L.A. Times piece heats up campus rape debate

According to a 2005 study, female students at UVA experienced “high rates” of sexual violence. Sociology researchers Jacqueline Chevalier and Christopher Einolf found that among a sample of 750 senior women, 17.6 percent were victims of rape, 10.8 percent were victims of attempted rape and 34.3 percent were victims of unwilling sexual contact.

But if one is to believe a February 24 Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by conservative writer Heather Mac Donald, universities like UVA are manufacturing what she called a “campus rape crisis.” She claims that schools inflate the number of rapes, a crime typically viewed as one of the most underreported.

Mac Donald took aim at a national number, known as the “one in four” statistic, which claims that around 25 percent of college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape by the end of their college years. “Such a crime wave…would require nothing less than a state of emergency.” She went on to decry what she called the “campus rape industry”—mainly schools’ sexual assault support systems—and to walk a fine line between blaming assaults on booze and short skirts and retaining some sort of rational credibility.

UVA senior Patrick Cronin—a member of UVA’s One In Four, an all-male sexual assault education group—published his own Op-Ed piece in the L.A. Times on March 4, calling Mac Donald’s piece “damaging and demeaning.”

28.4

The percentage of UVA women who identified themselves as victims of rape or attempted rape in a 2005 study of 750 seniors.

“Heather Mac Donald made a lot of broad statements and lumped a lot of people into that category that don’t belong there,” Cronin says. “The people who act immorally are the people who assault others. Period. Full stop.”

Walker Thornton, the executive director of Charlottesville’s Sexual Assault Resources Agency, asks why some people continue to place the blame of a sexual assault on the victim. She pointed to recently sentenced serial rapist Nathan Antonio Washington’s statement, “I thought I was good until I was tempted,” as an example of how blame for rape is shifted from rapist to victim.

“I really don’t know where we came to the place of saying, ‘It is the women’s burden,’” she says. “I mean, you could even go back to the Bible. …Nathan Washington saying, ‘I was tempted,’ that goes back to that whole idea of Eve tempted Adam, and therefore men are not responsible for their actions.”

Cronin says that while working at UVA, he runs into resistance characterized by Mac Donald’s piece. A quick Internet search shows sundry websites that have picked up Mac Donald’s piece as proof of a false crisis manufactured by the “campus rape industry.” Like Mac Donald’s piece, there is a lot of ugliness couched in the language of cool logic and hard statistics, leading one to wonder: Where is this resistance coming from?

“For someone who’s never talked to someone who’s been assaulted, particularly someone who’s been assaulted by a friend or boyfriend or an RA or any kind of acquaintance…[she] can be very difficult to believe,” says Cronin, who got involved in this issue in high school after seeing things happening to his friends. “It’s really hard to look at a kid next to you and say, ‘This person may have acquaintance-raped someone.’

“You don’t feel like you’re in happy, fun college land with that reality. And I think it’s therefore very understandable for someone to reject that notion, because it’s easier to deny it than accept it and say, ‘What can I do about it?’”

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