by Candice Watters
Consent is a flimsy safeguard against charges of sexual wrongdoing. Judith Grossman’s son learned that the hard way. In the recent Wall Street Journal article “A Mother, a Feminist, Aghast,” Grossman tells how her roles of mother, feminist and attorney collided when her son texted her “CALL ME. URGENT. NOW.” Suddenly the sort of policies and laws she long lobbied for as a feminist turned against her own son. He, “a senior at a small liberal-arts college in New England, was charged–by an ex-girlfriend–with alleged acts of ‘nonconsensual sex’ that supposedly occurred during the course of their relationship a few years earlier.”
Not only was he charged, but he was tried for his alleged crimes by a campus tribunal empowered by Title IX, the federal law that supposedly guarantees equality between the sexes on college campuses. His ordeal was anything but fair, she says. He was tried on the basis of vague charges and unsworn testimony of unnamed witnesses and denied legal counsel. Any mother’s nightmare. But she’s not just any mother, she’s an attorney. And given her professional skill and background, she was able to help him. “The charge against him were ultimately dismissed,” she writes, “but not before he and our family had to suffer through this ordeal.
Her article goes on to explain how the problem is an unjust legal process, carried out vindictively by school officials, who gave her son “[no] presumption of innocence.” She’s worried that “in the current climate the goal of ‘women’s rights,’ with the compliance of politically motivated government policy and the tacit complicity of college administrators, runs the risk of grounding our most cherished institution in a veritable snake pit of injustice–not unlike the very injustices the movement itself has for so long sought to correct. Unbridled feminist orthodoxy is no more the answer than are attitudes and policies that victimize the victim.”
What is this unbridled feminist orthodoxy she cites? It is the belief that men are always to blame. If only men could be more like women, the thinking goes, what a wonderful world it would be. But as a mother of three sons, and as cringe-worthy as this Star Chamber-style trial was, what really bothered me was her unwillingness to call her son to any account. Grossman did not deny that the woman charging her son was indeed a former girlfriend, nor that the two had been lovers. The girlfriend may have told him at the time that what they were doing was ok with her. And like Grossman suspects, it may have been “jealousy or revenge … motivating a spurned young ex-lover to lash out.” But it seemed not to have occurred to this mother, let alone bother her, that even with permission, what her son did was wrong. If her son had behaved honorably toward this young woman, pursuing her for marriage, and not just sexual gratification, he would have given his former girlfriend no grounds for accusing him of acting badly.
Her retelling of this trial would make any mother cringe. To think that your son’s former girlfriend could potentially ruin his future with unprovable, unsubstantiated accusations is the essence of injustice. But I think she’s overlooking a key point. If her son, like most other American boys, learned about sex in a typical middle school classroom, he was taught that as long as a girl says yes, anything goes. There is no right or wrong. All that’s needed is permission. But that moral ambiguity doesn’t stop at the middle school classroom. It permeates our legal system. Too often court rooms and judges accept no moral standards. That certainly seems to have been the case with the Title IX officer who cared little for facts or due process.
Beyond getting consent and using a condom, there’s no standard of right and wrong in sex ed classrooms, nor often in the trials that sexual promiscuity promulgates. Only a biblical understanding of oneness in marriage (Ephesians 5) can lead to the selfless giving that leads to secure, joyful, mutually beneficial sexual intimacy. Without it, every act of sex is primarily about meeting one’s own needs with no thought to the other (beyond securing permission). Such acts always see the other, fundamentally, as a means to an end. Even with consent, it’s using someone.
Mothers and fathers must understand that the best protection for their sons against charges of sexual misconduct is to teach them–not to be sure to get permission–but to be gentlemen. What’s needed is not consent forms, but self-control. Women are different, gloriously so. And part of God’s good design for those differences are that men would use their strength to protect women–and one of the things they must protect them from is their own sex drive. By God’s good design, that drive, when channeled in marriage, motivates men to sacrifice greatly for the good of wives and children. Sexual energy is a great power for building strong civilizations. Waiting till marriage to be sexually satisfied requires tremendous courage, discipline, and integrity. Such are the marks of wisdom; of an upright and honorable man.
I’m glad Grossman’s son was acquitted in this ill-conducted trial but it’s not the only trial that matters. I hope, for his sake, that he learns there is a greater judge who will call him to account. He will have to give an answer for the way he treated this young woman, who was not his wife, for everything he did with her, even if every time, she said yes.
Candice Watters created Boundless.org with her husband Steve Watters in 1998. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen and co-author with Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They blog at FamilyMaking.com about the link between getting married, having babies and growing in Christlikeness—drawing on 16 years of marriage and their experiences as they raise their four children.
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