As students across the country return to their colleges and universities for the start of the academic year, incoming freshmen are being overloaded with orientation talks from administrators and residence staff during their first days on campus. There’s one topic, however, that these freshmen aren’t receiving advice about: the realities of sexual assault. Instead, they’re being subjected to a barrage of politically correct magical thinking and taught a series of flawed statistics, such as that one in five college women will be sexually assaulted before she graduates. Meanwhile, college administrators are shying away from — or are being bullied into ignoring — the underlying causes of the assaults that do take place.
Consider Stanford University, which has been under the microscope recently. First, a Stanford undergraduate, Brock Turner, was found guilty of three felonies, all related to the sexual assault of a 22-year-old woman from a nearby college. Now the university is receiving sharp criticism for explaining on its website the role that excessive alcohol intake often plays in sexual assault. The latter has been deemed to be “victim blaming.” Under pressure, the page was taken down. The updated version includes a profuse apology for the previous content.
For this webpage, Stanford has come under fire from ThinkProgress, the Huffington Post, and other left-leaning websites. ThinkProgress criticized the university both for the guidelines on the Stanford website as well as for its recent adoption of a ban of high-proof liquor from undergraduate parties, saying the policy supposedly “protects campus rapists” and “places blame on the victim instead of on the accused.”
The Huffington Post, meanwhile, undertook the task of “translating” certain sections of Stanford’s now-removed advice. Some examples:
“Research tells us that women who are seen drinking alcohol are perceived to be more sexually available than they may actually be. Therefore, women can be targeted with unwanted attentions due to that misperception,” the website read.
According to HuffPo, this actually means, “Ladies, it’s your responsibility to avoid ‘unwanted attentions’ by avoiding alcohol, which could confuse men into thinking you ‘want it.’”
HuffPo also objected to the repetition of the statistic that women are nine times more likely to experience sexual aggression when they are intoxicated, on the grounds that pointing that out is “victim blaming,” and objected as well to the statement that “it’s important to take action to protect friends and others from potential assault or other regretted behavior as a result of drinking.” That, says HuffPo, commands women to protect themselves rather than expect men to control their behavior.
These critiques intentionally misrepresent the intentions of assault-prevention advocates by constructing a false narrative of “victim blaming.” Are we honestly to believe that the recognition of reality does more harm than good?
It is odd that liberal activists spend so much energy ensuring that reports of assault are taken seriously but then write off any discussion of factors that lead to those assaults in the first place.
None of Stanford’s advice is intended to be the sole means of preventing assault — indeed, the “offending” material was just one part of the guidelines issued on the subject — but rather to serve as one component within an overall strategy. By educating students about the conditions that so often contribute to assault, Stanford was helping its students become better prepared to avoid disaster. And for that, administrators were crucified.
It should be patently obvious that a woman who dresses provocatively or becomes inebriated does not “deserve” to be assaulted and is not “asking for it.” It should be clear, too, that there are no circumstances under which her assailant is justified. But it is wrong to accuse Stanford’s guidelines of “victim blaming” for simply acknowledging a plain fact: in this case, that women are more vulnerable to abuse when they consume alcohol excessively.
Blithely telling young women that they can do whatever they want, wherever they want, with whomever they want, without considering the possible consequences, is grossly irresponsible, especially given that assault sometimes can be prevented by forethought and the availability of accurate, realistic information about the link between intoxication and assault. It is odd that liberal activists spend so much energy ensuring that reports of assault are taken seriously but then write off any discussion of factors that lead to those assaults in the first place.
Proper handling of sexual-violence reports is important. But prevention should be the ultimate focus. And we cannot implement an effective approach to curbing sexual assault until our college campuses — and, in particular, the left-wing feminists who dominate the national conversation — are willing to acknowledge and address the underlying issues that contribute to an environment in which assault is possible.