Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fact and Fiction: The Campus Rape "Myth"

Originally published in the BG News on April 13, 2011

From Flickr-- t3rmin4t0r

Vice President Joe Biden is trying to make college a safer place for women. As part of a federal initiative to prevent sexual assault, as well as victim-blaming, Biden recently quoted Ms. Magazine, telling the nation “rape is rape.” There is no other kind.

And then someone stepped up for their 15 minutes of fame, calling the frequent occurence of rape on college campuses a "myth."
Who is this appalling voice of disbelief? Heather Mac Donald, a favorite “expert” for conservative news outlets who keeps busy with heartless commentary about people getting what they deserve.
Last week you might have caught her in a Fox News special report, explaining why no one should ever give money to the homeless. Mac Donald simultaneously appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, scornfully asking her audience to “imagine” the campus rape epidemic-- because there’s a greater chance economics classes are taught by the Tooth Fairy.
If 18-year-old girls were in fact walking into such a grotesque maelstrom of sexual violence when they first picked up their dormitory room key, parents and students alike would have demanded a radical restructuring of college life years ago” Mac Donald said.
Because, like the masterminds behind the “No Taxpayer for Abortion Act” tried to convince Congress, there’s real rape, also known as stranger rape or “forcible rape,” and then there’s fake rape, gray rape, or date rape—all lesser crimes not worth reporting.
But tell that to a woman who was sexually assaulted by someone she knew and trusted.
The irony is you wouldn’t have to, because most acquaintance rape goes unreported. It’s rather traumatic, labeling someone you know a criminal. Most victims feel shame and guilt, convinced they did something wrong or invited the attack.
And sadly, most victims know they will not be believed. This doubt is known as victim-blaming and it’s a phenomenon critics like Mac Donald are all too eager to employ.
There is no worse rape apologist than Mac Donald. She scoffs at any university resources, claimingevery campus has a robust sexual-violence bureaucracy which sits idle, waiting for the shell-shocked casualties of rape to crawl through their doors. The victims never come — because they don’t exist.”
She calls Biden’s agenda unnecessary and alludes to the unfair investigation of Yale’s “sexually hostile environment.” Remember how a group of Yale fraternity pledges mocked Take Back the Night outside the Women’s Center back in October? Yeah—not a big deal, according to Mac Donald.
In fact, we should know campus rape is pretend, because these days there are more women in college, “where they are free to boogie through as many drunken frat parties as they can before passing out from over inhalation of Kahlua and cream.” 
While a young woman would become more intoxicated from over-using mouthwash than Mac Donald’s beverage of choice, you get the point—slutty girls who outnumber boys in higher education think they can have it all, including cocktails and promiscuous sex.
Because higher enrollment denotes equality, rape must really be about retaliation. Mac Donald refers to Laura Session Stepp, author of Unhooked and inventor of “gray rape,” who agrees rape is merely the regret following the “roll and scream” when young women realize who is in their bed the next morning.
Mac Donald is a worthy adversary, taking time off from defending racism in her conservative publication the City Journal, to publically side with rapists. She is an official enemy of Mother Jones. And she’s beating a dead horse with her “nobody’s raping anybody” denial.
I preferred Mac Donald’s article the first time I read it, back in 2008. “The Campus Rape Myth” portrayed a crisis center where the phone never rang. And when rape did happen, it was the fault of hippies, free love, and of course, feminism. Like a Mama Grizzly before her time, Mac Donald prescribed abstaining from sex and alcohol to avoid confusion about consent and demanded colleges stop wasting money on things like women’s safety.
But really, I liked that article better the first time Katie Roiphe wrote it to preview her book The Morning After, back in 1993.
Both Mac Donald and Roiphe fixated on the “one in four” statistic first published by Ms. Magazine. This figure was the result of a 1987 nationwide survey completed by psychologist Mary Koss at Kent State University. Using the Ohio penal code’s definition of rape, the numbers of college-aged women affected were overwhelming.
As Paula Kamen wrote in “Erasing Rape,” an article supported by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the data revealed “15 percent of women had been raped, with 28 percent experiencing either rape or attempted rape. Eleven percent of women had been raped through force or the threat of harm, with 19 percent indicating either completed or attempted forcible rape.”
However, several women with stories matching the legal definition still did not consider what happened to them “real rape.” In the psychological journal where the study first appeared, rationalization as a coping mechanism to avoid stigmatization was a particularly interesting detail of the reputable survey.
But Mac Donald and others have used those subjects’ testimonies, “I never called it rape,” to dispute the factual accuracy of Koss’s findings, which is misleading—to say the least.  
Because women are portrayed as the only victims of sexual violence, roaming the streets with pepper spray and rape whistles, it’s always shocking when one of these “walking targets” says rape doesn’t happen. “She would know,” the media seems to say, “She is a woman.”
But the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, uses data discovered through a partnership between the National Institute for Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The leading statistic says one in six women will be a victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault in her lifetime-- and that 60 percent will go unreported.
Mac Donald was right. There isn’t a campus rape epidemic-- there is a rape epidemic. And more importantly, there is an epidemic of silence. But that’s what happens when victims aren’t believed.

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