks that it is okay to just claim that they are on a par, and then try to shut off future discussion by trying to accuse her interlocutor of triggering those who have experienced mental violence). What is the evidence for this claim? What would even constitute evidence for this claim? It seems problematic to use people’s reported mental states in the aftermath as evidence–it seems problematic to me to define violence by the psychological harm it does people. But even if we were to do that, we would need some kind of statistical evidence. It cannot be that we are not allowed to discuss this point because it is triggering. And I think it is a huge conversation, not one that one person can just assert a claim about and silence discussion about. For now, on this blog, it seems we should at least be allowed to simply disagree.Report

Another Victim
Another Victim
6 years ago

anonymous person, I am happy to grant (and I take it Heidi is, too–I haven’t seen anything in her comments that suggests otherwise) that not all mental violence is as violent as physical violence, or something to that effect. But I have also experienced both extreme physical violence and the kind of mental violence that Heidi describes. And maybe it’s a difference of circumstance, maybe it’s a difference of details, maybe it’s a difference of another kind, but in my own case, I found the mental /much/ more difficult to cope with than the physical. In the spirit of it “seem[ing] problematic to use people’s reported mental states in the aftermath as evidence,” I take it that neither your experience nor mine should be taken to be typical, normative, or paradigmatic. Given, though, that you said you have been diagnosed with complex PTSD, I will say that I do have friends who have been diagnosed with PTSD in the wake of having been assaulted in ways that are generally not thought of as being as stereotypically “violent,” and where their trauma is almost exclusively related to interpersonal/institutional betrayal, after having experienced grooming. For Anon to simply assert that such a thing cannot be legitimate (strangely, in the course of citing precisely why it is legitimate, i.e., “serious injury or sexual violation,” and claiming that it is a correction) is not to engage in productive conversation, but rather to simply deny other victims the decency of minimal respect.Report

anonymous person
anonymous person
6 years ago

I was not defending Anon–I was responding to Heidi.Report

Another Victim
Another Victim
6 years ago

Yes, but Heidi was responding to Anon when she said “So: please, let’s take this discussion off line.” Given that, I was quite stunned by your gloss on Heidi’s comment.Report

twbb
twbb
6 years ago

“The problem with consent, and the corresponding notion of sexual autonomy, is that the notion of an “autonomous person” is incompatible with certain core realities about the worlds in which we move.”

Many posts on this website (and the comments thereto) pretty clearly establish that Continental philosophical theories (and you seem to be presenting such a theory) are definitely a minority view; your position seems to rest on us accepting your views on the importance of power relations in the social construction of the self (and accepting the view that the self is a pure social construction). It seems that if we don’t accept your theories on selfhood then there is not much use in arguing about those broader policy studies.

As a practical matter it seems you are also making the alleged victim the arbiter of any charge–if the subjective feelings of that person determine liability, and the physical manifestation of the alleged assault is not relevant to determining wrongdoing, then what possible defense does the alleged perpetrator have to a vindictive or mendacious accuser?Report

NRB
NRB
6 years ago

Prof. Lockwood does seem to identify a real problem: sometimes people are manipulated in ways that are seriously harmful even if they only suffer mild bodily violation (or no bodily violation at all). But perhaps rather than suggesting that our concern with sexual assault should shift towards violations of agency, we should introduce a new category of wrongdoing, something like “sexual manipulation that could foreseeably cause considerable harm.” This sort of wrongdoing could be more harmful in some instances than violent bodily violation, but they are not the same kind of thing. If I understand correctly what Prof. Lockwood means by ‘sexual agency’, then having one’s sexual agency impinged on would be very much a first world problem. I highly doubt a woman abducted by Boko Haram would give the same answer to Prof. Lockwood’s thought experiment as she does. Having one’s self-confidence as a philosopher undermined may be utterly devastating for those who experience it, but such a thing could only happen to a person in a position of relative privilege. It seems apt to maintain a notion of sexual assault that describes the global problem.Report