Friday, December 19, 2014

Campus Rape Culture

An editorial by Jim Wallis and Sandi Villareal of Sojourners on the topic of campus rape addresses some very important facts about the problem of sexual assault on our nation's colleges and universities.

It's predictable but disappointing that in the wake of the phony Duke Lacrosse team case and the more recent Rolling Stone mess some commentators are minimizing the problem of sexual assault on campus. This, it seems to me, is precisely the wrong response. The conclusion that should be drawn from these episodes is not that there's really no problem, but that it's absurd to assume, as the left enjoins us to do, that every report of an assault is true.

Even so, given the atmosphere of sexual licentiousness that's promoted by and pervades our popular culture, given, too, the easy access to alcohol and drugs on campus and their effect on students' inhibitions, and given the complete inability of a secular society to instill in young men (and women) any sort of moral governor of their appetites, it would be remarkable were there not a problem with sexual assault. Indeed, in the current cultural and moral climate one wonders how there could not be.

Nevertheless, one sentence in the Sojourner's piece is a bit jarring. The authors write:
Rape culture is living in a society in which your story is dissected rather than heard; it’s being told your inherent, God-given value begins to disintegrate once your story gets uncomfortable and its trajectory skewed.
I'm not sure how the authors intend this rather opaque passage to be understood, but it sounds like they're saying that it's wrong for people to examine the claims made by putative rape victims and instead everyone should assume their claims are true.

If this in fact is the intended meaning then I think the authors are going way too far. It's the job of the police, for example, to ascertain that a crime really has been committed. That requires asking sometimes uncomfortable questions and seeking out evidence. The accuser's word that someone assaulted her is simply and unfortunately not enough upon which to base charges that could ruin someone's life. Unlike most crimes, sexual assault sometimes leaves no real evidence, sometimes involves a lot of ambiguity, and often takes place where there are no witnesses. It's thus very hard to prove. It's also very hard for the wrongly accused young man to prove his innocence. Even if he can demonstrate that the claims are false his reputation is often in tatters just by virtue of having the charges made against him.

All of this is tragic, but it's why the authorities just can't accept uncritically the alleged victim's word for what happened.

Sojourners nentions that only 2% to 8% of assault allegations are false, but even if those figures are accurate that's certainly not a reason, by itself, to believe that any given allegation is true.

Young women are in a tough spot in our culture. They're urged to go along with the prevailing sexual winds, but those prevailing winds often lead to awful destinations (Read for example, Tom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, if you can stomach Wolfe's enthusiasm for vulgarity). When a young woman finds herself victimized by young men weaned on the pornographic ideas and images served up to them throughout their adolescence - young men, it might be added, who've been taught that they're simply animals engaged in the Darwinian imperative to mate and that their sexual urges should never be repressed - she has either to try to prove what may be very difficult to prove and risk public humiliation, or she must accept what happened to her and realize that she is a victim of a culture that has lied to both her and her assailant about what human beings are, what right and wrong is grounded in, and what sex is all about.

One thing we can be pretty certain about: The campus rape culture will never fade away until sexual morality is once again considered part of the will of the God who created sex. Failing that, young women will continue to be victimized and young men will continue to be both victims of false allegations and victimizers of young women whom they'll continue to see as sexual prey.