Local view: On rape, columnist still doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘no’
As a young man and a fairly recent college graduate, I was appalled to find Washington Post columnist George Will’s egregious piece about rape on college campuses. Will created several either extremely uneducated or intentionally deceitful remarks about rape victims and situations.
In a column that has been getting a lot of attention, Will made the false and deplorable allegation that being a rape survivor is a “coveted status that confers privileges.” What “privileges?” Other than just merely surviving, of course? Our criminal-justice system, world of academia and, especially, military tend to punish survivors, not reward them. In fact, national data show that 60 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities; this statistic emphasizes that we as a society need to blame rapists and not victims.
This statistic gets even more horrific when explored on college campuses where only 12 percent of rapes are reported. If the structures that are supposed to protect and serve in our society blame victims instead of aggressors for the crimes, where is the incentive to come forward?
Will appeared fearful in his piece of his own “capacious definitions of sexual assault” running wild on college campuses across the country. I question if Will even understands what the definition of sexual assault is, which is not ambiguous: It is a crime to knowingly cause another person to engage in an unwanted sexual act by force or threat. Will cited a case where a college-aged woman said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you,” only to have her alleged rapist proceed regardless. The individual in Will’s case study illicitly stated no, making one wonder what Will’s misogynistic notion of “capacious definitions” truly is.
What Will ultimately declined to address in his rape apologia was consent. Instead of blaming the rapist, Will wrote with an arrogant, patronizing tone about, “The ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.” Will failed to mention consent in any way, shape or form. If men such as Will truly believe, and propagate, that a majority of sexual assaults (rapes) are the repercussion of the “ambiguities of the hookup culture,” why are individuals such as Will continually failing to write commentaries about affirmative consent? If the crisis around rape was really young men (such as myself) being falsely accused of rape at an astounding rate (which in fact we are not), would there not be legitimate action needed to be taken? Rape is not about “ambiguities,” as Will would like to deceive his readers; rape is, in fact, about violence, violence largely directed at women.
As a board member for PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, I have a responsibility to educate the community and advocate for change. I have touched on victim-blaming; how do we change our culture around rape? One way is becoming knowledgeable about the issue so we can share that knowledge with others whenever a distasteful piece such as Will’s is published. Also, the image of a rapist as a weapon-wielding individual waiting in an alley is false; rapists are husbands, boy-
friends, neighbors and classmates. If Will was legitimately troubled with rape on college campuses he would perhaps consider writing a commentary on the importance of men having conversations with other men about behaving respectfully and responsibly, and to speak up, well before they are in a situation where they may be confronted with the answer “no.”
Noah Hobbs of Duluth is a board member for PAVSA, or the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, and was a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth.