Monday, November 14, 2011

Category error

Did Penn State treat boys like women?
As you absorb the news about the key people at Penn State who ought to have reported what they knew of coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged assaults on little boys, please keep one thing in mind. Penn State’s cover-up is embedded in the interest it, and all universities, have in keeping many forms of sexual violence and sexual harassment a private, internal matter. The mistake Penn State made was, in many ways, a simple category error: they mistook these pubescent boys for women. They forgot that children occupy a very different status in the law than do the female students, faculty and staff who are most frequently the object of unwanted sexual attention and/or violence. If a college woman doesn’t file a rape charge, usually very quickly, the crime doesn’t exist. Delay the report by as little as 24 hours and the chances of even an internal judicial proceeding (much less an arrest and a trial) diminish dramatically. Universities substitute private hearings, counseling and mediation for legal proceedings: while women often choose this route, rather than filing felony charges against their assailants, it doesn’t always serve their interest to do so. But it always serves the interests of the institution not to have such cases go to court.

Penn State seems, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, not to have known what they did not know: society and the law have much stricter rules when child abuse is finally uncovered. Since most people don’t believe that ten year olds want to be anally penetrated by grown men, once there is credible evidence that the sex happened, people tend not to spin alternative scenarios about little boys like: ”look what he was wearing;” “he’s probably just mad that Coach Sandusky wouldn’t hook up with him;” “he was drunk;” or “it was just bad sex and he’s trying to get back at Coach.”
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