Culture

The Real Sex Problem at Saint Paul’s

(Stock image: Corepics Vof/Dreamstime)
A lurid prep-school rape trial highlights the need for conservative sexual ethics

The most prominent ongoing rape trial in America — heavily covered in the Northeast and in national media — centers on Saint Paul’s, an “elite” boarding school in New Hampshire (and Secretary of State John Kerry’s alma mater). The allegations are lurid: A Saint Paul’s senior — continuing a detestable tradition known as the “senior salute,” in which seniors proposition young girls for “as much intimacy as they can get away with” — allegedly lured a 15-year-old girl into an empty campus room and forced her to have sex. It seems to be an almost-perfect representation of the “rape culture” that feminists have long warned about, in which traditions dictate exploitation and — in this case — actual assault.

Yet, as is so often the case, the evidence turns out to be ambiguous. The young accuser told a school nurse after the incident that the sex was consensual. She sent text messages after the incident that indicate continued friendly relations with her alleged attacker, but those same text messages can easily be interpreted as mere polite “filler” — messages sent to placate, not approve. As for the accused, he claims that he never had sex with the victim, but his friends testified that he told them they did have intercourse. In other words, contradictions abound. Yes, there is evidence of rape, but is there proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

One suspects that whatever the outcome, the case will be fodder for both sides of the campus culture wars. Though Saint Paul’s is a high school, not a college, it’s still a college-like atmosphere, and there’s nothing uniquely high school about the “senior salute.” If there’s a conviction, some will see a young kid railroaded — convicted in a witch-hunt atmosphere in spite of a great deal of exculpatory evidence. If he’s acquitted, then it’s yet another case in which a rapist gets away with his crime, and the cause of #BelieveAllWomen has absorbed another blow. For me, the legal and evidentiary analysis is difficult, but the cultural analysis? Not so much.

RELATED: Campus Rape and the ‘Emergency’: It’s Always an Excuse for Authoritarianism

When rape cases are ambiguous – especially when there’s an acquittal — there’s a temptation for conservatives to abandon the discussion, to move on to the next example of over-hyped charges as proof that the “rape crisis” is a myth. And, yes, I often do the same thing — for a very good reason: The campus rape crisis is, in fact, a myth. Women are safer on campus than off, the statistics claiming that up to 20 percent of women will be raped at college are transparently bogus, and the far Left is all too conveniently using the false crisis as a means of bludgeoning the Constitution, suppressing dissent, and vilifying men.

But that doesn’t change the fact that something is deeply wrong on campus — in high schools and at college. The moral code that valorizes the orgasm and establishes consent as the only limitation on sensation and experience is the moral code that gives us the “senior salute,” the drunken hook-up, and the broken, regretful hearts that contribute to soaring rates of anxiety and depression. At its worst, the consent culture tears apart relationships and entire campuses as the inherent ambiguities of many “casual” sexual encounters are adjudicated online and behind the closed doors of college kangaroo courts.

RELATED: The Wheels Are Coming Off the Sexual Revolution

The sexual revolution is built on a fundamental lie — that the rejection of traditional sexual virtue leads to individual liberty and personal fulfillment. In reality, “liberty” depends on the ultimate backstop of taking another human life to keep the party going, while “fulfillment” is elusive as the human heart defies the animalistic ideology of the secular Left. It turns out that the connection inherent in the sexual act is not so easily discarded — especially by women — and a sex act without a relationship not only is unfulfilling, but actually causes deep and painful emotional wounds.

Even in the celebrated cases where reports of crimes prove exaggerated or false, something wrong generally still occurred.

And so a purely legalistic analysis of campus sexual culture will always be lacking. Even in the celebrated cases where reports of crimes prove exaggerated or false, something wrong generally still occurred. By equating the sacred with something as banal as a good buzz on a Saturday night, the sexual revolutionaries are plunging an entire culture into a doomed crusade to reject thousands of years of human wisdom and experience. Since time immemorial, men and women have sought to test sexual limits, and since time immemorial, the efforts to escape the constraints of sexual virtue have brought personal and even civilizational ruin.

With the Obergefell decision, Bruce Jenner’s “transition,” and the continued fracturing of the family and the bonds of marital fidelity, an immense segment of our culture is now “all-in” on consent morality. So this is exactly the time to present a compelling cultural alternative. And, as I’ve said before, this is exactly the time for campus Christians — to take one example — to leave their defensive crouch and boldly advance a godly alternative to the “five-year party.”

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Yet it is also exactly the time when the campus Left is doing its best to suppress alternative views. Take Gordon College’s ordeal, for example. Feminists decry the “rape culture” on college campuses, yet many cheered when Gordon College — an Evangelical school that was the safest private university in the country in 2013 — faced threats to its accreditation simply because of its Christian faith and Christian mission. They claim to want a “safe” campus for women, but only one kind of safe is acceptable — safe under their ideological thumbs.

Christian student groups fare little better. At the exact same time that the campus Left hyped the rape crisis beyond all reason, their comrades were launching a 15-year push to exclude orthodox Christian groups from campus for — you guessed it — insufficiently libertine views of sex. There’s no “rape crisis” when sex is reserved for marriage, but those who argued for just such a moral standard were decried as bigots and haters and chased out of respectable or permissible campus discourse.

Soon enough, the jury will deliberate in the Saint Paul’s rape trial. But the verdict is already in for the “elite” sexual culture – it’s broken, it’s corrupt, and it’s destroying lives.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

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