James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal argues, “What is called the problem of ‘sexual assault’ on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.…If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students ‘collide,’ the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault.”
In the world of the rape deniers, forced sexual activity is simply an unfortunate “collision.” Rarely is blaming the victim so obvious, or so grotesque.
Now, Taranto is correct that many sexual assaults on campus (and elsewhere) involve the use of alcohol by both the attacker and the victim. But instead of drunk driving, let’s imagine the more accurate analogy of robbery. It’s certainly possible that being drunk impairs judgment and increases the likelihood of being robbed. It’s also possible that being intoxicated makes it more likely that someone will do something stupid, such as robbing someone. In this case, alcohol might be an underlying cause of robbery. But would anyone describe the criminal act of robbery as a “collision” between two drunk people? Warning people in a high-crime area against engaging in dangerous activity must never be the same as blaming them for being victims of a crime that occurs.
The conservative reaction to the Obama Administration’s recent calls for stopping the epidemic of rape on college campuses is to deny that any problem exists, except for all those angry drunk women getting revenge. But the truth is that we have a culture of rape in America, and Taranto’s “collision” analogy is the latest example of how pervasive it is.
For years, many colleges sought to convince victims not to report sexual assaults to police, both to protect male students and to reduce reported crime rates. And so trying to get more sexual assaults on campus criminally prosecuted is an important step. Many conservative critics want colleges to trust the criminal justice system that lets virtually all acquaintance rapists get away with their crimes, and never use the disciplinary system to punish rapists, even though it’s used to punish those guilty of much lesser crimes. The truth is that we can have a system where colleges can help victims of rape, encourage criminal prosecution of rapists on campus, use campus discipline against students who victimize others even if they are not prosecuted for rape, and still protect the rights of the accused.