If At First You Don’t Succeed

Some people just can’t be wrong. They can’t just take the criticism, admit they were wrong, apologize, and move on. Early on in blogging I learned that being wrong is a good thing—it means you learned something new. Knowledge is power. Well, I suppose no one could accuse George Will of being power hungry.

Following a Washington Post oped piece in which he called sexual assault “victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” George Will appeared on C-SPAN’s Q&A to respond to the outrage expressed over his article. Anyone hoping for an apology, or at the very least a clarification, had another thing coming.

Will opens by calling the people who vocally disagreed with his piece “the rabble.” I had a response prepared for that remark, but one commenter, ModerateRepublican, in the response section of The Blaze article, took the words right out of my mouth:

 So one thing is certain: the “rabble” he talks about probably includes virtually every woman on the planet earth.

Try this: [T]ell a female that you think women want to be raped because of the status and privileged they get by being raped, and see how she responds.

Next he incorrectly quotes a New York Times article citing the “1 in 5” statistic, stating that “The [Obama] administration has said that 1 in 5 women experiences sexual assault.” Using that statistic, he then goes on to discredit it by extrapolating from the 12 percent reporting rate mentioned in the Times article that were the two statistics correct, either the number of assaults—at the one college from which he too numbers, Ohio State—should be higher, or the number of reports should be lower. Had Will checked the New York Times article off of which he built his straw-man argument, he would have noticed that on April 30th, the Times printed a correction on the article stating that the 1 in 5 statistic it had quoted had not applied to assaults on college campuses, but to experiences over the lifetimes of women in general. Will’s Washington Post article was published on June 6th.

Moving along, Will then contends that new evidence standards set by the administration for college disciplinary hearings—preponderance of evidence—is too low, and will therefore result in false accusations. He argues that the evidence standards should be, as it is in the criminal justice system, beyond a reasonable doubt. The new evidence standards in question were suggested by the Department of Education in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent on April 4th, 2011 to colleges across the country. Interestingly, these new standards George Will is complaining about, have been standard practice for more than a decade in college disciplinary hearings. A guide published in 2003 by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) states that “The vast majority of schools employ, at the very least, a ‘preponderance of evidence’ standard.”

College disciplinary hearings are not court cases; they do not bear the same penalties, do not adjudicate the same crimes, and do not have any bearing on the criminal justice system. Therefore, the criteria for adjudication are, and have always been, much lower. Either Will is advocating for “beyond a reasonable doubt” to be adopted for all disciplinary matters because he truly believes that such a high standard is required for any disciplinary matter, or because he’s jealous of the status and privilege conferred on sexual assault victims, and wishes to minimize the number of people who can officially claim that privilege.

Actually, the only thing George Will got right in the whole interview, was when he said that sexual assault cases should not be adjudicated by colleges at all, and should instead be handed over to the criminal justice system. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), in a February, 2014 recommendation letter to the Obama Administration’s White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, recommended that instead of internal disciplinary hearings, colleges should “use the criminal justice system to take more rapists off the streets.”

There is no reason why crime should carry a different penalty or process simply because its perpetrator had the good fortune of committing his crime on a college campus. College campuses should not play haven or sanctuary to people who deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Internal hearings instead of proper trials only serve to encourage abuse and discourage reporting. It should be noted that the reporting rate off college campuses, as reported by RAINN, is 40 percent. Compared to that, the 12 percent reported on college campuses is a horrifying pittance.

Ever the advocate for unfortunate young men who wouldn’t know consent if it slapped them in the face, Will blames a “sea of hormones and alcohol” for what will, when coupled with these “new” disciplinary hearing guidelines and recommendations by the Obama administration, result in “charges of sexual assault, and…young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this, and…litigation of tremendous expense as young men sue the colleges for damages done to them by abandonment of the rules of due process that we have as a society[.]”

Will seems to have a hangup with the fact that women drink on college campuses, and still have the gall to expect sex not to be forced upon them while in a state in which they are unable to consent. Perhaps, instead of worrying so much about the money that college campuses may lose as a result of disciplinary actions which may or may not be based on allegations resulting from accusations some feel are ambiguous since the notion that a person too drunk to stand straight is somehow able to give consent to sex, to them, is laughable, colleges should instead focus on educating its students on what constitutes clear and affirmative consent. The fact that men on college campuses never have to worry about being raped if they consume too much alcohol at a party should attest to not only the existence of a problem, but a pervasive rape culture which permeates college campuses.

Lest you think for a second that George Will doesn’t care about sexual assault, he assures us all that he cares even more than we do. He cautions against “defining sexual assault so broadly…that it begins to trivialize the seriousness of it,” thus implying that a case where a man as sex with a woman who is too drunk to consent, is somehow too trivial to be considered rape. The FBI disagrees.

The new Summary definition of Rape is: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Seems to fit pretty handily into the legal definition of rape.

Finally, he concludes by bemoaning the death of civil public discourse and trying to invalidate all of the outrage at his public display of ignorance, by holding up a few examples of people who said they wanted him dead for what he had said, or that he should be raped to know what it feels like. This is a common political trick in avoiding very real issues by focusing on the crazies on the sidelines, and projecting their extremes onto any intelligent and legitimate disagreement.

Honestly, I don’t know why I expected better of George Will. There are an unfortunate number of people who believe, as he does, that rape must fit a very specific template to be considered valid, thereby subscribing to a culture which not only discourages victims from coming forward by telling them that what happened to them was their fault, but also creates a climate in which an abuser feels comfortable and secure in the knowledge that even if his crimes are reported, he will likely receive no punishment. Rape culture fosters abuse, and environments which breed abuse. Columns and interviews like George Will’s attest to a complete unwillingness to dispel the ignorance and backward opinions that women’s rights and anti-abuse activists have worked decades to eradicate. Apparently abusers are more worthy of support and erring on the side of caution than victims. And he wonders why only 12 percent come forward.


No Means No Has Got To Go

I came across the following comment on an LA Weekly article responding to George Will’s characterization of being a rape survivor as a privilege:

[I]s “survivor” really the correct term for girls who get wasted at parties and are too drunk to remember whom they had sex with?

I’m only all too familiar with the atmosphere at this campus.  The majority of the women at UCLA are Asian girls who have no interests other than having their face between a book in their dorm room.  Even though they make up the majority, I would be willing to bet they’re almost never victims of “rape”.

The “victim” will always fit this profile: girl from a small town, too young to drink but ends up at a party where she gets wasted, ends up with a guy she thought was cute and then wakes up to regret. Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, learning and moving on now she’s told that she is a “survivor” of rape.

Taking responsibility for your actions would be the first step in getting on with life, but that’s not what society wants.  It wants you to feel eternal shame, regret, misery, self loathing.  Then they can get you the number to a nice, expensive therapist who’ll prescribe some effective drugs for your depression and now you’re now perfectly inserted into the matrix.

Really, to group these women in with real victims who are kidnapped at knife point and brutally assaulted is insulting, to say the least.

I couldn’t help but respond.

First, the “stranger in the dark alley” attack, is largely a myth in the US.

Second, your comment is a perfect example of rape culture; thank you for bringing up every commonly held misconception about rape and what constitutes rape. You made it easy to address. Rape culture, simply put, is a societal attitude of entitlement toward sex. Rape culture is telling a rape victim that she brought it on herself by dressing provocatively, by drinking more than one or two beers, by being a “tease.” Rape culture is the sense of entitlement to sex behind the resentment someone in the “Friendzone” feels at not having his “kindness” and time rewarded with the sex he figured he’d get if he logged enough hours being a friend. Rape culture is every time he says “she was asking for it.”

Rape culture is an attitude that believes that sex is something every man (generally men, but not always. I use men vs women in this piece because that scenario is most prevalent, but the dynamic exists in other forms as well.) is inherently entitled to, especially if a woman, in a man’s opinion, does more to indicate that she wants sex in general than she does to protest when a man initiates. Thus the unfortunate joke: Is it shoplifting or rape if you force sex on a prostitute. Mode of dress, how attractive a girl is, how drunk she allowed herself to get at a party—which is completely irrelevant since someone who is drunk lacks the mental capacity to consent— how overtly sexual she is in general, are all excuses used by society and people who subscribe to rape culture in trying to diminish the severity and validity of rapes which don’t conform to their mental image of what a rape victim to be. The stranger in the dark alley myth does a lot to reinforce rape culture. To someone who subscribes to rape culture, only the victim of a stranger in an alley, or a similar situation, can call themselves a true rape victim. Everyone else is either exaggerating, or seeking privileged status as a survivor.

I’ve learned a few things about rape culture, through discussion, that I’ve found interesting.

The question of prudence always comes up in discussions on rape culture—which precautions is it reasonable to ask a woman to take to avoid sexual assault, while simultaneously not blaming them for their rape. An example I like using in framing this discussion is walking at night, alone, in a neighbourhood known for crime, and getting mugged. While the mugger has absolutely no right to mug, there were precautions the victim could have taken to possibly avoid being mugged. That’s not to say that the victim is at fault for the mugging, but it leaves what to be said for prudence. It’s the same rationale behind advising women not to drink heavily at parties, or not to dress too provocatively on campus, or handing out straws which can detect date-rape drugs in drinks.

I always feel a mixed reaction toward women’s safety seminars. On the one hand, as I said, there is what to be said for prudence, but putting the focus on women protecting themselves rather than on men controlling themselves, has always seemed, to me, wrong. That mugging victim wouldn’t have to worry about being mugged if the neighborhood was cleansed of its criminals. Rape victims wouldn’t have to worry about being raped if men were better equipped by society to control themselves. What makes these discussions so difficult is a pervasive lack of education focused on teaching young men how not to be rapists, rather than teaching women not to be raped.

A perfect example of this is “No Means No.” No Means No was meant to raise awareness of rape on college campuses, and set a standard by which rape could be reduced: If you hear no, stop. Don’t ask again, don’t “just finish,” don’t back off and then start again—just stop. At the time—back in the eighties—it seemed like a good idea. Recently, however, there has been a push to redefine the way we view consent. The problem with No Means No, is that it places the onus on the woman to say no, rather than on the man to receive consent. Therefore, consent is not an affirmative process, just a tacit understanding until the woman says “no.” It’s kind of ironic how a slogan meant to fight rape culture instead promoted it by—almost certainly unintentionally—implying that one is entitled to sex without receiving prior affirmative consent, as long as they believe they have consent.

The problem with that is that it often becomes a debate over what constitutes no. Often the media perpetuates the notion that when a woman says no, she’s just playing hard to get. Rape cases have been lost because, despite the fact that there was no consent, the victim did not fight back hard enough. The onus was on the woman to protest instead of on the man to receive affirmative consent before initiating. Rape culture goes so far in its sense of entitlement toward sex unless the woman protests just the right amount, that there are still those who believe that partner rape (also known as spousal rape or marital rape) is not a crime! The rationale being that marriage itself constitutes overall consent, and therefore, consent is not required to initiate sex with your partner. I have a friend who was repeatedly raped by her husband, despite her protests. He believed, as do an unfortunate many, that marriage, by dint of the institution itself entitled him to sex whenever he wanted, regardless of his wife’s opinion on the matter. Even after she left him and demanded a divorce, he had no idea that he had done something wrong. Again, he felt entitled to sex, for whatever reason, and therefore required no consent.

There are people who will read all of this, and still fail to understand the validity and prevalence of rape culture and its terrible effects. They will continue to deny the validity of rape claims by people whose rapes do not fit into their idea of what rape should be to be valid. For their benefit, I’d like to explain what rape is. Rape, and the reason why its effects are so severe, is a violation of what it is that makes a person a person. It violates the sovereignty of a person’s body and sexuality. All we really control in this world is our body and what we choose to do with it. We choose what we eat, we choose what we wear, we choose whom we have sex with. Sexuality is the most intimate and personal function of our bodies. We exercise control over our bodies and sexuality when we give consent to sex and sexual activity. Rape violates the control a person has over what is most intimate and personal to them. It violates a person’s sovereignty over his or her body. It is one of the most traumatic things one person can do to another, and it often results in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, addiction, complete destruction of self-image and self-worth, inability to form lasting, healthy relationships, depression, even suicide.

I’ve dealt with enough rape cases to know that regardless of how valid other people think a survivor’s claim of rape is, the effects are always the same, and always devastating. The PTSD, etc, is the same whether the rape happens in a dark alley by a stranger, in a little girl’s bedroom by her father or brother, or at a party by some bro who thinks it’s cool to take advantage of the drunk chick. Again, consent cannot be given by someone who is drunk because they lack the mental ability to consent. The violation is real regardless of the circumstances, the effects are real regardless of whether or not an opinion poll says they should be. The act of forcing or coercing someone to have sex with you without first obtaining consent is rape, and it is devastating. Period. The squabbles over whether or not the victim was at fault only highlight a serious problem that we as a society must address: Changing consent from something passive to something active.

It’s time for Yes Means Yes. Consent should be affirmative and constant. It should be understood that unless she actually asks for it, she isn’t “asking for it.” That skirt she’s wearing is not an invitation for sex unless she actually invites you to have sex with her. There can be no room for ambiguity with Yes Means Yes because sex cannot be initiated unless consent is affirmative and understood. The onus is placed on the man to receive consent rather than on the woman to protest. Therefore, operating under Yes Means Yes, questions of how loudly or how violently a victim protested against her own rape, or whether or not she actually consented of she doesn’t fight back at all, will be irrelevant. Unless consent is obtained, it’s rape. Yes Means Yes should be an integral part of sex education programs in schools (many of which currently lack even basic consent as part of their curricula), promoted through popular culture and media, and enforced legally. Yes Means Yes would effectively end rape culture because consent would no longer be a matter of assumption or entitlement, implied unless a woman protests enough—it would be affirmative and clear with no room for ambiguity.