In an article on published on April 18, 2017, Michael Aaron wrote a response to Laura Kipnis new book Unwanted Advances (published by HarperCollins). According to Mr. Aaron and Dr Kipnis, there exists a “rape culture hysteria on our college campuses.”
There isn’t much new here. There is a constant drum beat of these arguments, and every decade or so, there’s another book or high profile something that brings these arguments into the spotlight.
As tiresome at it is, there is a need to respond yet again to these same arguments and accusations: that feminists exaggerate the rape incidence (in general and certainly on campuses), that the false accusation of men (on campuses and in the general population) is rampant, and that these false accusations have dire consequences for the men who are falsely accused.
I need to make a couple of critical points before I go into a more thorough discussion.
- Like all deniers, both Dr. Kipnis and Mr. Aaron only focus on the so-called “false accusations” made by women who are raped. They are silent about men who allege that they are sexually assaulted. The incidence rate for men who are sexually assaulted comes from the same places that define the incidence rate for women who are sexually assaulted.
This suggests that they are more likely to believe men who report being raped (there is no suggestion that men who allege rape are making false accusations) than they are to believe women who report they are raped, or they discount men who are sexually assaulted altogether. Either response is highly problematic.
- According to the US Department of Justice, rape has the lowest reporting rate of any crime, one of the lowest arrest rates of any crime that is reported, the lowest conviction rate, and results in the smallest prison terms. (Black and brown men face significantly higher rates of arrest, conviction and prison than do white men).
In his article, basing on key points in Dr. Kipnis’ book, Mr. Aaron claims that the reported incidence of rape (of women) on campus is highly suspect. He suggests that this data is inflated and that this inflation has been caused by the feminist movement. Just to be clear, these statistics (which are remarkably consistent over the past thirty years) come from the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. None of these federal agencies could remotely be referred to as feminist organizations or representing the feminist movement. In fact, in many ways, all three continue to be hostile to the feminist movement and to efforts to respond to and prevent sexual and domestic violence.
And although they make rhetorical arguments that these statistics are inflated, they offer no real evidence that this is the case. If Mr. Aaron is asking for some verification of data as to why the static is legitimate, he should at the very least offer some verification of his claims that they aren’t.
In Mr. Aaron’s article, he (presumably rhetorically) asks “why would anyone in the world go anywhere where there is a 25% chance of being raped?” This is a common tactic used by people who have rarely (if every) had to face difficult or impossible choices. We hear the same question by other kinds of deniers: “if the harassment is so bad, why doesn’t she/don’t they just get a new job?” “if the violence is so bad in their neighborhoods, why don’t they just move?” etc. There are a lot of legitimate reasons why folks do what they do. In the case of campus rape, is Mr. Aaron really suggesting that women’s respond to the reported rate of campus rape is to not seek higher education?!?
Women go to college, and parents send their children to college, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is to obtain higher education.
In the end, I’m not sure it matters so much what the actual statistic is. Â The rape rate on campus and in our communities is a significant problem. Whether it’s 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 or 1 in in 8; its still far too many of our daughters, sons, sisters and friends being raped.
It is also worth reminding Mr. Aaron that the statistic for rape on college campuses is not terribly different than the incidence of rape more broadly. Campuses are a target for research for a host of reasons, not the least of which researchers have a defined audience. But the available data suggests that women are at pretty much the same risk of being raped on college campuses or off, in our neighborhoods or in their own homes, in highschool, trade school, college or un-schooled.
Rape is a far too common a problem in all our communities.The fact that it is so common, and so consistently a problem across different demographics and settings suggests that there is some reason (or set of reasons) beyond individual choice that so many women and men are being raped by so many men. The frequency suggests a broader social cause. This kind of analysis comes straight from public health theory and practice. When we identify a common issue that crosses demographic and community contexts, we look to a broader causes in order to begin creating effective solutions. This is seeking solutions, not laying blame.
Mr. Aaron conflates these statistics with a broader phenomenon that has been referred to as rape culture. Rape culture is not the incidence and frequency of rape, although these provide evidence to support that there is a rape culture. Rape culture is the surrounding socio-cultural factors that allow tolerate and in some way makes it possible for some men to consider forcing a woman or another man to do something sexually against her or his will.
It’s somewhat ironic that Mr. Aaron publishes his article in the wake of the news of how men in the military (all branches of the military) are routinely taking pictures of their female colleagues and making hurtful and disgusting comments about their female colleagues, up to and including rape threats. What is Rape culture, Mr. Aaron? This is rape culture!
Within the past couple of months, the women’s soccer team from Columbia University shared an open letter to the men’s soccer team after it being shared that the men’s soccer team routinely took rated the women athletes by their looks and their “rapeability.” What is rape culture, Mr. Aaron? This is rape culture!
Mr. Aaron claims that false accusations are real, suggesting that they are in fact widespread — without offering so much as a thread of evidence to support that this is any level of an actual occurrence. He further claims (again, with no evidence) that men who face false accusations experience real and long-lasting consequences. “Rape is a very serious accusation, one that ruins lives.” In what ways does an accusation (real or otherwise) ruin lives? We all recall what happened to Kobe Bryant when he was accused of rape, and the woman who accused him withdrew her accusation — virtually nothing. What of the Cornell student who was caught raping a woman who was passed out? And was convicted?!? These are but a couple of examples. Yes, rape is a serious accusation! But not only does a false accusation not ruin lives, a conviction rarely has any kind of significant impact.
As a side note, withdrawing an accusation, or having no one take an accusation seriously is very different than a false accusation. According to the Department of Justice, rape has a significantly lower false accusation rate than any other major crime.
Mr. Aaron then further claims that these allegations of rape culture are taking all the fun out of sex. This seems to be the crux of his argument. Mr. Aaron asks if perhaps, “the sexual risk now completely shifted to men?” What indeed is the danger that Mr. Aaron perceives men as facing? According to his article, the danger men seem to be facing is not getting some, having less hook-up experiences, perhaps having our experiences critiqued… Apparently, Mr. Aaron equates this as actual harm.
These dangers don’t seem so dangerous. And they pale in comparison to the very real danger that so many women and men continue to face.
One of the common traits of these kinds of deniers is that they spend a great deal of energy arguing about the “true” (by their in-defined definition) incidence and the risk to men and how “real rape” needs to be takin seriously but not at the expense of… (in this case, apparently, men’s access to sexual fun). Mr. Aaron does a marginal job of convincing us that the sky is falling for all us men due to the threat posed by rape culture and over-zealous feminists; but he offers no insight as to what to do with this in a way that makes college campuses better, healthier or safer.
There is indeed a real issue of false reporting when it comes to rape and sexual assault. But it is not women falsely accusing men of raping them. It is women and men who have been raped, falsely reporting that they have not been. We have all contributed to an environment that is hostile to women and men who experience rape and sexual assault. They see what is done to them in the media, in the press, in public, by the legal system… They know what they face if they do somehow steel up the courage to make a report that they were raped.
Deniers like Mr. Aaron, and apparently Ms. Kipnis do nothing to expand the conversation about creating college campuses that are more respectful, welcoming, save and valuing of all their students. They only succeed in entrenching the debate.
© 2017 by Rus Ervin Funk