Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear Mr. Will: Please shut up about rape

To: George F. Will
Re: Sexual violence on campus

Dear Mr. Will:

Unlike many bloggers who right now are criticizing your op-ed piece, "Colleges become the victim of progressivism," I actually read it. The whole thing; I didn't stop after the bit about campus rape. Taken all together, the "campus liberals hoist on their own petard" theme might have worked.

However, you spoiled it by trivializing sexual assault on campus. That may not have been your intent (and I'll explain why I think so in a minute), but that's what you did. The road to Hell ....

The problem with the numbers the White House uses to justify federal intervention is that they're based on sloppy research. As your own Washington Post tells us in a story about the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, the numbers were drawn from Web-based surveys conducted at two — two — "large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South". This is nowhere near a "random sampling" as understood by social scientists and statisticians, and the researchers themselves admit that the results can't be generalized onto the entire college populace.

So it's no wonder that, when you try to apply the figures to another school, like Ohio State, they don't necessarily add up (98 reports between 2009 and 2012 ≈ 817 × 12%; 817 ≈ 28,000 × 2.9%). And this is where you earned my willingness to grant you good intentions: While 2.9 percent is "nowhere near" 20 percent (1 in 5), you also said it's "too high". While anything above zero is "too high", I assume you mean it's much higher than the national figure given by the National Crime Victimization Survey, which was about 0.02% of all women in 2010.

HOWEVER ... the poor methodology used by CSAS simply means that we don't know the real scope of the problem, not that the problem's been exaggerated. The problem may not be as bad as the Department of Education wants us to believe. On the other hand, the problem may be — and quite likely is — worse than we want to believe. That there is a problem we should be concerned about should be beyond reasonable doubt.

Behind the "capacious definitions" — per your example, the inclusion of consent under the influence — isn't a desire for whatever social cachet victimhood can give. Rather, it's a protest against the heightened expectation of female sexual surrender in the context of the university, not only to male students but also to teachers and by teachers (the late sociologist and novelist Fr. Andrew M. Greeley once compared the college campus to a sexual slave market). A woman under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, to use your example, is essentially non compos mentis; her psychological state is as hobbled as is that of a mentally-challenged adult or a prepubescent child. Under that circumstance, her consent is tainted, and should be held in the same disregard as a contract signed or a confession to a crime given under the influence.

While I take some issue wth the term "slut-shaming", I'll forcefully assert that: 1) women have a right, and even sometimes a positive duty, to say "No"; 2) men have the obligation to respect and honor that "No" whenever it's given; 3) men have no right to assume that a woman has surrendered that right/duty to say "No", regardless of the situation. Those three contentions are very much behind the concept of "slut-shaming": a woman does not "ask for" or "deserve" sexual assault ... not even if she's dressed provocatively, not even if she has a "reputation", not even if she's a prostitute or a porn star. 

Not even if progessives, especially feminists, have created a campus culture that fosters and gives ideological cover to sexual irresponsibility.

Frankly, Mr. Will, those two words — "too high" — are my only clue that you're not a total Cro-Magnon about sexual violence on campus. For every one of these putative women desiring "victim" status, there are likely dozens of women who really have been victimized yet haven't made themselves known in any way. I shed no tears for the campus progressives about to be eaten by the federal monster they helped create. But I'm highly disappointed in your maladroit, thoughtless minimization of a real, vital issue. Please don't talk about it anymore ... at least until you do some better research.

Anthony S. Layne