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Weekly Roundup

Posted by On Friday, July 17, 2015

This week a new movie anatomizes the Stanford Prison Experiment and how our environments influence our behavior, a California Court rules that a school’s hearing panel violated an accused students right to a fair hearing, and a new study challenges the belief that most campus rapes are committed by serial perpetrators.

Stanford Prison Experiment Movie

The fact-based dramatization of the Stanford Prison Experiment is released in theaters today.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted by Stanford psychologist Phillip Zimbardo in 1971. In the experiment, 24 college males were placed into a simulation where half were given the role of prison guard and the other half the role of prisoner.  These assumed roles had detrimental impacts causing the 14-day experiment to be cut off after just six days.  The Experiment has been inspiration for two previous movies and a BBC series, but this film is considered to be the most realistic insight into the actual events involved in the Prison Experiment.  The Stanford Prison Experiment was important for many reasons.  It took regular people – even referred to as “peaceniks” prior to the Experiment – and either gave then either a sense of power or a sense of defeat. “No, see that’s what’s been happening …we’re saying it’s a few bad apples, it’s isolated,” Zimbardo said on CNN in 2004. “But what’s bad is the barrel.”  The study suggests that individuals are products of the environments that they exist in.  While this does not remove fault on an individual for committing a crime, it gives insight into the importance of holistic societal change.  

California Court Rules Accused Student Denied a Fair Hearing

Last week, a California Superior Court judge ruled that in a Roe (she said) vs. Doe (he said) case, a University of California San Diego hearing panel violated Doe’s right to a fair hearing. The right to cross-examine the accused was one of the central issues in the case, leading the court to conclude that the “limiting of questions in this case curtailed the right of confrontation crucial to any definition of a fair hearing.” Specifically, the court found it unfair that the Panel Chair asked only nine of the thirty-two questions submitted by Doe, paraphrased questions, allowed “restricted answers and prevented any follow-up,” and put up a screen between Roe and Doe, denying him the right to confront his accuser. We have previously written about the right to cross-examine the accuser in campus sexual assault hearings, citing a decision by a U.S. District Court in New York, which found that constitutional due process in a case where a male student was accused of rape “required that the panel permit the [accused] . . . to direct questions to his accuser through the panel.” [Donohue v. Baker, et al. (USDC NDNY 1997) 976 F.Supp.136] And in its Order dismissing a lawsuit against St. Joseph’s University filed by a student suspended for sexual misconduct, a U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania stated that the Office for Civil Rights strongly discourages schools to allow the accused student to personally confront or cross-examine the accuser. [Harris v. Saint Joseph's University (USDC EDPA 2013) no. 2:13-cv-03937] However, as the Title IX Blog points out, the recent California decision reminds schools that “It is possible to hold fair hearings and comply with Title IX and that is what colleges and universities should be striving to do.”

What If Most Campus Rapes Aren’t Committed by Serial Rapists?

A study published this week challenges the belief that most campus rapes are committed by serial perpetrators. An influential 2002 study by David Lisak and Paul Miller found 4% of surveyed men were responsible for over 90% of self-reported rapes and 28% of self-reported violence, suggesting that “a relatively small proportion of men are responsible for a large number of rapes and other interpersonal crimes.” Lisak and Miller’s findings were bolstered by a 2009 study of enlisted men in the Navy. The new research released this week, led by Kevin Swartout, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University, found that “most college men who perpetrate rape do so during relatively limited time frames.” Instead of measuring the number of incidents that an individual committed, as Lisak and Miller did, Swartout and his co-researchers examined how many time periods in which an individual reported perpetrating rape. Most men (74.7%) “who committed college rape only perpetrated rape during 1 academic year.” Furthermore, the men at greatest risk of perpetrating rape changed: those men most likely to commit rape before college were not the men most likely to rape in college. The study undermines the assumption that there is “a cohesive group of men who consistently committed rape” on campus. Overall, 10.8% of the men surveyed in the study reported perpetrating rape. Swartout’s findings may change how institutions approach preventing and responding to sexual violence. Andra Tharp, a senior adviser for the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response division, told FiveThirtyEight, “if [rape is] mostly sporadic and opportunistic behavior, we need to think more about prevention and intervention — a broader public health approach instead of focusing primarily on a few high-risk individuals.”

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