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But what do these numbers mean? The Pentagon poll defined sexual assault broadly enough to include a slap on the behind-and half of its self-reported victims were men. The CDC study treats all sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs as rape, with no distinction between unconsciousness and impaired judgment. Even the CDC's definition of rape by force could include such transgressions as unwanted penetration with a finger (no matter how brief) during an otherwise consensual make-out session. The respondents were never asked if they thought they were assaulted; in a comparable survey, the federally sponsored 2007 Campus Sexual Assault study, two-thirds of the women classified as victims of drug- or alcohol-induced rape and 37 percent of those counted as forcibly raped did not consider the event to be a crime. (And these were college women in the age of mandatory campus date-rape awareness programs.) Notably, when CDC survey respondents were asked about victimization during the previous 12 months, men reported being "forced to penetrate someone"-an act classified as sexual violence other than rape-at the same rate that women reported forced penetration. Either "rape culture" goes both ways, and women also sexually assault their male partners with alarming frequency, or the CDC definition of sexual violence needs rethinking.
Other claims about America's alleged rape-supportive misogyny typically rely on falsified or out-of-context pseudo-facts. Thus, on the website of The Nation, Jessica Valenti states that "we live in a country where politicians call rape a 'gift from God'â€Š"-not only distorting a comment made by Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock during his 2012 run for the U.S. Senate, but neglecting to mention that the gaffe almost certainly ensured his defeat in a Republican stronghold. (What Mourdock said was that life was a "gift from God" even when it began "in that horrible situation of rape.") In The Huffington Post, writer Soraya Chemaly's list of "facts about rape" includes the claim that 31 states allow rapists who impregnate their victims to sue for child custody or visitation. Actually, these states simply don't have laws explicitly barring such suits, mainly because it is presumed to be a non-issue. So far, the only known case of this kind involves a Massachusetts man convicted of statutory rape who sued for visitation with his daughter after a family court ordered him to pay child support.
The Steubenville story, with its evidence of boys behaving abominably documented by social media, came to be seen as Exhibit A for the "rape culture." Never mind that it's quite a leap from the repulsive acts of a few drunk adolescents to the notion that our culture normalizes such acts; or that it's hardly unusual for teenagers to flaunt illegal and socially unacceptable behavior; or that the morning-after text messages in the case made it clear that a number of boys were well aware that something very wrong was done to "Jane Doe" and that legal trouble could follow.
After Mays and Richmond were convicted in juvenile court, the media went into moral panic overdrive. In Time magazine, novelist Peter Smith scolded his fellow men for their failure to reject male solidarity and "say something" against rape-as if a male judge hadn't just "said something" by sending the perpetrators to jail. MSNBC talk show host Melissa Harris-Perry delivered an on-air apology to the victim for failing to make the world safe for her. Twitter threats to "Jane Doe" from two teenaged girls, one of them Richmond's cousin, were seized upon as more evidence of rape culture's pernicious sway. The barrage of threats to Steubenville residents who had been labeled pro-rapist, including the female prosecutor baselessly accused of a cover-up, went unnoticed until Levy's New Yorker article. Even CNN, a major promoter of the "rape culture" meme, got hit by friendly fire: Correspondent Poppy Harlow and host Candy Crowley were vilified as rape apologists for daring to voice some sympathy for the defendants-and, it was falsely claimed, failing to mention the harm to the victim.
Much of this reaction was well-intentioned. Yet in the end rape-culture feminism promotes not only a toxic view of relationships but a skewed and dangerous view of justice. Its key tenets: 1) Women almost never lie when they report a sex crime, and to doubt them is to perpetuate rape culture; 2) rape is any sexual act in which the woman feels violated-unless she suffers from false consciousness and needs to be educated about her violation; 3) rape includes situations in which the woman agrees to sex because of persistent advances, "emotional coercion," or intoxication-or because she doesn't have the nerve to say no; 4) no matter how willing the woman appears to be, it is the man's responsibility to ensure explicit consent-or he may be guilty of rape.
The inroads these ideas could make in the actual justice system have been limited by constitutional protections for the accused, including the presumption of innocence, a high standard of proof, and the right to confront the accusing witness. But colleges are almost perfect laboratories for feminist rape prosecutions, even if the penalty can be no worse than getting expelled.
Campus Kangaroo Courts
The campus is a place where sex happens a lot-including sex in random, often drunken encounters rife with potential for misunderstanding and regret. The Online College Social Life Survey, collected from nearly 25,000 students on 20 campuses from 2005 to 2011, found that women and men alike drink heavily when hooking up with a casual partner: an average of five alcoholic drinks for women, six for men. When you try to criminalize much of this confused and confusing sex, subjecting it to second-guessing by secretive quasi-judicial panels operating under arbitrary rules and influenced by the deference to feminist orthodoxy that prevails on many campuses, the results will not be pretty.
Complaints from all sides about the way colleges handle sexual assault reports raise the question: Why should an offense as serious as rape be "prosecuted" by a college, rather than turned over to the police? The answer is that the vast majority of these charges would be unlikely to survive the most basic legal scrutiny.
In at least one case currently under review by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the police reviewed and closed the woman's complaint. University of Colorado at Boulder sophomore Sarah Gilchriese says a male student, a fellow member of the school's Alpine Club, sexually assaulted her when they were drinking together. From media accounts, it is unclear whether Gilchriese accuses the man of using force or simply having sex with her when she was, by her own account, intoxicated but not "blackout drunk." Prosecutors at the Boulder District Attorney's Office declined to pursue the case, believing that they had little chance of obtaining a conviction.
But the university's Office of Student Conduct found the man guilty of "non-consensual intercourse" and punished him with an eight-month suspension. Gilchriese filed a grievance in response, complaining that the male student was allowed to finish the semester and stay on campus for four weeks after the hearing, and was scheduled to be allowed to return after his suspension even though she was still attending school. (She obtained a restraining order to keep him off campus.)
In other college cases that have made news, local authorities have gone so far as to proclaim the defendant's innocence. As mentioned earlier, that was true for Dez Wells, the basketball player expelled from Xavier University on a disciplinary charge of sexual assault. And in February 2010, University of North Dakota student Caleb Warner was convicted by a campus tribunal and banned from school for three years, just three months before the Grand Forks County District Court issued a warrant for his alleged victim's arrest for making a false police report, a charge that prompted her to leave the state. The sanctions against Warner were vacated in October 2011 after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) brought national attention to his story.
The case of Landen Gambill is perhaps the best illustration of how skewed, misguided, and detrimental to justice the crusade against rape culture can be. Gambill, a University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill student, became a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre when the school tried to forbid her to speak publicly about her alleged assault on the grounds that it constituted harassment toward the male student cleared of the charge. The student Gambill accused was a former boyfriend whom she had started dating in high school before they both enrolled at UNC. She claims he repeatedly abused her, physically and sexually, over the course of the relationship. They broke up in their freshman year at the university; four months later, Gambill filed a complaint accusing her ex-boyfriend of rape. A five-person panel of students and faculty-two men and three women-found him not guilty except for a single charge of verbal harassment.
Gambill, who turned to activism after this experience, has expressed outrage not only at the acquittal but at the process itself. As an example of the "victim-blaming" that she says she had to endure, she cites this question from a jury member at the hearing: "Landen, as a woman, I know that if that had happened to me, I would've broken up with him the first time it happened. Will you explain to me why you didn't?" Gambill also says that her pre-college history of mental illness and attempted suicide was used to damage her credibility even though it was a result of the abusive relationship-and that, after the hearing, a meddling juror decided to give a written account of the alleged assaults to Gambill's parents.