Opinion

The right rape statistics

Sexual MisconductCrime, Law and JusticeCrimeSexual AssaultAssaultUniversity of VirginiaColleges and Universities

Much of what appeared in Heather Mac Donald's Op-Ed — "What campus rape crisis?" -- is damaging and demeaning. Admittedly, it is hard to look at our society and acknowledge that a problem of such magnitude exists. Mac Donald rationalizes her dismissal of the campus rape crisis with accusations of poor science, underutilization of resources and survivors' frequent unwillingness to report cases.

Mac Donald makes several false assumptions when constructing her argument. First, she assumes studies on campus rape are irrelevant because many survivors do not call their experience rape. She later blames the victims, citing their behavior as a contributory factor to their experience. Such victim-blaming has a direct and obvious effect on reporting. If people like Mac Donald stigmatize a survivor as a promiscuous, irresponsible alcoholic, is there really much incentive to come forward? And if a victim convinces himself or herself that no assault took place, why use the resources available?

Acknowledging having been assaulted can be a very difficult first step toward recovery. That's why sociologists performing these studies ask if a person experienced what's defined as rape or sexual assault without putting those words into the questions. As a result, these studies catch people who were raped or assaulted according to the legal definition, even if they do not recognize their experience as such. Mac Donald asserts that this style of questioning undermines the validity of these studies, but, in fact, it exposes the difficulty and trauma of reporting.

Furthermore, survivors often do not come forward because they must relive what are frequently the worst experiences of their lives. They know that overburdened prosecutors hesitate to take these cases to trial because they are difficult to prosecute. They know that they will not be believed and that people will blame them for what they were wearing, who they were with and what they drank.

Clearly, cases involving alcohol are rarely cut and dry. But when Mac Donald writes: "But most campus 'rape' cases exist in the gray area of seeming cooperation and tacit consent, which is why they are almost never prosecuted criminally," she confuses a reluctance to prosecute with the absence of crime. My school, the University of Virginia, attempts to close this gap between criminal activity and prosecution with its Sexual Assault Board and the lesser offense of sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct addresses when sexual behavior occurs in the absence of effective consent. But again, even with this lower standard, the hurdles to reporting remain.

Mac Donald's characterization of the booze-fueled hookup culture is also concerning. As a onetime fellow student of conservative women's group founder and UVA alum Karin Agness, and as a member of a Greek house, I'm not sure which parties Agness attended. I find her characterization to be, as Mac Donald deemed campus anti-rape groups, "political, not empirical."

There are those in our society who choose to ignore rape and sexual assault because of its gravity, frequency and complexity. They choose to blame the survivor, dismiss the statistics or question the political motivation of those who try to end rape and sexual assault and mitigate the life-altering consequences of its occurrence. They rely on antiquated notions of drunken frat boys and promiscuous young women looking to "have a good time." I know plenty of the people Mac Donald chooses to define based on these stereotypes. None has ever asked to be raped. Some have been raped anyway.

Patrick Cronin, a fourth-year University of Virginia student, is president of his school's chapter of One in Four, an all-male sexual assault peer education group, and a member of the Alpha Chapter of the Chi Phi fraternity.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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