My take on the campus “rape culture”

I agree with John that there is no “rape culture” on college campuses. But I also agree with Joe Asch, the proprietor of Dartblog, that sexual assault, or, at a minimum, serious sexual harassment, is a real problem at colleges and universities.

I base my conclusion in part on conversations with a dozen or so current college students or recent grads. Not all of them see the situation the same way, but the clear consensus is consistent with Asch’s assessment. (None, though, believes the claim of President Obama and others that one in five college women is sexually assaulted).

Few considered the problem pervasive enough seriously to detract from their overall college experience; they figured out how to avoid bad situations and predators, and acted accordingly. But one female student transferred from a party school in the Midwest to a more subdued college close to home due, she said, to the prevalence of serious sexual harassment.

I also base my conclusion on two thoughtful articles that Asch posted on Dartblog. The first, consisting of two parts, is a by Alexandra Arnold, a 2010 graduate of Dartmouth. The second is by a male who recently graduated from Dartmouth.

Citing studies as well as her experience as a sexual abuse peer adviser, Arnold argues that rape and other forms of sexual assault on campus are mainly the work of a relatively small number of serial predators. Their existence does not imply a “culture.” But both Arnold and the male alum say that the predators are able to engage in serial misconduct because of the campus culture.

How so? Arnold explains:

Serial perpetrators do not exist in a vacuum. They are aided and abetted by a culture that does not fully accept acquaintance rape as “real” rape, that believes the “miscommunication model” to be the prevailing scenario of sexual assault on college campuses, and that excuses predatory behavior as a continuation of normal sexuality rather than an aberration and abuse of power. The perpetrators whose names I heard repeated throughout my years at Dartmouth were not readily identifiable as predators; they were all well-liked, with friends who would have rushed to their defense were they ever formally accused. They were “nice guys,” every last one of them.

The recent male grad had this to say about the culture fraternity:

[W]hen observing a Brother and a very drunk woman, the common course of action would be to look the other way rather than to inquire about the well-being of the young woman. I think this was driven by a desire for your brothers to be sexually successful and a desire to not be a “cock-block.”

One final impact that might be felt was a likelihood to support a brother if he was accused of rape in any situation where the credibility of the parties mattered. About the only thing that could pressure the fraternity into punishing a brother whom a woman accused of rape was if the woman’s sorority threatened to socially punish the fraternity as a whole.

The disturbing claim that male students lie to protect rapist friends may help explain (though not excuse) the desire of some to hold kangaroo-court type hearings in cases involving allegations of sexual assault. But the next sentence suggests what may be the best answer to the problem. If sororities (and female students generally) “socially punish” fraternities and other settings where improper conduct occurs, then, presumably, it will pretty much stop at these fraternities and settings.

In other words, take back the night.

Will this happen? Probably not. Is there another answer? Probably not.

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