We are thankful to those who have spent a significant amount of their time and energy making philosophy a more inclusive space, as well as to those who are working to support victims. However, we recognize that if the progress they have made is not to be lost, rights to report concerns of sexual misconduct and retaliation must be protected, and that protecting these rights has to be a community effort.
As things currently stand, there are very substantial professional and personal risks associated with addressing sexual misconduct either informally or through formal university channels—including, as we have now seen, the risk of being sued for defamation. Moreover, these risks accrue not only to victims but to those who try to support them in seeking to have their grievances addressed. Unsurprisingly, many victims have felt as if they have no recourse, many who might otherwise have supported them have remained silent; and the culture of silence understandably contributes to the impression that there are really very few within our profession who are much concerned either about the prevalence of sexual misconduct within our discipline or about the risks associated with seeking to have it addressed. "An Open Letter of Support," John Greco, Don Howard, Jonathan Kvanvig, Mark Murphy, and Michael Rea [HT DAILYNOUS]
What is to be done about legal and personal strategies by our peers that generate "the very substantial professional and personal risks associated with addressing sexual misconduct either informally or through formal university channels—including, as we have now seen, the risk of being sued for defamation?" This "open letter of support" articulates the problem eloquently and accurately (and it expresses my own sentiments). But, alas, it does not point the way to a response to the problem--it is more a cri de coeur than a road-map to the future. Some of us (recall my post and, more elaborately, Jennifer Lackey) have called attention to the need for more elaborate indemnification policies by universities to support accusers and the faculty/friends that help them. But even if universities adopt such a (costly) strategy, the risk of being sued in a court of law will reduce people's willingness to step forward and, thereby, reinforce the "culture of silence."
As bystanders we should be very clear that in the context of disciplinary cases (involving rape, sexual assault, harassment, etc.), the professional community draws a sharp distinction between suing one's university and suing one's peers or accusers. We all recognize that university tribunals have their own problems (most of these involving partiality toward faculty) and that victims and accusers alike ought to have some recourse to outside courts. But, as a profession we have a community interest (not to mention common decency) in ensuring that the targets of such a law-suit are employers (that is, universities and their officers) not colleagues and students accusers.
So, what can we done?
Quite a bit given that there are no controversial epistemic issues involved. It is public knowledge when somebody sues a student or colleague in the context of an rape/assault/harassment (etc.) case. As a community we should treat such legal strategies with aversion. Again, to be clear: it's fine to sue one's employer and its officers; it's intolerable to sue peers and students in rape/assault/harassment (etc.) cases. So, here's a proposal (open to discussion): such a person should not expect job offers from other institutions, be invited to colloquia, special issues, handbooks and all other forms of professional honor we bestow on each other EVEN if s/he wins the ensuing court case. To be clear, this proposal falls short of professional shunning (i.e., not publishing and not citing--recall this post on the Arthur Koestler problem). This approach is also compatible with other, private acts of friendship and support (and outreach). In addition, it also takes no stance on the legal merits of individual cases.