Reducing Rape to “Dorm Deportment”

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    JMU Code of Conduct photo 140618JMUSexualAssault_zpsdc24a39a.jpg“Critics of such legislation” may reveal more than they intend when they question lawmakers’ “real-world wisdom.” It is that conventional “wisdom” that poisoned the well of justice in Sarah Butters’ case. It comes down to this: rape is not about midnight wrestling matches between hormonal lovers. It’s about violence.

    Those quoted phrases are from a dismissive opinion piece in The Free Lance-Star that diminishes the importance of the work undertaken by Governor McAuliffe’s task force to combat sexual violence at Virginia’s colleges and universities. It is symptomatic of a prevailing cultural attitude toward the value of women and ignores a significantly greater social disease for which there is currently no innoculation.

    In “civil” conversation involving sexual relations we usually pussyfoot and that plays into avoiding a substantive discussion about the violence. The violence has a sexual manifestation but it is actually a complete disregard for the victim; usually female (but sometimes male, by the way). It is about dominance and misogyny.

    There are a number of “realities” that we want to pretend away. That one in five women on campus are the victims of sexual violence is easier to accept if, as that opinion piece does, we frame these as “misunderstandings.” While there are cases of remorse after acquiescence in a relationship, we shouldn’t count them in that 20%. Nor should the task force pretend that is an explanation for the alarmingly high, and likely under-reported percentage. Next, accepting that 20% figure does not indict 20% of the males on campus as perpetrators. Research shows that sexually violent perpetrators commit serially. While that may help some feel better about our culture and men in general, what it should also do is emphasize the imperative to get anybody who commits any single act of this sort off campus immediately and permanently. Plus, the number of violent acts against women that involve more than one perpetrator, often referred to as gang rape, is uncomfortably greater than we want to know…so we pretend; and women, shamed by the experience, shutter it, setting up the next target of group “affection.” Not finally, but I will pause here, the abuse of authority (i.e. professors) to impose one’s will on another (aka seduction) is no less a betrayal, act of violence, and rape than a forceful, physical subjugation (and serial).

    For these and other reasons, I have little confidence that the Governor’s task force will accomplish much, if anything. Maybe the discussion about Combatting Campus Sexual Violence today on HearSay with Cathy Lewis will provide a glimmer of hope.