I'm a big believer in teachable moments, and George Will's recent column on college rape has provided us with a whopper! His column is an insidious, tour-de-force of victim blame, repudiating the existence of this well-documented crisis, while relegating college women to being irresponsible, manipulative, loosey-gooseys who use the privilege of victimhood to gain "coveted status." Will's misogynistic drivel not only resulted in national outrage; but also unleashed a torrent of stories from victims of college rape, sharing their truths -- at the parody hashtag #survivorprivilege, or in columns of their own. If you want to get a sense of today's rape culture -- how toxic, dehumanizing and detached -- I suggest you head over to Twitter after finishing this piece. Grab a box of tissues first. I've written about and advocated on this issue for five years, and I've spoken to countless college women on campuses who have described how ubiquitous sexual assault has become, but still, I was heartbroken by what I read.
The crisis of sexual assault on campus is very real, but likely not what you understand it to be. Some parents have conveniently brushed-off what has tragically escalated to a weekly flow of news stories about a rape at this college or that college, with excuses like, "it's the hookup culture"; "'it's just that more women are reporting it now"; or "this is same stuff that happened while we were in college." NO, NO and NO! Sexual assault on campus has become, as described by four US Senators in a letter of condemnation to Will, "a spreading epidemic" -- one characterized by behaviors not endemic to our generation. This is not your mothers' rape culture! Thankfully awareness is spreading, and accountability is finally starting to shift from the victim to the aggressor.
If the former isn't reason enough to speak to your son, the latter should be!
Before we move to the conversation with your son, I need to establish something up front: I was young once, and no so puritanical. Thirty years ago, I was social chairperson of one of the wildest sororities on campus. I spent my share of time at fraternity and sorority parties, and college town bars. I had my share of consensual fun. To be clear: I am not admonishing you to have your son stay in his dorm room and play dominos! But, if I were replaying my relatively carefree college experience in today's rape culture -- well, I couldn't.
Was there rape in our day? I'm no pollyanna. Even if the statistics were lower, it existed for sure and I don't mean to minimize this in any way. But today there are additional obstacles and complications, as you'll find perusing #survivorprivilege. When I was in college, I didn't have to worry that a guy would very purposefully slip a drug into my drink to incapacitate me. Yet today, this calculated and premeditated weapon is commonly used. When I was in college, I didn't have to worry that my guys friends (many who are still friends today) would assault me while studying in my dorm room, or after walking me home on a cold winter night. Friendships today are in some instances used as an inside track to accessibility. The commonality that underlies these behaviors is an ability to dehumanize young women, and see them as prey.
You're going to ask me why. As I've written about more extensively in other columns, in summation, it's what our teens are consuming. Today's teens devote, on average, 7 hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media per day, and what they're ingesting is not only an overdose of violence against women and girls, but also portrayals of women and girls as sexualized, and objectified. This messaging teaches our sons to view young women as objects, not human beings (if you're interested in the confluent impact on our teen girls, watch this video). In so many of the rape stories coming out at #survivorprivilege, the young men seem detached from the notion that there's a second, real, live human being involved! To illustrate, let's tell two of the stories from the vantage point of the aggressor:
Sure she trusted me. And yes, she was crying, but I didn't care. It felt good and I wanted to finish so I just told her "stop complaining and participate." (at U Penn)
I could tell that she and her friend had been slipped some sort of date rape drug. She couldn't talk or walk, so we carried her back to my dorm room. She was unconscious and wet my bed, but as I told my buddy the next morning, we fucked a little. (at Yale)
Before I continue, I need to ask: would YOUR son be capable of such a thing? Have you talked about this issue?
What you need to know is that the Obama administration is taking action! In April 2011, shortly after 16 Yale students filed a complaint against their school under Title IX for creating a sexually hostile environment, VP Biden and Education Sec. Duncan held a news conference. VP Biden admonished, "No means no, if you're drunk or you're sober. No means no if you're in bed in a dorm or on the street. No means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind" (good advice for that conversation with your son!). Thereafter, a not-so-small flood of Title IX complaints were filed by students at schools including Occidental, Amherst and Columbia, to name a few. In January 2014, President Obama publicly addressed the issue in conjunction with the release of a White House report with shocking findings including 1 in 5 college women are assaulted while in college, and on average, only 12% of assaults are reported. The President promised action, and delivered. On May 1st, the U.S. Department of Eduction launched an investigation of 55 named colleges for mishandling sexual assault in violation of Title IX (the list has since expanded to 60). With colleges under pressure, so too will there be needed changes to how rape is reported and investigated.
At the same time #survivorprivilege was trending on Twitter, last Tuesday Angelina Jolie was addressing a global summit on ending sexual violence and declared, "We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence -- that the shame is on the aggressor." I happen to agree. I can think of no greater shame than being a parent of a rapist! Have the conversation. Early and often.