I’m lucky. I made it through my college years without being raped.
I did have a couple of close calls, both times when I was alone with men I had considered friends. Fortunately, my angry bravado—which covered up my fear—proved enough to short-circuit their plans. Fortunately I hadn’t been given a spiked drink that would have rendered me incapable of protest. Fortunately they were small guys, not football players—although either could have overpowered me.
Other women I know and have met weren’t so lucky. Like Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, the two main protagonists in the new documentary The Hunting Ground. Both were raped while students at the University of North Carolina and have since turned their trauma into activism, developing encyclopedic knowledge of Title IX and other laws that take schools to task if they don’t deal with sexual assault in a timely and survivor-protective manner.
Most feminists—including champions in Congress such as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—are convinced by statistics showing the frightening prevalence of rape on campus and a lack of effective response from school administrations. Indeed, the Department of Education is now investigating nearly 100 schools for possible Title IX violations in their treatment of campus rape.
Why, then, do some sort-of-feminist writers seem to take a contrarian delight in downplaying campus rape, and show greater concern for the accused than the assaulted?
Take Emily Yoffe of Slate, previously (2013) author of “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” in which she wrote that “Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue.” (Uh, as far as I know, that’s a topic that’s never been on the feminist agenda.) If she had a son, she wrote, she’d tell him that “it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.” (In his self-interest? What about his classmate’s? How about just telling him to not rape a classmate, regardless of her or his state of inebriation?)
Yoffe followed that one up late last year with “The College Rape Overcorrection,” in which she told a long story about a male University of Michigan student accused of rape who was suspended but has filed suit against the school. It’s impossible to read the piece without concluding that her sympathies lie more with those who might be falsely accused—a very small percentage, actually—than with women who are raped.
And now, Yoffe has written a review of The Hunting Ground for Slate, because who better to review this film than someone who’s already shown she’s suspicious of campus rape accusations and believes that women should buck up and realize that “colleges are supposed to be places where young people learn to be responsible for themselves”?
Not surprisingly, Yoffe calls the campus anti-rape movement a “moral panic.” She writes,
The film traffics in alarmist statistics and terrifying assertions, but fails to acknowledge both the recent changes in the way the government and universities approach sexual assault charges and the critiques that those changes go too far. By refusing to engage the current conversation about this issue, the film does its subjects—and us all—a disservice.
What she means is that the filmmakers didn’t engage with Yoffe‘s critiques. Instead, they focused on dozens of young women students who actually have been raped but found little or no recourse from either their campus administration or the criminal justice system. Yet Yoffe insists that the campus system is “stacked against the accused.”Really? Read the transcript of the hearing in which Florida State student Erica Kinsman accused football star Jameis Winston of raping her, and then tell us which of the two got more of a fair shake.
But who needs real stories from survivors when contrarian opinions will get so many more hits online?
Certainly not Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times. Her review of The Hunting Ground questions the notion of whether all rapes are created equal. “I’m going to say,” she writes,
what many reasonable people have been thinking for a while: Violent rape is not the same as psychologically coercive sex, which in turn is not the same as regrettable sex, which is not the same as fielding an unwanted touch or kiss at a party.
This is a straw horse. Like Yoffe’s idea that feminists are marching for women’s right to drink as lustily as men, Daum is assuming that “unreasonable” people (like Annie and Andrea, perhaps?) want to equate rape with an unwanted touch, or even a post-coital wish that they’d just stayed friends. But watch The Hunting Ground and see if you don’t agree that rape is rape, despite variations in behavior by the rapist and the person violated. Andrea, for example, admits that she didn’t scream while being raped in a bathroom (does that disqualify her rape?) because she thought she was going to be killed and wanted to live past age 20.
Daum is forced to admit, reluctantly, that,
Rape culture is not a myth propagated by entitled young feminists who wage their battles behind the scrim of social media and in the ideological vacuum of gender studies departments. [wow, “ideological vacuum”!!] Rape culture is terrifyingly and appallingly real.
But … that doesn’t mean she can accept what she identifies as “grievance culture.” In this imagined land—which just sounds like a new version of so-called “victim feminism”—she asserts that,
sexual assault and victimhood exist as absolutes, independent of context or gray areas. The woman who gets drunk at a party and has sex she neither exactly consented to nor exactly resisted is just as much a victim as the clearly brutalized woman. The undergraduate at an elite college who continues to hang out with her alleged rapist long after the deed supposedly occurred is said to be suffering the same syndrome as the woman who lacks the resources to flee a domestic batterer on whom she may be psychologically or financially dependent.
Again, the straw horse is a-galloping. Listen to the stories of rape survivors in The Hunting Ground—which is currently playing in Los Angeles, New York, Cambridge and Berkeley—and judge for yourself how out-of-context their stories are. Do we need to develop a degree-of-rape scale before we push universities and the criminal justice system to improve their investigation and prosecution of sexual-assault crimes? Let’s see, if you’re murdered during your rape, that’s a legitimate rape, unquestionnable. If you bled or suffered broken bones, that’s legit, too. Just covered with bruises? A bit lower down on the scale. But no marks after the assault? Well … maybe it’s a gray area. Psychological trauma, PTSD? Come on, get over it!
It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Through whose eyes are we watching a sexual assault transpire? For example, did you laugh along with Jimmy Kimmel the other night when former boxer Mike Tyson described to him how he “had to hit all the maids” in his Tokyo hotel when he was training to fight Buster Douglas in 1990, because his management wouldn’t let him party on the town? Tyson made it clear—by miming a punch and then a pelvic thrust—that he didn’t actually hit these women, he had sex with them. Despite the fact that, as he felt compelled to add, they were “so ugly.” Hahahahahaha. Isn’t Tyson charming these days?
Mike Tyson was convicted of raping a Miss Black America contestant just two years after the Douglas fight. So who’s to say those Japanese housekeepers were willing sexual partners? Perhaps they were physically compelled by this exceedingly strong person. Perhaps they feared for their jobs if they refused a rich and powerful hotel guest. And we know what happens when a hotel maid accuses a rich and powerful man of rape.
Based on the statistics—let alone the question of why any sane woman would want to put herself through the maelstrom of the criminal justice system if she didn’t have a real grievance—it shouldn’t be so hard to trust the accuser in rape cases. Yes, the accused is “innocent until proven guilty” and criminal courts require “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict. Campus adjudications maintain a lower bar of proof, but it can still be a difficult one to clear (see the Winston case).
Nonetheless, is it to much to ask that Yoffe and Daum think of the women for a moment? Rapists who aren’t expelled can blithely attend classes and extracurricular activities, while the Annies and Andreas often must leave school to avoid further trauma and begin their recovery. It hardly seems like it’s the accused rapists being denied a fair shake.
Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage