At long last, the issue of rapes and other sexual assaults on college campuses has risen to be a true, bubbling national matter, one for discussion, decisions and action.
The Rolling Stone story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia has been the charge of dynamite that pushed the issue from one of vague discussion into a major issue. Now, the Washington Post is reporting that some young women are withdrawing their applications to attend UVA or have decided not to apply. There might be no reason to believe that UVA is any worse than any other school, but that won’t change the minds of those who now fear the place.
This could have an overall good result. Young women should, indeed, be fearful when heading off the college and parents should talk to them extensively, to the extent they will listen, about the matter. Incoming freshmen (women) have been targets for upper classmen as long as there have been coed colleges. They were often referred to as “fresh-meat” by young men intent on predatory behavior or who were just intent on taking advantage of the naive character of someone who had just left high school. College is different than the closed world they left behind and young men know full well that many young women will show up for college bright eyed, hopeful and totally uninformed about what they are facing. Even going back to an era when a campus rape would have seemed as unlikely as free text books, young women first arriving at college were targets of some of the older men.
Frat parties are notorious for “misbehavior” on the part of fraternity members. In a real sense, that’s what the fraternities are there for, all the other high minded notions, like help with studies, having a supportive group of pre-made friends and better food, notwithstanding. When groups of people get together, whether it is for drinking, jumping off high cliffs into a lake or “chasing girls”, the group dynamic gives a kind of permission for everyone there to partake. People do things they wouldn’t normally do. A male who might be “pushy” in trying to get a young woman to go farther in sexual matters can, in a group setting, turn into a predator. “If everyone else is doing it, how wrong can it be?”, is the underlying psychology.
Just how bad matters of late at America’s colleges? We don’t know. We have an entire generation now with easy access to pornography through the Internet and, indeed, it can be argued that the primary sex education of virginal men of college age has come through pornography. It was not always thus. A generation or two ago, a nude picture in Playboy magazine was about the most revealing thing most young men had ever seen and, back then, the images were not all that revealing compared to what’s available, with ease, on the Internet today. There was no pubic hair involved in the old Playboy and certainly no photos of between a woman’s legs or actual sexual contact between men and women, not even hinted at then.
No one knows how pornography can shape the minds of people just coming into sexual awareness. The assumption in pornography is that women want “it” all the time, they are willing to do anything at all, even acts that might seem degrading, and they don’t care what men do to them, as long as it is “fun”. It was reported in the Rolling Stone article that one of the seven men who gang raped the woman, the man who led her into a darkened room in the first place mentioned in the story, approached her later and “thanked her” for the good time he had. This, if true, indicates a mentality so far removed from respect and decency as to be incomprehensible, especially to earlier generations, an attitude completely divorced from any understanding of what the young woman had endured being raped by seven different men and physically hit in the process.
Okay, it is time to wake up, America. Sending your daughters off to “rapeland” is clearly not what you had in mind. Some serious questions need to be asked. Do colleges need to have fraternities at all? Should they be abolished? (An unthinkable thought to some, if not most.) Who will educate young men schooled by pornography about how to be respectful and decent toward women? Would it not be a good idea, also, to educate men about how to protect women, how to help them avoid forced sexual contact, at parties?
The starting point for young women is don’t go to parties where you are not comfortable, resist sexual advances that you don’t like and report anything illegal to police. If enough young women make it clear they will have nothing to do with anyone who is aggressive in sexual matters, the word would get around quickly. Also, warn your daughters and discuss the matter with them extensively. They should be mildly fearful, and careful, at any college at any time, but especially the first year.
Colleges must play a major role in bringing things back to a more reasonable level. There is no sign that colleges have come to full terms with the nature of this problem. It is far easier to pretend it doesn’t exist or to believe that nothing can be done, since the students are legal adults. UVA, being harmed the most at the moment, is likely to be at full alert moving forward.
All of this might seem naive. Things have perhaps already gone too far. If matters can not be brought reasonably back into control, then more drastic measures would be needed.
Doug Terry, 12.2.14