Do con­ser­va­tives take rape se­ri­ously?

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

Have con­ser­va­tives for­saken rape vic­tims? That's one of the more chal­leng­ing ques­tions posed fol­low­ing the furor over Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy

DeVos' an­nounce­ment that her depart­ment will re­vise the Obama-era guid­ance on how sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions are to be han­dled by uni­ver­si­ties. Be­cause we live in an age of rage, the move sparked some over­heated com­men­tary ("mak­ing cam­puses safer for rapists"), along with sev­eral thought­ful es­says on what it all means about our ail­ing cul­ture. New York Times colum­nist Bret Stephens of­fered sup­port for DeVos, but then de­voted an­other col­umn to a con­trary view — a let­ter from a young reader who had her­self been raped.

Her ex­pe­ri­ence — all too com­mon — was ter­ri­ble. She was trau­ma­tized, awoke in cold sweats, lost 30 pounds and con­sid­ered sui­cide. She didn't file a po­lice re­port be­cause there were no wit­nesses, she had been drunk, and she didn't un­der­stand un­til later that in­ca­pac­i­tated peo­ple can­not give con­sent. "I hate hav­ing to use my own life as an ex­am­ple," she wrote. "But hon­estly, so many of the con­ser­va­tive men in my life won't lis­ten to me on this ar­gu­ment un­til I tell them my story."

She ob­jects how "con­ser­va­tives and main­stream lib­er­als have ab­di­cated con­cern about sex­ual as­sault to the far left." She has put her fin­ger on some­thing here. Many con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors, un­der­stand­ably alarmed by the Obama administration's pre­sump­tion of guilt and kangaroo courts, have over­stressed this as­pect of the cam­pus rape prob­lem. It's com­mon, for ex­am­ple, to see the words "hys­te­ria" and "myth" in con­ser­va­tive com­men­tary. I've writ­ten about false rape al­le­ga­tions my­self to re­but the left­ist cat­e­chism that "women never lie." And it is im­por­tant to re­fute wild sta­tis­tics such as that "1 in 4" col­lege women are raped.

But I've been care­ful to say that rape and sex­ual as­sault are gen­uine prob­lems on col­lege cam­puses (if less so than among the high school grad­u­ates of the same age). The ques­tion is why and what can be done about it.

My an­swer to Stephens' young cor­re­spon­dent is ac­tu­ally an en­tire chap­ter in my forth­com­ing book (ti­tle still un­der dis­cus­sion at the pub­lish­ing house), but it be­gins with an in­dict­ment of hookup cul­ture. The young let­ter writer ac­knowl­edges that on the night she was as­saulted, she had been so drunk that she blacked out. As Donna Fre­itas has doc­u­mented in "The End of Sex," 90 per­cent of un­wanted sex, in­clud­ing rape, hap­pens dur­ing hookups, and in 76 per­cent of cases, ex­ces­sive al­co­hol con­sump­tion is in­volved.

Drink­ing to the point of in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion has become rou­tine on col­lege cam­puses. About 50 per­cent of stu­dents ad­mit to binge drink­ing, and many be­gin the "week­end" on Thurs­day nights. Men still drink more than women, but women have been rush­ing to catch up. "Be­tween 1999 and 2008," re­ports the Wall Street Jour­nal, "the num­ber of young women who showed up in emer­gency rooms for be­ing dan­ger­ously in­tox­i­cated rose by 52 per­cent. The rate for young men, though higher, rose just 9 per­cent."

Stephens's cor­re­spon­dent won­ders if only those on the far left take rape se­ri­ously. In some re­spects, they don't take it se­ri­ously enough. Left-lean­ing fem­i­nists, for ex­am­ple, re­ject all ef­forts to warn women about the dangers of ex­ces­sive drink­ing. When Emily Yoffe ad­vised, in a piece for Slate, that "the cam­pus cul­ture of binge drink­ing is toxic," Fem­i­nist­ de­nounced what it called her "rape de­nial­ism man­i­festo." Fem­i­nists re­buff the idea that women should take pre­cau­tions, be aware of their sur­round­ings, and keep their wits about them. "We should teach men not to rape, pe­riod" they in­sist.

Fem­i­nists also find them­selves in a bind be­cause their ide­o­log­i­cal com­mit­ment to the idea of same­ness is in con­flict with their ex­pe­ri­ence of vic­tim­iza­tion. Why should it be, if men and women are so alike in ev­ery way, in­clud­ing sex­ual be­hav­ior, that women com-

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