The conservative columnist George Will found himself in a firestorm of controversy and faced the inevitable calls from his progressive critics for his voice to be silenced after he wrote a controversial column about how colleges prosecute accusations of sexual abuse and dating violence. Both men and women are troubled by how campuses are handling cases of alleged sexual assault.
Will highlighted a growing concern among students and parents over the increasing frequency of accusations of sexual misconduct, and the appearance that the accused are often presumed guilty before being proven innocent.
“Questions about sexual assault policies in higher education have emerged as a national issue in recent years as more young women file complaints with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights about how their cases are handled by campus administrators,” USA Today reported on Friday.
The issue has become so pressing that the Department of Education revealed new regulations on Friday designed to address those growing concerns.
“The proposals also would allow both accusers and the accused to bring an ‘advisor of their choice’ to campus disciplinary proceedings,” the USA Today report continued. “Colleges also would have to provide more information, including a list of possible sanctions, about how disciplinary cases involving sexual violence are handled.”
Though the matter of consent and what constitutes consensual sex, an issue at the heart of many disputed campus sexual assault cases, remains unaddressed in the new Education Department rules.
Writing about this issue, Will took on the sensitive subject of what constitutes consensual sex in colleges. At one point, Will recounted the testimony of one woman who said she permitted sexual intercourse with a friend, although she did not want it at the time, and reported that incident as a rape six weeks later.
“Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of ‘sexual assault’ victims,” Will wrote. “It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.”
His take on the subject sparked a significant backlash.
“The Washington Post needs to take a break from his column, they need to dump him,” insisted National Organization for Women president Terry o’Neill.
“Seeing the reaction and intensity of the hurt in some of social media and the reaction of women I know and talking to people who really were offended by the thought that sexual assault victims would seek some special victimhood — it helped seeing that response and it informed my opinion,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor Tony Messenger said when asked why he decided to drop Will from his paper’s opinion pages.
On Thursday, Will spoke with C-SPAN where he was asked for his thoughts about the backlash over his column.
“This is my job,” Will said, “is when dubious statistics become the basis of dubious and dangerous abandonment of due process, to step in and say ‘Take a deep breath everybody.’”
Will contested the administration’s statistics on campus rape, which he said indicate that one in five women on American college campuses will experience sexual assault. He added that threshold to achieve a conviction against a person accused of sexual assault requires merely a “preponderance of evidence” be brought against them.
“You’re going to have charges of sexual assault, and you’re going to have young men disciplined – their lives often permanently and seriously blighted because of this,” Will said, “And you’re going to have litigation of tremendous expense as young men sue the colleges for damages done to them by abandonment of the rules of due process that we have as a society evolved over many centuries.”
When asked to respond to one critic who accused Will of trivializing the crime of sexual assault, the conservative columnist said he takes sexual assault more seriously than his critics do. “When someone’s accused of rape, it should be reported to the criminal justice system that knows how to deal with this, not with jerrybuilt, improvised campus processes,” he asserted.
Will went on to dismiss those for whom he said “indignation is default position.” He added that the outrage over his column will, like “summer storms,” dissipate as rapidly as it arose. In conclusion, the columnist said that he would not take one word of his column back if he had the chance.