The UVA co-ed was enthusiastic, optimistic, altruistic -- looked like the girl next door. She had a promising future -- a world full of opportunity ahead of her. But there she lay on the bed, bloodied, motionless. Her head had been repeatedly slammed against a wall, not by an evil stranger, but by her lacrosse playing ex-boyfriend, George Huguely. Her name was Yeardley Love. She was also a lacrosse player, but wouldn't be taking the field that spring in 2010, or tragically, ever again. She wasn't intoxicated, scantily-clad or wandering off alone.
And yet, as another UVA co-ed goes missing, the conversation becomes singularly focused on examining an alleged serial rapist and killer. The media ignores that Morgan Harrington's abduction is also related to Yeardley's murder, and the seemingly daily headlines on college rape, stalking and assault. And so, we've missed an opportunity for a discussion on the broader issue -- violence against college women, part of an age group which is the most vulnerable.
Instead, the vacuum is filled by voices like conservative columnist Camille Paglia, who chalked up Morgan's abduction to the constant nearness of savage nature -- e.g. men (at least some of them) are animals unable to control themselves. And so, if college women can simply take all the responsibility and follow some basic instructions on how to avoid these evil men, then we can keep college women safe. Men can't help themselves, after all.
This assertion is not only absurd, it's dangerous!
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (I know, I know, an insidious bastion of progressivism -- because progressives treasure victimhood), between one-fifth and one-quarter of college women will be victims of sexual assault during their time on campus, and 9 in 10 victims will know her assailant. For every Jesse Matthews, there are innumerable college men neatly clad in J. Crew or American Eagle who have murdered, gang raped or incapacitated their classmates with a date rape drug -- to say nothing of the bystanders who captured the act on video just for kicks! The issue of violence against college women is much more far-reaching than a one-off cautionary tale of savage behavior. While there may be differences in degree of violence, there is also a commonality: The perpetrators are able to dehumanize -- sexualize and objectify -- the victim. She is no longer a classmate, a friend, that sweet-as-apple-pie girl he knows from American Lit class. She has been transformed into prey.
To make meaningful and long overdue change to what is unarguably an epidemic, let's start there. Let's look at how and why our young men are able to make that dehumanizing transformation, and work to fix it. I give enough credit to the male gender to believe that, with awareness -- and guidance from us, their parents -- our young men are capable of not only being evolved beyond animals, but also of becoming good men and defenders of college women.
Most of us believe that our son, our friend, our neighbor could never do such things, so it must be somebody else's problem. There's no way he could have learned that behavior given how we conduct things in our home, our community. What you're missing is that our young men are awash in entertainment media. Our teens consume, on average, 7.5 hours per day of television, movies, video games, music and so on.
Violence against college women has a symbiotic relationship with our media and popular culture. It justifies. It sells. Let me give you a contemporary example.
In the backdrop of NFL revelations and the epidemic of campus sexual assault, a band called Maroon 5 has masterminded a video version (watch here) of their Top 10 song, "Animals." It's a lovely piece of work which glamorizes stalking and gory, bloody violence against women. The plot line features a young man who works at a butcher shop and fantasizes about possessing a beautiful woman who comes into the store. The video employs grade school level symbolism: as he takes a cleaver to the hanging bloody carcasses, he looks at creepy photos he shot while stalking her -- the woman is like meat, or prey. He wants her; but, if he can't have her, no one will -- he's going to cut her into little pieces. Because the man can't help himself. Men are animals, as the name of song and lyrics suggest. Clever, huh?
Sadly, our boys and young men are watching and listening. Their minds are practically bathed in violence against women, each and every day.
If we want to move towards progress and change, we must start with awareness. We can warn our college women to be careful, and, as parents, we can worry sick as we send them off to school; but until we address the issue of violence against women directly with our boys and young men, we will never see change.
Have a conversation, starting today. It's not enough to not be a perpetrator, our young men need to be part of the solution -- to stop and call out violence against college women when they witness it. As President Obama extolled men as he launched a new campaign It's On Us last month, "It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what's unacceptable." In the end the solution is on us, our men.