Helping Reduce Rape Culture: Two Legislative Ideas

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

What we need to do to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

I live close Penn State University where the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity’s online cyber bullying activities using Facebook to show explicit pictures of nude and/or inebriated women occurred. As a result of this action and the now ongoing investigations by both Penn State University and the State College Police, Erin Matson’s idea of reducing the legal age for alcohol consumption might be something that states might want to consider. I don’t know where I stand on this, but Erin does make a decent argument here.

Drinking age is a state, not a federal issue. So, if the drinking age were to be lowered, it would have to go through the state legislatures and be signed into law. Just like when the drinking age was raised back in the 1980’s.

To some extent, the same is true for any law that might be enacted to deal with online cyber-bullying and stalking, often known as revenge porn. If interstate commerce is involved in the bullying and stalking, federal law can and has been created (see here and here). If not, then this issue has to be dealt with at the state level.

States across the country have recently enacted or are considering bills to punish perpetrators of revenge porn and online cyber bullying or stalking. Here in Pennsylvania, legislators passed a “revenge porn” bill known as the “UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE AND DAMAGES IN ACTIONS FOR UNLAWFUL DISSEMINATION OF INTIMATE IMAGE Act;” it became law on September 8, 2014. It however does not cover online bullying outside of dating or marriage relationships since the law restricts coverage to a victim who is a “current or former sexual or intimate partner.” This law makes the non-consensual dissemination of such images a misdemeanor offense.

I understand that the PA legislature may now revisit this bill to expand the law to cover such types of bullying activities outside of an intimate relationship as a result of the KDR incident. When they do, I would recommend that they expand the law to all forms of cyber bullying and stalking in addition to any non-consensual dissemination of such images. This would include severe harassment and bullying threats that place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

This proposal would, I believe, help create a state-based law similar to federal law (18 U.S.C. 875 and 18 U.S.C. 2261a) that “ makes it a federal crime to transmit threats of bodily injury in interstate commerce and criminalizes the use of electronic communication to place a person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.”

Finally, there will be a Congressional hearing on on-line cyber-bullying and stalking on April 15. This hearing is being set up by Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) with the assistance of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This hearing will focus on concerns about gender violence in all forms of social media. I’ll post a comment here once I find out where and at what time the hearing will be held.

Dealing with Frat Boys Who “Hold Women in Contempt”

Picture of a sign at the Window of Opportunity rally that says "End Rape Culture."

The theme of the Window of Opportunity Rally and March. This informal coalition was created last week as a “window of opportunity” to impact town and gown policies and programs to reduce/eliminate sexual assault, stalking, and harassment in our community.

A couple of days ago I reported on my participation in a rally and march on ending the rape culture at Penn State University and in the fraternity environment as expressed by the recent social media cyber bullying conducted by some members of the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity.

This morning, a member of a committee  I’m working with (thank you Bonnie) that is focusing on the cyber bullying issue sent me a link to an article in Salon that asks the question, “Why do some men hold women in contempt?”

In this article, Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at Stonybrook University discusses his research on men and masculinity and how perceptions of masculinity can and do result in behaviors such as what happened with Penn State University’s Kappa Delta Rho.

Kimmel argues that men often hold two views of masculinity. One view is that of the “good” man. The other is that of the “real” man.

The “good” man is a man who values honor and sacrifice and is willing to stand up for the little guy. And that “little guy” could be anyone, including women and others who are not part of their brotherhood.

The “real” man is a man who supports or values the view that to be this “real man” (a view often held by fraternity members according to Kimmel), you need to “man up.” Manning up includes things like never showing your emotions, never giving up, winning no matter what the cost, being a good “bro,” getting rich and getting laid.

Both views of what a man should be are often held by fraternity members. Mission statements of fraternities point to the “good” man ideal. Peer pressure within a fraternity leads the brother to “man up” and hold women in contempt with the negative behaviors linked to this view of what a “real” man should do.

Kimmel explains this disconnect between the values associated with the “good” man and the behaviors shown when women are held in contempt “as a kind of compensation for all of that manly sacrifice and teamwork” associated with being a member of the fraternity.

And this disconnect needs to be changed.

Men need to be held accountable for their contempt of women. Re-educating and adjudicating misdeeds of misbehaving frat boys within the university judicial system both need to be done. Dr. Kimmel has the right idea about this accountability. Here’s what he says,

My position on this is very simple. I think that we have to find ways to hold them to account. If you do something that is so disrespectful of others and you have basically violated something about the student code of conduct about the way you’re supposed to behave… these are the kind of things that I think campus judiciary committees should be talking about. I want to say to these guys, “You have broken something about the community, you have betrayed this community.You signed an agreement when you came to Penn State that you would abide by the student code of conduct. Well, you violated that. We now believe that you need to repair the damage you have done to this community.You’ve rent the fabric of the community and you have to repair it in some way.”

Frankly, this is something that campus judiciary can do because it’s a legal procedure, you have a constitutional right to due process in a criminal case.But you don’t have a constitutional right to go to Penn State. Penn State can decide you’ve blown it, you have now done something we find so egregious that we will now say you should separate yourself from this school; do something educational around the issues for which we are asking you to separate yourself, and then we will consider bring you back.

You have damaged the community, and now you have to do something proactive to repair it.

I agree. Penn State University, like every other university, has a Student Judicial Conduct Board. The Board has a written set of policies on student conduct that all students receive when they are admitted and which they agree to follow while at the university.

As I stated in the last blog, a full review of the policies at the university surrounding on-line cyber bullying needs to be conducted. Hopefully these policies currently  deal with such forms of misconduct. If the Judicial Conduct Standards are weak in this area, they need to be beefed up. Either way, the Board should follow Dr. Kimmel’s recommendations to the letter of the code with this current case and with all future acts of cyber bullying at the university.

Repair the damage you have done to the community. Educate yourself. Then and only then should you be allowed to come back.