Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A radical alternative in the war on rape: the truth

Eric Rosenberg, a Granville, Ohio attorney, has represented three male students in three different cases against their university. In his most recent case, he alleged all manner of impropriety by the university in expelling his client for sexual assault. The case settled, and Mr. Rosenberg spoke with a reporter and offered a little free expert advice to college men: “I’d like to convey to students the risk of being involved with women who have been drinking,” Rosenberg said, “because later she may say she was sexually assaulted.”

Despite the fact that there is an off-the-charts correlation between alcohol and sexual assault claims, Eric is treading on dangerous ground when he dares speak publicly about alcohol in connection with sexual assault. People who have the temerity to tell women to be careful when it comes to sex and drink, and people who have the courage to tell men to be wary of sexual encounters with women who drink, run the risk of being attacked as misogynists, victim blamers, and rape apologists.

Emily Yoffe once responded to a question about a woman who had a one-night stand after drinking too much, then lied to friends that the guy had put something in her drink, then decided to press charges for date rape. Yoffe was vilified for having the nerve to state that since the woman's "first version of the story" was that "she was ashamed of her behavior, . . . it sounds as if she wants to punish the guy at the bar for her own poor choices."

Roxanne Jones also was vilified when she imparted some motherly advice to college men: "Never have sex with a girl unless she's sent you a text that proves the sexual relationship is consensual beforehand. And it's a good idea to even follow up any sexual encounter with a tasteful text message saying how you both enjoyed being with one another -- even if you never plan on hooking up again." Why? "Make no mistake, no woman -- no matter how much she parties -- is asking to be raped," she wrote. "But too often when heavy drinking is involved, the meaning of consent can be misconstrued on both sides."

For the zealots who dominate the public discourse on sexual assault, alcohol is a red herring, a distraction, a detour from the real issue -- and make no mistake what the real issue is: maleness. The only acceptable focus when talking about sexual assault is on the need to transform diseased masculinity that oppresses women.

Writer Jessica Valenti, a purveyor of the maleness-is-broken crowd, summed it up: "Rape is part of our culture. It's normalized to the point where men who are otherwise decent guys will rape and not even think that it's wrong. And that's what terrifies me."  Self-proclaimed feminist Louise Pennington wrote that ours is a culture that "blames women for drinking alcohol rather than men for committing rape." (As if the sum total of society's efforts to reduce the prevalence of rape is to tell women to be careful.) Society needs to change, Pennington wrote, and "this change needs to start with a message to men: rape must stop. Men must take personal responsibility for their own perpetuation of rape culture and men need to call out other men who are engaging in sexually predatory behaviour."  Women, you see, have no responsibility.

Here's a radical alternative to attacking "men": the truth. Wouldn't it be helpful to tell both young women and young men that, as Dr. David Lisak points out, the typical rapist is a serial criminal who preys on drunken, unsuspecting women at parties?

Or are facts "victim blaming"?

Wouldn't it be useful for both young men and young women to be reminded that, as a matter of scientifically proven fact, men and women view casual sex differently? That there is a "regret asymmetry" that divides men and women when it comes to sex, and that it is is exacerbated by alcohol?

By shaming people of good will who try to keep our daughters and sons safe, the zealots put our daughters and sons at risk. We don't empower our daughters by insisting they are powerless, and we don't hate women by telling our sons to avoid one-night stands with drunk women. Some males are broken, but "maleness" is not. Rape is a serious problem in America because of a relatively small group of sexual predators who use both alcohol and unsuspecting women to accomplish their vile plans, and our children need to know that in order to be able to stop it.

To the extent we ignore the real problem and concentrate on the purported necessity to reconstruct masculinity, we do a grave disservice to our daughters, to rape victims, and to the young men we've reduced to gross caricature.