Politics & Policy

The Culture of Campus ‘Rape Culture’

It’s a mistake to conflate that with the abduction of the University of Virginia undergraduate.

Proponents of the idea that American colleges are frequent sites of sexual assault have seized on the abduction of a University of Virginia undergraduate to further their case. Situating the UVA abduction within the context of what is now being referred to as “campus rape,” the New York Times reported:

Coming amid widespread concerns by the Obama administration, Congress and others about sexual violence on campuses, the unsettling disappearance of [Hannah] Graham — and the revelations of [the suspect’s] history — underscore the continued vulnerability of women in college communities.

This strategy could backfire wildly against universities if anyone actually believes the analogy. In fact, there is no similarity between what Hannah Graham may tragically have experienced and the drunken hookups that form the core of what many feminists label “campus rape.” Here is a “survivor” of one such “rape” at Columbia University explaining why she did not report her experience to the police:

I don’t want my rapist to be in jail. Partly because our mutual friends would figure out that I was the one who accused him (this s*** doesn’t happen in a vacuum) and would retaliate against me.

Eighteen-year-old Hannah Graham disappeared on September 13 from Charlottesville; she had sent text messages saying that she was lost in a local mall. If, thankfully, she is found alive, it is inconceivable that her friends would retaliate against her if she reported her abduction and any sexual assault she may have suffered to the police. Why? Because they would know that what she suffered was incontrovertibly a crime. The police in Charlottesville are holding a suspect, 32-year-old Jesse L. Matthew Jr., in connection with the Graham disappearance. If anyone is protesting his arrest, it has not been reported.

Why might the friends of the Columbia “rape victim,” by contrast, retaliate against her if she reported her alleged rape? Presumably because they wouldn’t believe her accusation. Students are often more skeptical of the campus rape-epidemic claim than are the denizens of women’s-studies departments, because they see the ambiguities and mixed responsibility of drunken campus sex. Several years ago, I attended a lecture at Rutgers University by a prominent campus rape alarmist, David Lisak, who promotes the idea that colleges harbor serial rapists. The students weren’t buying his message. “I don’t understand why these [frat] parties [where females are allegedly premeditatedly raped] don’t become infamous among girls,” wondered one lecture attendee.

The Columbia “survivor” goes on to further explain her failure to turn in her alleged assailant: “I just want him to understand how he hurt me.” It is inconceivable as well that Hannah Graham would want her abductor only to “understand how much he hurt her,” rather than to serve time in prison.

It turns out that, pace the Obama administration and its feminist feeder groups, colleges do respond to sexual violence: They go into crisis mode. The authorities at the University of Virginia are beefing up lighting and surveillance cameras; students are walking in groups at night or taking buses and cabs, reports the Washington Post. Such measures, though understandable, are probably mostly symbolic, given that a suspect is now in custody. But if Graham’s assailant were still unapprehended, these security precautions would be even more pronounced and more urgent. Yet according to certain advocates, such sexual violence as Graham may have suffered is virtually a daily occurrence on campuses. Why aren’t campuses in constant crisis mode, then, with girls frightened to walk alone? Because there is no such epidemic of sexual violence. And despite the trauma engendered by Graham’s abduction, it would not be surprising if drunken coeds are still trooping into UVA frat houses on the weekends, because they know that whatever sex they may encounter there is a far cry from Graham’s abduction experience. Such drunken couplings can, however, produce what a Duke coed calls the “roll and scream:” “You roll over the next morning so horrified at what you find next to you that you scream,” Laura Sessions Stepp reports in her book Unhooked — unpleasant, but not a life-destroying experience.

Many feminists claim that 20 to 25 percent of female undergraduates will be sexually assaulted during college. If that statistic were correct, you wouldn’t see the heightened security measures that UVA has instituted, because there would be no females left on campuses to protect. A 20 to 25 percent rape rate would have emptied the colleges years ago. Instead, every year applications from females snowball. So far, campus administrators have played along with the campus-rape-epidemic claim, confident in the belief that most people don’t really believe it. They get to appease the feminists on and off campus without endangering their application rate. Harvard recently created a new centralized office of trained sexual-assault investigators, after president Drew Gilpin Faust announced that the school “must do better” on sexual assault. If the public were ever to buy the conflation of the alleged 20 to 25 percent campus rape epidemic with what happened to Graham, however, Harvard and every other college would turn on a dime and start asserting that they are among the safest and most crime-free environments in America — which is true.

The Washington Post unwittingly gave away the game when it reported that UVA was studying “safety procedures from urban schools such as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.” What happened at UVA, in other words, was “urban” crime seeping into the usually bucolic precincts of the American campus. To be sure, the then-250-pound Matthew briefly attended two small Virginia colleges in the early 1990s as a lineman for their football teams, but he left precipitously from both campuses after being accused of sexual assault. No criminal charges were filed. Matthew is now a suspect as well in a 2009 murder of another college student. He is not what most campus anti-rape advocates refer to when they denounce the “rapists” on campus. A professor at Occidental College, Danielle Dirks, persuaded a freshman to report her voluntary drunken sex as rape to the Occidental authorities by telling the student that her partner “fit the profile of other rapists on campus in that he had a high GPA in high school, was his class valedictorian, was on [a sports] team, and was ‘from a good family.’” That is not Matthew. (Occidental expelled the profiled “rapist.”)

Horrific victimization such as Graham has suffered is fortunately a rarity on college campuses, which is why it is news. The best way to protect yourself against the type of “rapist” described by Dirks remains to not drink yourself blotto and get in bed with a guy whom you barely know.

— Heather Mac Donald is a Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

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