The campus sexual-assault controversy is of liberal higher ed’s own making
For decades, universities have nurtured the most lunatic forms of feminism, denying the biological differences between males and females, promoting the idea that Western civilization is endemically sexist, and encouraging in their students ever-more-delusional forms of victimhood. It is therefore deeply gratifying to see these same universities now impaled by the very ideology that they have so assiduously promoted.
The Obama administration has released the names of 55 colleges and universities that it is investigating over their sexual-assault policies, part of an accelerating campaign against universities for allegedly turning a blind eye to the purported epidemic of campus rape. The list is top-heavy with the elite of the elite — Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Swarthmore, Amherst, and Dartmouth, among others. A more deserving group of victims would be hard to find.
Parroting over 20 years worth of feminist propagandizing, the White House claims nearly 20 percent of female college undergraduates are sexually assaulted during their college years. To put that number in perspective: Detroit residents have been fleeing the city for years due to its infamous violent crime. And what constitutes an American urban crime wave? In 2012, Detroit’s combined rate for all four violent felonies that make up the FBI’s violent-crime index — murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault — was 2 percent. The rape rate was 0.05 percent. And yet, despite an alleged campus sexual-assault rate that is 400 times greater than Detroit’s, female applicants are beating down the doors of selective colleges in record numbers.
Harvard this year received over 34,000 applications, about half from females, for a freshman class of about 1,600; every other elite college was similarly swamped with female applicants. According to the White House Council on Women and Girls, “survivors” of the alleged campus sexual-assault epidemic “often” experience a lifetime of physical and mental infirmity that includes depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome. How could highly educated baby-boomer mothers, who have spent their maternal years fending off phantom risks to their children from pesticides and vaccines, suddenly send their daughters off to a crime scene of such magnitude, unmatched even in the most brutal African tribal wars? What happened to the Sisterhood? Shouldn’t it be warning its members and forming alternative structures for educating females? Instead, every year, millions of girls walk into this alleged maelstrom of violence like innocent lambs to slaughter. Even more puzzling, every year those same girls graduate from that cauldron of predation in ever more disproportionate numbers, and go on to lead highly lucrative careers.
It should not be necessary to tell a feminist that rape is the most violent crime — with the emphasis on crime – that a woman can experience, short of murder. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports list rape as the second most serious violent felony. If the campus feminists really believed that campuses are experiencing an epidemic of criminal sexual assault, they would demand that every campus sexual-assault allegation be brought in criminal court, where the assailant can be sentenced to years in prison if convicted. Instead, they favor secret proceedings before an increasingly byzantine set of campus tribunals made up of judicially clueless bureaucrats and professors whose most severe punishment is expulsion. Imagine if a stranger broke into a female’s dorm room at night and raped her at knifepoint. Would that case be taken to the campus Title IX gender-bias tribunal? Unlikely. If someone were merely robbing females of their iPads at gunpoint around the campus library, that case, too, though far less serious than rape, would most certainly be prosecuted criminally.
There are several reasons why no one is pushing to bring campus sexual-assault cases to court. It certainly helps that the procedures before college gender tribunals are egregiously stacked against defendants. The Obama administration recently recommended that campuses deny students facing sexual-assault charges the right to cross-examine their accuser, a trend already well underway on campuses across the country. It also wants campuses to use a flimsy preponderance-of-evidence standard for guilt, and to allow repeated proceedings against a student after an initial acquittal, as KC Johnson and Hans Bader have explained.
The campus sexual-assault tribunal also has a performative aspect: It dramatizes the patriarchy before a sympathetic audience of adults. “Our task is to give voice to the daily forms of violence we too often accept as inevitable,” a Harvard graduate student recently told the New York Times, describing her work protesting Harvard’s sexual-assault policies. The campus sexual revolution began with students’ demand to be free of any intrusive parietal oversight from college officials; now, in a bizarre turnaround, the children of that revolution want colleges to actually write rules for sex and police their enforcement. The colleges are only too happy to comply. In 2013, Yale came up with an embarrassingly graphic set of hypothetical sexual scenarios between gender-unidentifiable students, in an effort to delineate what constitutes permissible sex. One would have hoped that a world-class academic institution would have better things to do. Meanwhile, here is a message to girls: This is sex that we’re talking about, the very realm of the irrational and the uncontrolled. See Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Euripides’ The Bacchae (if those texts are still available at your school). Norms of chivalry, courtship, and modesty once tried to channel this primal drive; with those conventions now demolished as sexist, females (and males) are on their own — and often at sea. A highly legalistic definition of consent — the current desideratum of campus sex bureaucrats — is hardly a sufficient substitute for traditional social checks on the sexual instinct and will never be able to regulate the inexpressible and often conflicting emotions around intercourse.
But the main reason “survivors” don’t demand to bring their cases to criminal court is that they know that what they have experienced is something far more complex and compromised than criminal sexual assault, almost invariably involving mixed signals, ambiguity, and a large degree of voluntary behavior on their part.
Girls often drink themselves blotto both before and during parties precisely to lower their sexual inhibitions. The authors of campus-rape surveys discovered early on that when the students whom the pollsters deem rape victims are asked if they think they have been raped, the “victims” overwhelmingly respond in the negative. In the 1986 Ms. survey that sparked the campus-rape industry, 73 percent of respondents whom the study characterized as rape victims said that they hadn’t been raped when asked the question directly. Forty-two percent of these supposed victims had intercourse again with their alleged assailants.
The alleged campus-rape epidemic could be stopped overnight if women’s advocates sent a simple message to girls: Don’t get drunk and get into bed with a guy whom you barely know. Keep your clothes on and go home to your own bed at night. And most controversially: Demand that any boy court you long enough to reveal his character and his respect for yours before you even think about having sex with him. The feminist advocates are more interested in preserving the principle of male fault, however, than in protecting females from regretted sex. And so rather than sending an unequivocal message of personal empowerment and responsibility, they put the entire onus of sexual responsibility on males, treating females as the invariably helpless victims of the male libido.
The colleges under investigation by the Department of Education may have sustained a public-relations black eye, but sadly, they will suffer not the slightest drop in their endowments or enrollments. They will even continue to coddle their students’ melodramatic oppression fantasies. The Title IX investigations, triggered by student complaints, are premised on the preposterous conceit that colleges are creating so hostile an environment for females that those females are actually prevented from learning. Here’s how the colleges should respond:
“Are you kidding me? Get a grip. This is the most welcoming, safe, lavishly endowed community ever created in human history, where students with the desire to absorb wisdom can do so in leisure, surrounded by supportive faculty and well-meaning administrators. There are millions of girls in Asia who are studying ten hours a day to gain the privilege of learning on an American campus; if they were to come to this ‘hostile’ environment, they would seize every educational opportunity available to them.”
Instead, however, the colleges’ student-services deans and rape counselors, who live precisely for these moments of conflict, will grovel before their accusers and promise to make amends. The New York Times has been hawking an article from Columbia’s student newspaper that purported to expose the college’s inadequate response to sexual assault. The original article triggered campus protests against the administration and penitence from the grown-ups. What it mostly showed, however, was the hold of the gender-studies mentality on far too many students. The student journalists were outraged that the school’s sexual-assault policies refer to “rape” “euphemistically” as “non-consensual sexual intercourse,” and to alleged “rapists” as “respondents.” One “survivor” — “Natalie” (a pseudonym) — complains that a Title IX investigator used abbreviations in taking down her story, resulting in “holes” that made her account not “sound like a strong case” (it probably wasn’t) and keeping her “from having ownership over the retelling of her history with emotional and sexual violence.” Natalie had been in a “fragile state” from a previous “emotionally abusive relationship,” and promptly entered into another “‘destructive and unhealthy’ physical relationship” with another male that was “confusing at best.” That male, the article explained, “often forcefully pinned [Natalie’s] arms back against the mattress during sex; [she] would cry during and after they slept together. Not until months after their break up did Natalie recognize this as non-consensual intercourse.” If Natalie was unhappy with their sexual relationship, she would have been wise to have put an end to it. The Columbia student article provided no evidence of flawed assault policies, beyond the mere fact that the school did not issue guilty findings in Natalie’s case (which she did not fully cooperate with) and one other. The article did, however, reveal the chaotic state of campus couplings in the absence of any normative restraints on casual intercourse, a situation that will claim only female emotional victims.
While the legal risks regarding regretted sex are increasingly stacked against male students, it is hard to shed a tear for them, either. They may not be guilty of rape, but they are almost certainly guilty of taking full advantage of the sexual caravansary on campus, and of acting as brutishly as females will allow them to. Males are the main beneficiaries of no-commitment sex, for males and females are not equals on the sexual battlefield. While there may be few actual rape victims on college campuses, there are undoubtedly thousands of girls feeling confused, betrayed, and exploited by callous partners who are blind to their ambivalence and who leave their bed with no emotional pang whatsoever. If male students respond to the one-sided distribution of risk and responsibility by becoming sexual prudes, society will have suffered no loss whatsoever. But don’t count on the male libido to do anything so sane.
— Heather Mac Donald is a Thomas Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society.