The makers of the controversial advocacy film on sexual assault, “The Hunting Ground,” have suggested that by criticizing the film as unfair, Harvard law professors might be creating a hostile environment at their school, which itself might violate Title IX [Samantha Harris, FIRE; The Crimson; Paul Horwitz and Howard Wasserman, PrawfsBlawg; compare recent University of Mary Washington case, in which dean was said to violate Title IX by talking back publicly against accusations]
Jeannie Suk, one of the Harvard professors who has criticized the film, now has an important piece in the New Yorker. One reason we should pay attention to the piece is that its author might soon be silenced, depending on what her institution sees as its Title IX obligations:
This is a piece on a subject about which I may soon be prevented from publishing, depending on how events unfold….If, as the filmmakers suggest, the professors’ statement about the film has created a hostile environment at the school, then, under Title IX, the professors should be investigated and potentially disciplined.
At least for now, though, Professor Suk can speak out:
Fair process for investigating sexual-misconduct cases, for which I, along with many of my colleagues, have fought, in effect violates the tenet that you must always believe the accuser. Fair process must be open to the possibility that either side might turn out to be correct. If the process is not at least open to both possibilities, we might as well put sexual-misconduct cases through no process at all.
Moreover, she points out, an “always believe” premise in the end undercuts the cause of vindicating true accusations:
“always believe” unwittingly renders the stakes of each individual case impossibly high, by linking the veracity of any one claim to the veracity of all claims…. The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims….equating critique with a hostile environment is neither safe nor helpful for victims.