rape culture

This recent Rolling Stone arti­cle about rape at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia is pret­ty upset­ting.

It’s just the lat­est in a string of hor­ror sto­ries over the past year about rape cul­ture, lack of empa­thy and denial, both gen­er­al­ly and on Amer­i­can cam­pus­es in par­tic­u­lar.  It seems hard to sep­a­rate the bru­tal­i­ty in the frat house, stu­dents’ misog­y­nis­tic ideas about social hier­ar­chy, neg­li­gence and mis­han­dling of com­plaints by cam­pus secu­ri­ty, and a sweep­ing-under-the-rug atti­tude by PR-mind­ed admin­is­tra­tors.  This is a per­va­sive val­ues prob­lem. As the arti­cle notes,

UVA’s empha­sis on hon­or is so pro­nounced that since 1998, 183 peo­ple have been expelled for hon­or-code vio­la­tions such as cheat­ing on exams. And yet para­dox­i­cal­ly, not a sin­gle stu­dent at UVA has ever been expelled for sex­u­al assault.

My first response was to try to pin the hor­ror safe­ly on the South.  The data, how­ev­er, don’t coop­er­ate.

A search for “rape at Princeton”—my alma mater, safe­ly up north and recent­ly ranked #1 in under­grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion for the nth time by US News and World Report—turns up an offi­cial fig­ure of 5 rapes on cam­pus last year.  Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad; it’s low­er than the CDC’s esti­mate of rape inci­dence in the US over­all (about 1/1000 of the pop­u­la­tion per year).  But how real is this fig­ure?  It seems that the same Title IX inves­ti­ga­tion now dig­ging into mis­han­dling of sex­u­al vio­lence com­plaints at UVA is also tar­get­ing Prince­ton, along with more than 50 oth­er Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties.  I’ve put the com­plete list at the bot­tom of this post, for the inter­est­ed.

I don’t know for sure why Prince­ton is on this list, but a piece in Jezebel from ear­li­er this year might sup­ply a clue.  It describes a rape sur­vey report con­duct­ed in 2008, which the Uni­ver­si­ty tried to bury, con­clud­ing that

One in six female Prince­ton under­grad­u­ates said they expe­ri­enced “non-con­sen­su­al vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion” dur­ing their time at the Uni­ver­si­ty.

Sounds like rape to me—if nar­row­ly defined.  Assum­ing four years at col­lege and a stu­dent body of 5000 with the gen­ders even­ly split, that would amount to over 100 rapes per year.  Could this num­ber have gone down by a fac­tor of 20 between 2008 and 2014?  Real­ly?

Despite decades of lip ser­vice, it seems at first glance like noth­ing much has hap­pened for women’s rights since I went to col­lege in the 90s.  But in the next decade, gen­der and sex­u­al pol­i­tics may really—finally—start to change.  Let’s be opti­mists.  Per­haps the parade of absur­dist hor­ror we’ve seen in the past year (more cam­pus rapes, the Bill Cos­by scan­dal, gamer­gate, Mattel’s Com­put­er Engi­neer Bar­bie book, etc., etc.) her­alds a shift in the wind, a col­lec­tive sense that we’ve final­ly under­stood as a soci­ety that some­thing is very wrong, has been for a long time, and that we’ve had enough.  As The Guardian points out,

[...] it’s no coin­ci­dence that anti-fem­i­nist back­lash hap­pens most often when women’s rights are on an upswing.

Maybe we’re final­ly get­ting it.

The Title IX inves­ti­ga­tion list:

AZ Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty
CA Butte-Glen Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege Dis­trict
CA Occi­den­tal Col­lege
CA Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-Berke­ley
CA Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia
CO Reg­is Uni­ver­si­ty
CO Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Boul­der
CO Uni­ver­si­ty of Col­orado at Den­ver
CO Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver
CT Uni­ver­si­ty of Con­necti­cut
DC Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Amer­i­ca
FL Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty
GA Emory Uni­ver­si­ty
HI Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii at Manoa
ID Uni­ver­si­ty of Ida­ho
IL Knox Col­lege
IL Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go
IN Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty-Bloom­ing­ton
IN Vin­cennes Uni­ver­si­ty
MA Amherst Col­lege
MA Boston Uni­ver­si­ty
MA Emer­son Col­lege
MA Har­vard Col­lege
MA Har­vard University—Law School
MA Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts-Amherst
MD Frost­burg State Uni­ver­si­ty
MI Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty
MI Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan-Ann Arbor
NC Guil­ford Col­lege
NC Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill
ND Minot State Uni­ver­si­ty
NH Dart­mouth Col­lege
NJ Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty
NY Cuny Hunter Col­lege
NY Hobart and William Smith Col­leges
NY Sarah Lawrence Col­lege
NY Suny at Bing­ham­ton
OH Deni­son Uni­ver­si­ty
OH Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty
OH Wit­ten­berg Uni­ver­si­ty
OK Okla­homa State Uni­ver­si­ty
PA Carnegie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty
PA Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege
PA Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty
PA Swarth­more Col­lege
PA Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty
TN Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­si­ty
TX South­ern Methodist Uni­ver­si­ty
TX The Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas-Pan Amer­i­can
VA Col­lege of William and Mary
VA Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia
WA Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty
WI Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-White­wa­ter
WV Bethany Col­lege
WV West Vir­ginia School of Osteo­path­ic Med­i­cine
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13 Responses to rape culture

  1. Nat says:

    Women have been known to com­plain to cam­pus author­i­ties and police of non-con­sen­su­al sex although they con­sent­ed at the time, but then change their mind.
    They’ve also been known to com­plain of rape by guys they were mad at because the guys ignored them or turned them down when they offered their sex. These things have hap­pened even though the com­plaints had seri­ous con­se­quences.
    You are talk­ing about a sur­vey ask­ing women if they’ve ever had “non-con­sen­su­al vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion”. There are no con­se­quences for what they say. I don’t see how you rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that 1/6 may report an event of the above types or some­thing else that you might not qual­i­fy as rape if the details were more clear­ly defined, explain­ing the entire find­ing.

    • blaise says:

      Nat, first­ly, a rea­son­able brief def­i­n­i­tion of rape is “a non-con­sen­su­al sex­u­al act”. Rape sta­tis­tics and def­i­n­i­tions of rape are noto­ri­ous­ly hard, but on the def­i­n­i­tion side one might begin at a site like https://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/was-it-rape. Non-con­sen­su­al vagi­nal pen­e­tra­tion qual­i­fies as rape accord­ing to every offi­cial def­i­n­i­tion in the US, includ­ing the one used by the FBI, “Pen­e­tra­tion, no mat­ter how slight, of the vagi­na or anus with any body part or object, or oral pen­e­tra­tion by a sex organ of anoth­er per­son, with­out the con­sent of the vic­tim.”

      Con­sent, espe­cial­ly when with­drawn at some point, can be a com­plex thing to parse, and there are sure­ly edge cas­es. Some peo­ple have talked about call­ing cer­tain edge cas­es “regret­table sex”, for exam­ple, to cov­er sit­u­a­tions in which the woman (typ­i­cal­ly) wish­es it had not hap­pened, but con­sent­ed at the time. This cer­tain­ly hap­pens, but I don’t think most rea­son­able peo­ple would answer “yes” to that sur­vey ques­tion in this “regret­table sex” case.

      What all of the dis­cus­sion and ago­niz­ing about edge cas­es masks is the actu­al pro­por­tions. Much play is giv­en to false accu­sa­tions of rape, for exam­ple, and how trag­ic this is for the poor men who are stig­ma­tized this way. In this study http://mic.com/articles/41583/crying-rape-on-innocent-men-doesn-t-happen-as-often-as-you-might-think in the UK false accu­sa­tions of rape were found to be <1%. I’ve seen oth­er attempts to get at these kinds of fig­ures, all in the sin­gle dig­its.

      Much more com­mon, as Sara men­tions, are the cas­es in which women fail to come for­ward because they fear stig­ma, fear that their com­plaint won’t be fol­lowed up, don’t want any­one to know, have inter­nal­ized shame, etc. There are also ample data about this.

      • Nat says:

        I’m talk­ing about when con­sent is with­drawn the next morn­ing. Or the next week. Or when she sees him with some­one else. Those cas­es seem to be com­mon on cam­pus these days. There have been sev­er­al cas­es in the news. Do you think its rape when con­sent is with­drawn the next day?

        I’ve seen stud­ies that show that 40% of rape claims were lat­er retract­ed, but again, those were actu­al com­plaints made to the police. And of the 60% that were not retract­ed, pre­sum­ably a decent frac­tion may yet have been false.

        I don’t think you have any ratio­nal expec­ta­tion that col­lege women respond­ing to sex sur­veys are rea­son­able peo­ple by your appar­ent expec­ta­tions of same.

        And here you are talk­ing about a sur­vey of the pop­u­la­tion, not women com­ing for­ward. (Or worse, was this a self-select­ed sur­vey?)
        I ful­ly believe the results of this may be con­sis­tent with 0 real rapes. Or maybe not, but I don’t think you have ratio­nal basis to assert oth­er­wise.

        • blaise says:

          Per­haps against bet­ter judg­ment, I’ll bite.

          Wikipedi­a’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape page has a syn­op­sis of the US find­ings on this top­ic, with pri­ma­ry sources ref­er­enced. I’ll quote, “Stud­ies have found that police typ­i­cal­ly clas­si­fy between 1.5 and 8% of rape accu­sa­tions as unfound­ed, unproven or false, how­ev­er researchers say those deter­mi­na­tions are often dubi­ous. The “con­ven­tion­al schol­ar­ly wis­dom,” accord­ing to Amer­i­can law pro­fes­sor Michelle J. Ander­son, is that two per­cent of rape com­plaints made to the police are false. The Unit­ed States Jus­tice Depart­ment agrees, say­ing false accu­sa­tions “are esti­mat­ed to occur at the low rate of two per­cent — sim­i­lar to the rate of false accu­sa­tions for oth­er vio­lent crimes.” How­ev­er, oth­ers say eight per­cent or more of rape accu­sa­tions are false, and as a sci­en­tif­ic mat­ter the answer remains unknown.”

          Fur­ther, when an anony­mous sur­vey finds a much high­er inci­dence of some­thing stig­ma­tized than one finds in offi­cial reports involv­ing the stig­ma­tized par­ties “com­ing for­ward”– and espe­cial­ly when there are rea­sons to believe that com­plaints are get­ting brushed under the rug and under­re­port­ed (per the Title IX inves­ti­ga­tion, and reports like Rolling Stone’s, and oth­ers like it)– then I think Occam’s Razor sug­gests tak­ing a hard look at the offi­cial report. Nei­ther of us know what the real num­ber of rapes every year at Prince­ton is, but my mon­ey would be where Sara’s is– “like­ly to be clos­er to 100 than to 5”.

          Now, your own web­page, http://whyarethingsthisway.com/about/ (which does not include your real name) claims that you’re a very data-dri­ven pos­i­tivist sort of guy. Explic­it­ly, “Please don’t believe any­thing I say unless I demon­strate it log­i­cal­ly and with cita­tions to your sat­is­fac­tion [...]”. So far you have cit­ed no sources, and the num­bers you quote seem at vari­ance with the pub­lished data, so we’ll bear your advice in mind.

          • Nat says:

            The Wikipedia arti­cle you read reviews Kanin, which is a peer reviewed study that actu­al­ly looked at police reports and found 40% were retract­ed. And as I said, more may have been false.

            The fact that the major­i­ty of researchers take the polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect view that this is wrong does not prove it wrong, or even nec­es­sar­i­ly sug­gest its more like­ly to be wrong than right. Its my expe­ri­ence that when a small group of dis­senters are pre­sent­ing data and argu­ing log­i­cal­ly, its far more like­ly they are cor­rect if you take the time to exam­ine the actu­al sci­ence (which I haven’t done in the case of rape) than the major­i­ty. That’s hap­pened for almost every sci­ence issue I’ve actu­al­ly looked into, and I think there is a neglect­ed lit­er­a­ture that dis­cuss­es why and how this hap­pens so con­sis­tent­ly. http://whyarethingsthisway.com/2014/03/22/why-are-the-pediatricians-so-confused-about-the-actual-state-of-the-scientific-literature/

            Maybe its not hap­pen­ing for rape, but my guess is it is.
            Its also my impres­sion that pret­ty much every high vis­i­bil­i­ty rape case in my life­time, from Kennedy kids to Tyson to Kobe (maybe not Willies, that seemed cred­i­ble at the time giv­en his Oxford his­to­ry) to Tawana Braw­ley to the Duke Lacrosse team etc. etc. has been either found not guilty by a unan­i­mous ver­dict, or the charges were dropped and seemed far more like­ly false than true, or the crit­i­cal evi­dence was with­held from the tri­al because of laws pre­vent­ing rea­son­able due process. In the case of Tyson for exam­ple, the woman had pre­vi­ous­ly gone to a hotel room with anoth­er rich guy and lat­er accused him of rape while there. IMO its a trav­es­ty of jus­tice that the jury did­n’t hear this his­to­ry.

            For the spe­cif­ic case of col­lege rape, there have been mul­ti­ple news arti­cles late­ly about guys deprived of due process by col­leges who are suing, and in many of these cas­es the woman with­drew con­sent after the fact or the like. Vir­tu­al­ly all the col­lege cas­es I’ve read about have been trav­es­ties where the woman was accus­ing a guy because she lat­er changed her mind. Now I’ve been read­ing about them only when the guy sues the Uni­ver­si­ty for no due process, so maybe these aren’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive, but maybe they are.

            I

          • Nat says:

            In fact, the Wikipedia arti­cle you refer to, seems on cur­so­ry exam­i­na­tion like a good case study of Polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect BS being sub­sti­tut­ed for actu­al sci­ence.
            Almost all the stud­ies real­ly say that women are rarely charged for false rape alle­ga­tions. That is true and a scan­dal in its own right, but what does it have to do with the ques­tion of whether they make them?
            Most of the stud­ies are based on recent sur­veys of the British Police. The British police have now become so polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect, that dur­ing the entire peri­od these inves­ti­ga­tors were ask­ing them if women lie about rape, facil­i­tat­ing the rape of young white British women by Pak­istani immi­grants.
            Kanin seems like much the best data. He found actu­al data that in at least one town that inves­ti­gat­ed all the alle­ga­tions of rape, what they actu­al­ly found was 41% of them were lat­er retract­ed by the women, who stat­ed they were false and the facts were actu­al­ly as the men had said. If that actu­al­ly hap­pened in one town, it is at least a strong exis­tence proof that in some cul­tures women lie an awful lot about rape.
            Even when there are con­se­quences for the guy,
            although in these 41% of the cas­es the women weren’t charged either. Women are very rarely charged for false rape alle­ga­tions.

            And note, you are defend­ing a sur­vey, in which 1/6 of the women could be report­ing more or less a fan­ta­sy of this type, with no con­se­quences what­so­ev­er. (And what was the response ratio of the sur­vey? Maybe the women with a fan­ta­sy grudge are more like­ly to respond.)

          • blaise says:

            Any­one tru­ly inter­est­ed should go and read the Wikipedia arti­cle and the have a quick look at the sources, which (good old Wikipedia) include both a num­ber of care­ful stud­ies with fair­ly con­sis­tent con­clu­sions (2%-8%, with some notable caveats on the high end about the dif­fer­ence between ‘false’ and ‘unsub­stan­ti­at­ed’) and a few dis­sent­ing opin­ions over the years, of which Kanin is the most recent, though the arti­cle notes some prob­lems with his method­ol­o­gy. By “the best data” I think you mean the only high per­cent­age that even pre­tend­ed to be sci­ence. I under­stand your con­trar­i­an bias toward the intel­lec­tu­al under­dog; I guess this is the same impulse that has led you, per your web­site, to be a cli­mate change denier and an anti-vac­cine advo­cate.

            Again, false accu­sa­tions of rape are a seri­ous issue. Slate address­es it intel­li­gent­ly here, with atten­tion to both false pos­i­tive and false neg­a­tive cas­es– http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/09/false_rape_accusations_why_must_be_pretend_they_never_happen.html
            in the con­text of the false accu­sa­tion of Conor Oberst. “False rape accu­sa­tions are a light­ning rod for a vari­ety of rea­sons. Rape is a repug­nant crime—- and one for which the evi­dence often relies on one person’s word against another’s. More­over, in the not-so-dis­tant past, the belief that women rou­tine­ly make up rape charges often led to appalling treat­ment of vic­tims. How­ev­er, in chal­leng­ing what author and law pro­fes­sor Susan Estrich has called “the myth of the lying woman,” fem­i­nists have been cre­at­ing their own counter-myth: that of the woman who nev­er lies.” News­flash– being of one gen­der or anoth­er makes you nei­ther auto­mat­i­cal­ly a saint nor a sin­ner.

            I’d like to reem­pha­size that these con­sid­er­a­tions would be more salient if the offi­cial and sur­vey num­bers dif­fered by, say, 30%, ver­sus 2000%. Even if Kan­in’s ~50% fig­ure were cor­rect (which is dubi­ous), and the 5 rapes on cam­pus were “con­vic­tions” with anoth­er 5 false accu­sa­tions, there would be a huge under­re­port­ing and due process prob­lem here.

            Also, your con­fla­tion of false accu­sa­tion (which accord­ing to the Kanin ’94 paper you like can be moti­vat­ed by ali­bi, revenge, or sym­pa­thy-seek­ing, none of which would apply in a sur­vey) with rape fan­tasies (which are only relat­ed to the cur­rent top­ic via Freudi­an ideas about hys­te­ria, for­ma­tion of false mem­o­ries, and oth­er misog­y­nis­tic non­sense from the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry) is frankly dis­turb­ing.

            Lewis’s Law of social media: “Com­ments on any arti­cle about fem­i­nism jus­ti­fy fem­i­nism.”

  2. Sara A Solla says:

    I agree with your esti­mate that the num­ber of rapes per year at Prince­ton is like­ly to be clos­er to 100 than to 5. As any­body who has ever vol­un­teered in a wom­en’s clin­ic can say, a large frac­tion of sex­u­al assault inci­dents go unre­port­ed. Women fear the stig­ma of being iden­ti­fied as a rape vic­tim, they do not trust that they will be heard and believed, they do not feel enti­tled to jus­tice. This frame of mind is rein­forced by the avoid­ance games that untrained and unsup­port­ive school admin­is­tra­tors are like­ly to indulge in. This being said, the degree of vio­lence report­ed in the Rolling Stones arti­cle was so revolt­ing that I had to put it aside for a while more than once before I could go on read­ing. How can such crim­i­nal mat­ters be in the hands of uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tors? How can the soon to occur grad­u­a­tion of the per­pe­tra­tor be a deter­rence to pros­e­cu­tion? If the male stu­dent involved had been accused of aggra­vat­ed assault, would an appar­ent­ly con­cerned dean sug­gest to put all this to rest, as he will soon be leav­ing the school? Rape is not about sex, rape is about vio­lence. Uni­ver­si­ties are not qual­i­fied to deal with vio­lent crime. There can be no delib­er­a­tion: the police has to be called, exter­nal author­i­ties have to take charge, crimes have to be pros­e­cut­ed. Attempts at deal­ing with this prob­lem through inter­nal pro­ce­dures smell of cov­er up — a modus operan­di that offends me as a woman and as a mem­ber of the aca­d­e­m­ic com­mu­ni­ty.

  3. Nat says:

    If you want a real rape cul­ture, exam­ine the mul­ti-cul­ties in Britain who in just one town facil­i­tat­ed the rapes of thou­sands of girls by Paki gangs. There were many dozens or hun­dreds of Dads who came to try to save their daugh­ters from being kept in slav­ery and gang raped, but were pre­vent­ed or arrest­ed by police.
    And that’s one town. Pre­sum­ably ongo­ing in oth­er towns.

  4. Iwona says:

    The only way to tack­le issues like this is using a sci­en­tif­ic approach, oth­er­wise you just end up with end­less dis­cus­sions lead­ing nowhere (exchange above case in point). But this recent arti­cle makes me hope­ful that we are head­ing in the right direc­tion in this respect: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/economic-theory-can-help-stop-sexual-assault/.

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