Over the last year, there has been a riotous debate over America’s rape culture. According to liberal sources, our society suffers from an epidemic of rapes which are under-reported to police, women are sexualized by the media (chiefly by men), and the mistreatment of women is normalized. When women accuse men of rape, the victims are blamed and police are apathetic when pursuing rape allegations. This culture of rape has become one of the latest crusades by the feminist left: convicted of the virtue of their ideas about rape, feminist activists have gone on the march to stamp out every trace of rape culture.
Before I go further, allow me to add a caveat lector. I am in no way a supporter of treating women as tools for the salacious pleasure of men. Nor am I in any way defending rape or rapists. These are sins, crimes against the sacredness of womanhood as created by God. I have seen the effects of sexual assault and rape upon women I have known, and I do not take it lightly. These things being said, it is disturbing to see rape allegations now being treated the same as the actual crime.
The most commonly touted statistic is that one in five women are victims of sexual assault. This number was reached through an unusual statistical methodology: respondents were given gift cards, and the study equated men trying to steal kisses and drunken hookups as examples of assault. This statistic is also promoted in spite of the facts that sexual assault numbers are notoriously unreliable, that what counts as an assault may be poorly defined, and that assaults are under-reported.
This one in five number has been especially touted in connection with two cases of alleged sexual assault. The first is the case of Emma Sulkowicz, a junior at Columbia University. Ms. Sulkowicz accused a male student of raping her in her own bed in 2012. A university investigation led to no charges being brought against the young man, presumably because no evidence of assault was found. Not liking this outcome, Ms. Sulkowicz took to the campus to protest, carrying her mattress as a symbol of how she and her bed had been violated by the alleged rape. She has been compared to a “modern day Christ” by supporters, carrying her mattress like a cross and a symbol of the suffering and mistreatment experienced by women on college campuses across America. A mob at Columbia University has called for the accused man to be expelled from the school. An activist group called Carry That Weight Together has formed to work against the rape culture of college campuses.
The second case is that of Rolling Stone‘s investigation of the UVA rape case. According to Rolling Stone, a young woman named Jackie was gang raped by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. This story has garnered a great deal of media attention, but for different reasons than you may expect. The Washington Post and the Huffington Post have reported on how Rolling Stone‘s story is unravelling on a variety of grounds. The Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi released a statement which refuted portions of Jackie’s story. While evidence of some trauma was found, many parts of her story have failed to hold up under scrutiny.
Both of these cases have garnered national attention due to the prominence of the universities involved. Both are also examples of taking allegations to be prima facie evidence of a crime, with punishment being swift and sure in response.
This is frightening. An accusation may be brought against anyone, by anyone, at any time. An accusation as serious as rape should be given serious consideration, but if no evidence is found of wrongdoing, we cannot then call for punishment by the authorities anyway. The young men accused in these cases have had no physical evidence brought against them upon which a criminal case could be based. The only evidence we are given is the testimony of the alleged victim.
Despite this potential lack of evidence, university panels have frequently taken sexual assault allegations as fact: in many cases, these institutions have expelled students. 33 men have sued their schools for being railroaded through kangaroo courts that existed solely to make the problem of investigating allegations go away with minimal fuss. When these cases turn out not to be what they seem, it is rare that the offenders offer any sort of apology. Rolling Stone released a “Note to Our Readers” which states that the magazine’s “trust in [Jackie] was misplaced.” This is hardly an apology to the men who were falsely accused of sexual assault. This scenario is similar to the 2006 Duke rape case, which resulted in the three accused men being found guilty of nothing. The liberal rage awoken by the case led the majority of the Duke faculty to accuse the young men, like what is happening today at UVA, without evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Moral outrage is a pleasing sensation. Acting upon it by protesting, yelling, waving signs, hashtagging, and “liking” things on Facebook, creates a frisson of joy. You feel that you’ve really done something to help the victims. We like to think of ourselves, especially in college, as being rational and educated, above the barbaric control of the emotions. Liberals enjoy such things: frequently, evidence doesn’t matter, and proof is irrelevant. How many lives might be destroyed isn’t important, either: all that matters is protecting the victim.
But what if the victim isn’t a victim? Regrettably, activists working on behalf of alleged victims have begun treating accusations of rape in the same way that some on the political fringe treat accusations of President Obama being Muslim, or the same way townspeople in Salem, Massachusetts treated accused witches. Where evidence is lacking, and even where there is evidence to the contrary, they “know” that the accused is guilty, period.
Taking an allegation as proof of a crime is nothing short of foolish, no matter how morally important the cause may seem. Calling for punishment by university authorities and law enforcement, without very good evidence of a crime, is nothing short of moralistic madness.