Rape Denial on Campus

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.

3 thoughts on “Rape Denial on Campus

  1. Yes, Taranto seems to have violated one of the basic principles of argument–that analogies can be used to illustrate or elucidate a point but not as the primary evidence supporting an argumentative point.

    Given the attention to rape in the military, it is both ironic and all too predictable (ironically predictable or predictably ironic, or both?) that much the same arguments are being employed to downplay the criminality in both settings.

    In the military, there is increasing evidence that a significant number of the sexual assaults have been committed against male personnel. One wonders if that is also the case on our campuses, where male students may feel much the same hesitancy to declare themselves the victims of such crimes.

    In an earlier post titled “Sexual Assaults on Campus,” I pointed out that too often colleges and universities seem to have been treating date rape as a disciplinary problem to be addressed through campus hearings and processes defined in student conduct policies, rather than as a crime that should be investigated primarily by local law enforcement. I don’t believe that you are suggesting that a disciplinary hearing on the crime itself and a committee or administrative decision on punishment for the crime would be appropriate. But, because the institutional minimizing of the criminality has been the core charge in the lawsuits that have been filed by rape victims against several colleges and universities, some of the politicians who have taken up the issue may be especially cognizant of those complaints and reflecting that awareness in their statements.

  2. I advocate a dual system of justice: criminals should be prosecuted in the courts, and punished by colleges, when their crimes affect a campus or the people on it. That’s particularly true of sexual assault, where so many crimes are never prosecuted. But I think a rule that all reported serious crimes are forwarded to the police and prosecutor’s office might be a wise idea.

  3. Pingback: U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX Sexual Violence Investigations | Academe Blog

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