This week two major newspapers published pieces from writers who seem to think that men are getting the short end of the justice stick in this whole 'campus rape' thing. James Taranto wrote about the imbalance in accountability between two people (and really he is only talking about hetero sex, so a male and female) when sex, alcohol, and questions of consent come up. Apparently he feels that in response to efforts to stop campus rape, we are spending too much time focusing on what the alleged rapist did, and not enough time acknowledging the responsibility and potential vindictiveness of a sex partner who had regrets after the fact and lashed out with false accusations. In response to an article in the New York Times, Taranto writes
“Unlike many journalists writing about this subject, Winerip acknowledges the problem of wrongful accusation”.
Perhaps that is because all of these journalists not mentioning wrongful accusation are correct in their understanding that false rape claims are too negligible to be worth mentioning much. That if the journalist's project is to convey an accurate picture of a crime, highlighting the scarce exceptions to the norm and centralizing them in the discussion would be too much espousing of dangerous rape culture myths as ideological red herrings and not enough reporting an accurate picture of a crime epidemic and its victims and perpetrators. That is, to frame the few false claims as important enough to warrant a more visible place in discussions of rape is to paint a misleading picture, one that might make people think being falsely accused of rape is something that afflicts 1 in 4 or 5 men. And that is a very skewed picture. False rape claims account for roughly 5% of all accusations, and that number can be seen as even more miniscule when we factor in that 60% of rapes are not reported at all. Centralizing the problem of false rape accusations does little to shed light on the traumatic epidemic of sexual assault, and serves to reinvigorate the view that victims can't really be trusted. Thanks but no thanks. If that is what Taranto is trying to convey, he needn't worry; victims' legitimacy and veracity are constantly questioned. Even when we have concrete evidence of rape that doesn't seem to be enough to penetrate the wall of protection constructed around rapists, built largely out of a disdain and distrust for female bodies and voices.
Taranto continues to talk about morning-after regrets, which he sees as a likely and dangerous catalyst for false accusations. Here again is a misleading framing of sexual assault and rape. Of course, people having regrets after having had sex with someone is something that happens. But this sets us up to conflate and confuse regret with non-consent. More importantly, is the treatment of rape victims who make public or formal claims so glamorous that we think it is something lots and lots of regretful college coeds will do? Does Taranto think that one can make a rape accusation and go about life happy and carefree at that point? Which is not to say that this doesn't ever happen, or that when it does it is traumatic and unjust for the falsely accused. But it happens so infrequently that to centralize it is to be so shockingly removed from the reality of rape and sexual assault victims who more often than not get re-victimized in incredibly violent and harsh ways as backlash for speaking out in the first place.
Kathleen Parker over at the Washington Post responds to Taranto, calling his piece 'inartful', but chimes in with the sentiment that hey, we need to take a fair and unbiased look at how our campus rape initiatives are really hurting guys when we don't take girls to task for their behavior when alcohol is involved. She also brings up the regretful-morning-after scenario and conflates this with rape, which is again not only inaccurate but hugely offensive and damaging to survivors of sex they did not consent to. She then takes several giant steps backward to frame women as the weaker sex in deserving need of protection, calling on guys to be magnanimous in the face of temptation-by-drunk-girl. Please. Do we really need to go over this again? Alcohol and sex can surely come together in a problematic confluence, but I think we're good on seeing it solely as something that will make women make bad decisions, and not as something that encourages and helps rapists to rape. Pretty sure.
Parker is clearly tired of hearing about the plight of women (her article opens: “We've heard much about the Republican war on women. Exhaustingly”). You know what else is exhausting? A history of being marginalized to a place of so little social and cultural value as to constantly have to fight to be heard, believed, and not violated. She chummily suggests to Taranto that if he is worried about men and their potential victimization, he should take notes from her cause boy is she fair and balanced when it comes to this stuff! What might serve them better is taking notes from someone like Tony Parker and his set, people committed to explaining how our construction of masculinity hurts men on the way to being a platform for propagating and legitimizing violence against women. The only war on men I can see is one coming from within, from the violent constraints and standards of patriarchy and masculinity as they've been constructed. Rape and sexual assault are crimes that affect people in communities, and should be addressed and prevented by people in communities
So, two people had some opinions about rape and responsibility, what's the big deal? The deal is this: to prevent rape, we need to address rapists and direct our prevention efforts towards stopping them from raping. When we look at an epidemic that will victimize as many as 1 in 4 women on college campuses, that will see less than 5% of perpetrators ever serve even a single day in prison, that is trivialized and excused at all levels of the criminal justice system, and then turn around and tell victims that they need to do a better job of protecting themselves in the face of systematic and structural violence we are committing egregious error. To survey the bleak and uneven landscape of rape and come away suggesting that more fairness towards those likely to be at fault while wagging our fingers at the victims is more than a waste of our time, it is a further violence against those already vulnerable and violated. Taranto and Parker and their ilk, however well-meaning, are nonetheless compounding the collective misunderstanding that rape happens because rapists can't help it and their victims couldn't stop it, and not because rapists know they can and almost always get away with it.