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article imageOp-Ed: Rape, use of force, and torture: 2014's autumn of tough questions

By Calvin Wolf     Dec 10, 2014 in Politics
A perfect storm is brewing this autumn over three agonizingly difficult questions: Responsibility in our alleged "rape culture," appropriate police use of force, and the alleged torture committed by the CIA. What does this mean for, and about, America?
Rape and sexual assault are rampant on American college campuses. Police officers are killing unarmed civilians, outraging the public. Our government has been accused of torturing people during the Global War on Terror, violating our nation's values and ruining our image and reputation abroad. All of these issues are front-and-center simultaneously during the late autumn of 2014. Will our nation be cleansed by the winter snows, or will nothing meaningful have been accomplished by the time next summer rolls around?
2014 may go down in the history books as one of the years our nation really peered into its underbelly and explored the contentious issues most would rather not discuss. As Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men would have said, these are not the things you talk about at parties. Rape, use of force, and torture are issues where opinions are heated and there are few easy answers.
The contentious debate over rape is based around the tug-of-war between sensitivity to victims and due process rights for suspects, especially on college campuses. Most of the time, rape and sexual assault are "she said-he said" events, with few corroborating witnesses and little lasting physical evidence. This lack of evidence is compounded as time progresses between the alleged commission of the crime and the reporting of the crime. In the past, women were put under extreme scrutiny when they claimed that they had been raped or assaulted, often having to prove that they were "pure" and had fought tooth-and-nail to prevent being violated. Rapists, especially ones with money and power, could easily discredit their accusers by alleging promiscuity or loose morals.
Today the situation, fortunately, is far more equitable. However, a new battle is brewing: On one side, many argue that women are still treated unfairly by law enforcement when alleging rape or sexual assault, and on the other side are many who argue that men are now facing the difficult standard of "guilty until proven innocent" when allegations of sexual misconduct are made. Neither side is happy. Many women feel that they face unfair scrutiny when trying to recount details of their assault. Many men feel that they are not given sufficient due process rights and are at risk of false accusations.
From Lena Dunham to UVA to Bill Cosby, we have plenty to debate regarding the scales of justice. Are rape and sexual assault victims being sufficiently well treated? Are rape and sexual assault suspects receiving their fair due process rights and a chance to refute the charges against them?
The allegations against colleges, universities, fraternities, and the household name of Bill Cosby, star of the iconic television show bearing his name, are truly groundbreaking. For generations, universities were looked up to as paragons of virtue and equality, striving to help give motivated young people, from all backgrounds, a good chance to improve their standing in life. Now they are being presented to us as insular, nepotistic institutions that reinforce the powers of the privileged and ignore crimes against those without power.
Legislators need to hurry to devise better rules and laws regarding sexual assault and rape allegations. While victims of assault should be able to report without fear, suspects should be able to refute the charges. Thus far, the pendulum has swung too far in either direction, causing injustices both to victims and to suspects. Will 2015 be the year that legislatures begin improving this tense situation?
Far more complicated is the other debate that has raged this fall over police use of force. From Michael Brown to Eric Garner, America has recently been bombarded with instances where white police officers killed unarmed black men. Like the debate over due process and victim blaming in regard to rape and sexual assault, the debate over when police should be allowed to use force is complex and tricky.
Like the frat boys of UVA, the police officers of Ferguson, Missouri and New York City are often portrayed as privileged aggressors. However, few civilians seem to acknowledge that police officers are allowed to use force and are compelled to use force even if they do not wish to do so. Police officers have an affirmative duty to enforce the law and, once they are threatened, assaulted, or inform the suspect that he or she is under arrest, must follow through.
Therefore, should we change the laws regarding in-the-moment arrests, as in the case of Eric Garner? Should nonviolent misdemeanors not be subject to immediate arrest and, instead, tickets or court summons? While some would complain that this is "soft on crime," others would argue that it could prevent escalating situations that repeat the Eric Garner tragedy.
Legislators must confront this dilemma and make it known when it is, and is not appropriate, to enact an arrest. They must also affirm that, once an arrest is appropriate, the police are allowed to use all reasonable force to complete the arrest. Despite the cries of outrage, evidence suggests that neither Michael Brown nor Eric Garner tried to submit to arrest, meaning that force applied to complete the arrest and neutralize the situation was, while disturbing to view, ultimately warranted.
More abstract, but no less complex and sensitive, is the debate over "enhanced interrogations" or, as critics would call it, torture. The CIA torture scandal, which was unveiled in a Senate hearing, alleges that our government used illegal (and brutal) means to extract information from detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan. While the thought of torture turns our stomachs, is it warranted when life-saving information must be extracted quickly from a recalcitrant prisoner?
This debate is as old as human conflict itself. You have captured an enemy who knows something of use to you...what should you do? As Americans, we strive to be the noble and compassionate wardens of our prisoners-of-war, reflecting our nation's values. But what if the prisoners-of-war are considered radical terrorists?
What if one of the terrorists knows where a hidden bomb is about to detonate, potentially killing hundreds of innocent civilians?
While legislatures have obviously outlawed terrorism, they may be compelled to list the punishments for such breach of these laws. They must also work on developing comprehensive strategies for dealing with dangerous and high-value detainees, instead of relying on ad-hoc solutions like Guantanamo Bay. Perhaps a supermax facility devoted to foreign terrorists, located on a coastal island to prevent mainland cities from becoming targets, would allow for more humane treatment of, and better access to, detainees with specific knowledge of terrorist activities.
None of these debates is easy to have, and likely none will be solved in 2015. But 2014 saw us stare into the abyss...and we need to get started.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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