Busted by the Feminist Squad

by Wendy McElroy

Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner John F. Timoney has announced an unprecedented program for his sex-crimes unit. Ominously, the President of the Pennsylvania chapter of N.O.W., Barbara DiTullio hopes it will become a model for police departments nationwide. Under this program, various feminist organizations will assist the police in deciding which sexual assault complaints should be taken seriously and how they should be classified. In short, a special interest group will influence – and in some cases perhaps determine – who is pursued and prosecuted on criminal charges.

How much assistance will the feminist committee render? Timoney claims, "this women’s group [will] be the final say on our classification." And the classification of a complaint can decide how vigorously the police pursue the matter. Accordingly, Timoney says, "We’re going to go over those cases [sexual assault] with the women’s groups" and ask them "’Do you think we’ve done everything we possibly can?’" Carol E. Tracy, director of the Women’s Law Project (WLP) and a member of the committee, declared that advocates for women would now review police handling of sexual assault complaints "from start to finish." (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 03/21/00)

Certainly, the Philadelphia police department needs to account to someone. In the last two years, The Philadelphia Inquirer has exposed a massive scandal: between 1984 and 1997, the sex-crimes unit disposed of about thirty percent of rape complaints by intentionally mislabeling them. Thousands of potentially valid complaints were coded 2701, ‘investigation of person,’ a non-criminal category that ended inquiry. This reduced both police workload and Philadelphia’s official crime rate. Former commanders of the sex-crimes unit have justified their actions by saying that the public was not willing to accept the fact that a significant percentage of rape complaints are false.

It is claims such as this one that will undoubtedly come under fire by the feminist review committee.

The Ideology of Rape

In the last three decades, rape has occasioned intense ideological debate not only within the legal system but within feminism itself. The four groups that will constitute the core of the unprecedented committee – the WLP, Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), the Penn Women’s Center and the Pennsylvania chapter of N.O.W. – represent one side of the debate. Namely, that rape is part of patriarchy (white male culture) and that men have created a culture or mass psychology of rape by which all women are oppressed. Men as a class oppress women as a class, largely through the threat of rape. Thus, rape is not an act of sex but of power. As WOAR states on its web site, "Sexual Assault....is not about sex. It is about power and control."

Contrast this perspective with one that was popular in the 1970s. In his book Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender" A. Nicholas Groth wrote, "One of the most basic observations one can make regarding men who rape is that not all such offenders are alike." For some, it is about sex. Others rape in a blur of drugs, drink or peer pressure. The Kinsey study classified rapists into seven categories: assaultive, amoral, drunken, explosive, double-standard, mental defective and psychotic. But it is not longer politically correct to suggest that there may be as many motives for rape as there are for murder or other violent crimes. Radical feminists ascribe one motive to rape: the desire to subjugate women. And sexual assault is merely the most blatant expression of a "rape culture" that is organized around such subjugation.

Individualist feminists disagree with this analysis. In her book Sexual Personae Camille Paglia offered a different ideological interpretation. Instead of viewing our culture as the cause of rape, Paglia argued that it is the main protection women have against attack. Thus, women can walk down a street unmolested not in spite of Western society, but because of its civilizing impact on men. "Generation after generation, men must be educated, refined, and ethically persuaded away from their tendency toward anarchy and brutishness. Society is not the enemy, as feminism ignorantly claims. Society is woman’s protection against rape."

Radical feminism’s belief that we live in a rape culture has led to an ever expanding definition of what constitutes rape. Here, the pivotal difference between individualist and radical feminists lies in the concepts of coercion and consent. For individualists, the concepts rest on the principle of self-ownership; that is, every woman’s inalienable right to control her own body. If a woman says "yes" – or if her actions clearly imply "yes" – then consent is present. If a woman says "no" – or if her actions clearly imply "no" – then coercion is present.

There is little clarity to what radical feminists deem to be consent and coercion in sex. Consider a typical definition of sexual violence presented by Liz Kelly in her book Surviving Sexual Violence: "Sexual violence includes any physical, visual, verbal or sexual act that is experienced by the woman or girl, at the time or later, as a threat, invasion or assault that has the effect of hurting her or degrading her and/or taken away her ability to control intimate contact."[Emphasis added] This type of language has become a common guideline for identifying sexual violence. One of many problems with this definition is its subjectivity. The woman need not have felt threatened or coerced at the time of the sex act for that act to be sexual violence. In the light of regrets, the women might conclude later that she had been coerced. Moreover, it relies entirely upon the women’s experience, not the man’s or the totality of the experience.

These are merely two points about rape – definition and motivation that have been debated within the feminist movement. Now, in Philadelphia, the radical feminist side has won an impressive victory. They are able to back up their ideological slant with police muscle.

How Did This Happen?

Philadelphia was rocked to its roots by revelations of how the police department had ignored thousands of rape complaints, including two that would have caused the arrest of a particularly vicious serial rapist. Moreover, newspapers ran a series of heart wrenching stories from victimized women who had been further abused by insensitive policemen. Timoney was desperate. He needed to restore a glimmer of confidence in his department. "You can see it [hostility] in letters to the editor," he explained. "I see it in public meetings. It’s a huge crisis of confidence, so we need to address that."

Riding the wave of social rage, three women’s groups-WOAR, the WLP and N.O.W. – demanded a hearing on the subject before the Public Safety Committee. The result: on December 13th, a City Council committee called for drastic reform within the sex-crime unit to ensure that investigators were "free of victim-blaming biases." Next, Timoney announced that the three groups-along with Penn Women’s Center-would ‘assist’ the police in evaluating sexual-assault complaints. Among other activities, Timoney intends to have the feminist committee review cases that his department considers "unfounded" and ask if there are other steps that should be taken before abandoning the investigation. If necessary, he will become involved in the review himself. "It’s very unusual that you get a police commissioner to review a case," Timoney admitted, "but I’m willing to do that to regain public confidence in what we’re doing here."

Experts on police policy are hard pressed to come up with a precedent for special interest groups being invited to influence police procedures. They draw analogies to black militant groups being asked to evaluate racially motivated crimes. William Geller, a deputy director of the Police Executive Research Forum, admitted that he knew of no other department in the United States that gave "an outsider a voice in the process of coding..." Gerald Arenberg of the National Association of Chiefs commented, "I’m not sure that private organizations should be involved in this work. You need experts to decide whether or not there is a case."

Yet Carol Tracy insists, "I don’t think we’re biased."

Will the Feminist Committee have a Bias?

Since its inception, Women Organized Against Rape has openly advocated a radical feminist view of sexual assault. Its statement, "Why There is WOAR," reads, "Rape, the threat of rape, and the fear of rape are forms of physical and mental violence that have been used continuously throughout recorded history to control women..." Indeed, WOAR originated through sit-in protests that sought, in part, "to confront the culture of violence against women that underlies the crime of rape." WOAR’s definition of sexual assault is so broad that it does not even require physical contact. The organization’s website states, "There are many forms of Sexual Assault – it is not only rape. Think of it like a long, thin line: on one end there is Sexual Assault that involves no touch and on the other end, there is Sexual Assault that involves a lot of touch, like rape."[Emphasis added.]

The Women’s Law Project, like the WOAR, was a staunch supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)by which a ‘victim’ of "gender-motivated violence" can take the ‘accused’ to civil as well as criminal court to seek compensatory and punitive damages. Thus, the woman can financially punish the accused even if he has been found ‘not guilty’ by the more exacting standards of a criminal proceeding.

The Pennsylvania chapter of N.O.W. has worked for years to have Pennsylvania’s Hate Crimes statutes expanded to include sexual orientation and the word ‘gender.’ Its web site states, "As we know, women are not free from hate crimes....Some people wonder would every rape then become a hate crime? Well we know that rape is a hate crime..."

Penn Women’s Center houses the Pennsylvania chapter of N.O.W. According to its website, the Center was formed in 1973 "after a series of rapes on and around campus" "mobilized students, faculty and staff to organize a ‘sit-in.’ The Center is clear that it performs "an explicitly [sic] advocacy function as it relates to issues affecting women, racial minorities, sexual minorities and other disenfranchised groups." As part of this advocacy, it "responds to public acts of sexism/racism/homophobia/heterosexism..."

As Delilah Rumberg, director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape in Harrisburg stated, "It looks real positive for victims." It looks real negative for anyone falsely accused.

March 26, 2000

Wendy McElroy is author of The Reasonable Woman.