Friday, February 10, 2006

Shocking Study Finds College Students Joke About Sex!

According to a report released yesterday by the American Association of University Women's Educational Foundation, 62 percent of 2,036 college students surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment. The president of the foundation told The Chronicle of Higher Education that "sexual harassment pervades college life and prevents students.from achieving the social and academic benefits that colleges and universities offer." And according to USA Today, the foundation will be rolling out initiatives at 11 colleges and universities aimed at "building a sexual harassment-free campus." This all sounds very serious. Unfortunately, however, the major revelation of the survey is not that actual sexual harassment is rampant, but rather that no one seems to know what sexual harassment really means. As supporters of FIRE know, this is a rampant problem on college campuses, where administrators routinely prohibit all kinds of constitutionally protected speech as harassment.

Here is what sexual harassment really means, according to the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education: conduct of a sexual nature "so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects a student's ability to participate in or benefit from an education program or activity, or creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment." The U.S. Supreme Court has put forth an even more restrictive definition of harassment in the case of student-on-student conduct.

By contrast, the survey provided students with 15 "examples of different types of sexual harassment," the first of which was unwanted "sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks." The students were then asked whether they had experienced any of the listed examples of sexual harassment. Their responses to that question determined whether they had been "sexually harassed." Not surprisingly, the primary form of "sexual harassment" that students reported experiencing on campus was the first type: they reported that they had "received sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks." The other, more severe forms of harassment were far less prevalent.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of the inaccuracy of the survey is this: according to the report, "the top reason that students gave for not reporting sexual harassment is that their experience was not serious or `not a big deal.'" Here's the problem with that: according to the Supreme Court, for conduct to constitute sexual harassment, it must be both "severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment" and the victim must "subjectively perceive" the environment to be hostile or abusive. Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc. (1993). If the so-called victim believes that the unwanted joke or comment was "not a big deal," it does not constitute sexual harassment.

Say it with me, people: one offensive joke or remark does not constitute sexual harassment! This has been reiterated by courts across the country and by the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education, which is responsible for enforcing federal anti-harassment law at institutions of higher education. Sure, you can say that a majority of college students have been "sexually harassed" if you define sexual harassment to include any unwanted sexual remarks or jokes, just as I can say that hundreds of men ask for my phone number every day if I define "men" to include "imaginary men that I make up in my head." But that doesn't make it true! The true definition of sexual harassment has been set forth repeatedly by the Supreme Court and by the federal government agency that administers anti-harassment law in the educational context.

The attempt to define harassment down by college administrators and now by the American Association of University Women both infringes on the constitutional right to freedom of expression and does a terrible disservice to the victims of actual harassment.



By Jeff Jacoby

Consider some recent news items, all from the past several weeks:

+ A worldwide security alert is issued after 23 inmates escape from prison in Sanaa, Yemen; among those at large is Jamal Badawi, mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. Badawi had been sentenced to death, but on appeal his penalty was reduced to 15 years. Another of the escapees is Fawaz al-Rabe'ie, convicted for his role in the deadly bombing of a French oil tanker in 2002.

+ Joseph Druce, a convicted murderer serving a life term in Massachusetts, is found guilty of murdering fellow inmate John Geoghan, a former priest serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for sexually molesting a child. Judge Francis Fecteau imposes a penalty of life in prison without parole, in effect adding nothing to the life sentence Druce is already serving.

+ Germany releases Mohammed Ali Hammadi, a Hezbollah terrorist serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of US Navy diver Robert Stethem during a hijacking in 1985. Under German law, even murderers imprisoned for life become eligible for parole after 15 years, and Hammadi has been behind bars for more than 18 years. Though German authorities deny it, some observers suspect that Hammadi's release is connected to the freeing of a German hostage held in Iraq a few days later.

A prison break, a murderer who kills again, a paroled killer -- such stories occur with frequency, and no obvious thread links these three. Yet they do have something in common: They demonstrate the fallacy in arguing that capital punishment is never necessary, since killers can be sentenced to life in prison. Lock up even the worst murderers and throw away the key, the theory goes, and they can never kill anyone again. But they can and often do.

Like the 23 convicts in Yemen, murderers sometime escape from prison and shed more blood. A few years ago, the US Supreme Court handed down an opinion that began: "In 1974 respondent Robert L. Jones began serving a life sentence after his conviction for murder in the State of Georgia. He escaped from prison some five years later and, after being a fugitive for over two years, committed another murder." With luck, the terrorists who broke out of that Yemeni prison will be recaptured before, like Jones, they kill again -- but it is not unreasonable to fear the worst.

Like Druce, convicted murderers sometimes kill behind bars. Life without parole offers no protection from jailhouse killers to those *inside* prison walls, such as guards and other inmates. In 2001 and 2002, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported last year, 129 inmates in state prisons and jails were victims of homicide. A policy of "lock 'em up and throw away the key" may keep a murderer alive only at the cost of sentencing yet another victim to die at his hands.

And then there are all the cases such as Hammadi's, in which convicted murderers are knowingly set free by the state. Germany's 15-years-and-out "life" sentence is reminiscent of the Massachusetts policy under former governor Michael Dukakis, when even defendants sentenced to life without parole could look forward to regular weekend furloughs and eventual release on parole. Other states have been just as casual about turning killers loose. In Louisiana, that state's supreme court noted in 1982, "it was common knowledge that life imprisonment generally means 10 years and six months." According to The New York Times, in his first two years as California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger "paroled 103 lifers, 89 of them murderers."

An astonishing number of violent crimes are committed by released prisoners. In a 1995 study, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in one 17-month period, criminals released on probation or parole inflicted at least 218,000 violent crimes, including 13,200 murders.

Not all ex-cons are murderers, of course. But it stands to reason that people who have already killed once are at least as likely as other criminals to turn to murder again, if they are given the chance. At least 8 percent of prisoners currently on death row had already been convicted of homicide before committing the murder for which they were sentenced to death. There have been 7,250 death sentences since 1976, suggesting that at least 600 additional victims died because their killers were not executed the first time they murdered.

Life without parole is no substitute for the death penalty when it comes to protecting innocent lives. That is not to say that execution is the appropriate punishment every time a defendant is convicted of murder. It *is* to say that it should be an option for jurors to consider as they weigh the evidence in individual cases. When justice calls for life without parole, the jury is allowed to say so. When justice calls for death, it should be allowed to say so too.


Panic: 'Red meat cancer risk clue found,' says BBC News reporting on a new study which suggests a mechanism by which eating beef, pork and other red meat might increase the risk of bowel cancer. A small group of volunteers were fed three different diets: one in high in meat but low in fibre; high meat and high fibre; and no meat. Those in the high meat, low fibre group had significantly greater damage to the DNA in their colon than the other groups. The researchers, from the Dunn Human Nutrition Group and the Open University, suggest that N-nitrosocompounds, substances formed in the gut after consuming red meat, may be responsible.

This study follows a report published in 2005 that suggested that those who ate red meat twice a day were a third more likely to develop bowel cancer than those who ate red meat less than once a week. Cancer of the bowel causes 16,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Don't panic: This new study is only suggestive of a possible cause for why red meat might cause cancer. The link is far from proven, and if there is an increased risk it would appear to be small.

The study obliged volunteers to eat 420g of red meat each day for two weeks. That is an unusually large quantity of meat - roughly equivalent to eating four quarterpounders a day. Moreover, the small number of subjects involved and the short timescale suggest more work is required.

Even if this mechanism suggested was to be confirmed, the risks are still small. The 2005 study found that the annual risk of bowel cancer at the age of 50 for the high meat consumption group was 0.17 per cent, compared to 0.12 per cent for the low meat consumption group. Either way, bowel cancer is not a major threat for most people. While such figures translate into large numbers at a population level, they are fairly meaningless as a guide to individual behaviour.

Other factors are important, particularly age - 80 per cent of bowel cancers occur in people over the age of 60 - and survival rates have improved a lot in the last few years. So, chances are you can carry on scoffing the bacon sandwiches and beefburgers, and still live to a ripe old age.


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