You may have heard that, last Friday, the Trump administration reversed guidelines on how US universities handle sexual-assault claims. You may have heard that these new, interim guidelines essentially make it harder for victims to claim sexual assault at university. Women’s groups and advocates for sexual-assault victims have called the move illegal, saying it reeks of rape apology.
What you may not know is that a mothers’ group helped this to happen.
FACE stands for Families Advocating for Campus Equality and it was set up in 2013 by the mothers of men accused of rape and sexual assault at university. Arguing that their sons have been wrongly accused, and complaining that these accusations have far-reaching implications in their sons’ lives, FACE has spent time and money lobbying Congress.
And their lobbying has paid off. The guidelines reversed by the government were ones put in place during the Obama era. They allowed for campus sexual-assault claims to be “aggressively investigated”, with the accuser providing the minimum amount of evidence. But the US education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has now proclaimed that these guidelines were “unfairly skewed” against those accused of sexual assault. She has now issued new, temporary instructions that allow universities to decide how much evidence they need to uphold a claim.
FACE – and several men’s rights groups – are triumphant. One FACE mother, whose son was expelled from his university after he had sex with a student who said she’d been too drunk to consent, told The New York Times: “In my generation, what these girls are going through was never considered assault. It was considered, ‘I was stupid and I got embarrassed.’” Later in the interview, she added: “We don’t really need to teach our sons not to rape.”
I want my sons to appreciate, in a very real way, that women aren’t objects. I want them to understand the powerlessness and rage that comes from being treated as such
Well, I disagree. I mean, I am the mother to sons and I find pretty much everything they do adorable. The sonnets I could write you about the coos and snuffles my baby makes, or about my toddler’s random acts of kindness in the playground. Around 40 per cent of all conversations with my husband are awestruck whispers about the style and delivery of a filial tantrum, or massive blow-out poo. I know, it’s tedious – but it’s just how I’m wired. I’m a mum. I am, biologically and in most other ways, engineered for bias.
But do I see this bias extrapolating to rape denial in my sons’ adulthood? Of course not. If someone accused one of my sons of rape, I have no idea how I would act. It would be an unthinkable situation; mortifying and heartbreaking. What I am certain I wouldn’t do, however, is belittle the experience of the person who accused him, and tell her that she got rape wrong.
We do need to teach our sons about rape. About sexual assault. Obviously, the onus isn’t solely on us as mothers – fathers, families, and society have a responsibility, too – but it is up to us, a bit, as those who have experienced sexual assault.
We do need to teach our sons not to rape, and to not perpetuate a rape culture – not because they are predisposed to do so, but because society is predisposed to allow it. And while we’re doing that, let’s teach this to the mothers of FACE, along with the fact that rape is common, whereas only two to 10 per cent of sexual-assault claims at university are false.
As is the case with many women, I have experienced sexual assault. A bunch. Some instances have left long scars; some I only realised I’d written off as “one of those things” when I dredged up memories sparked by the #metoo campaign. None of them were my fault for how I was dressed, the messages I was giving off, how drunk I was, or how “stupid” or “embarrassed”.
Personally speaking, some of the most hurtful instances were perpetrated by men acting with privilege and without distinction. As though abusing me, despite the devastating effect on me, was as everyday and unmemorable to them as eating a sandwich or reading a magazine.
I don’t want my sons to grow up with this attitude. I want them to appreciate, in a very real way, that women aren’t objects. I want them to understand the powerlessness and rage that comes from being treated as such. I want them to grow up with their eyes open and their hearts in the right place.
But if that doesn’t happen, I won’t close my eyes to it.