Friday, November 30, 2012

19 percent of college women are sexually assaulted while only 2.5 percent of college men are sexual assaulters? Isn't rape 'normalized' among 'men' in general?

This blog does not tolerate any effort to trivialize sexual assault. Our focus is on the men, women, and boys who have been wrongly accused of sexual assault -- whether falsely or otherwise -- because too often their victimization is trivialized, and some of our laws and policies have made it too easy to punish innocent people for offenses they didn't commit. One can, and should, be concerned about both the wrongly accused and victims of sexual assault without trivializing the victimization of either. It is not "either/or."
Society must strive to punish the perpetrators of heinous sex offenses while insuring that the innocent aren't punished with them. Why is this such a controversial subject?

The fact is, the entire discussion is terribly divisive. A disturbing meme is to insist that rape is "normalized" among "men" in general. Snarky anti-rape campaigns directed at "men" in general (e.g., posters that "remind men" not to rape etc.) have sprouted up, and they always draw waves of indignation from male readers at Reddit. Writer Jessica Valenti is one of the purveyors of the maleness-is-broken crowd, once wrote: "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."

Valenti's assertion, and the meme that tells boys they belong to a seriously flawed gender, ultimately fail because: (1) they don't get at the real problem, and (2) they don't ring true to most people. The vast majority of guys are decent, and contrary to Valenti's assertion, "otherwise decent guys" don't so easily forget their decency and do such a vile thing. Strong visceral reactions of anger and rage to rape claims, and sometimes tragic overreactions, including vigilante beatings and killings, to mere accusations of rape, are far more characteristic of masculinity than is the urge to rape or to excuse rape. 

So what is the real story? In the surveys about campus rape that are frequently relied on to show that rape is a serious problem, there is a statistic that is rarely ever discussed, but it may hold the key to addressing the real problem. According to the National Institute of Justice: "Surveys of men and women on college campuses show a striking disparity in the proportion of women who report being assaulted and the proportion of men who report (even anonymously) being perpetrators. For example, in the Campus Sexual Assault survey, 19 percent of the women reported experiencing a completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college, while 2.5 percent of the men reported being perpetrators."

Why this disparity? Because men, obviously lie on anonymous surveys? (Don't laugh -- without any support, the Campus Sexual Assault Report posits that unfortunate anti-male suspicion: "We suspect that some males who have perhaps perpetrated sexual assault since entering college consciously answered our survey questions about perpetration negatively and untruthfully." Note that the Campus Sexual Assault Report didn't have similar concerns that women lie on anonymous surveys.)

The National Institute of Justice, however, gets it right. It noted that yes, "some people" don't give accurate survey answers, but there are two other possibilities:

"•Men and women may have different perceptions of the same incident.

"•Experts speculate that rape and other sexual assaults may be like other crimes inasmuch as a relatively small number of people commit serious crimes, but those who do often become repeat offenders."

Even the Campus Sexual Assault Report ended up acknowledging the possibility that "[r]elatively few men sexually assault women . . . ." Page 5-28 at

In fact, this possibility has been credited by a leading sexual assault authority. In contrast to the "even-decent-guys-rape" meme, not long ago feminist gadfly Amanda Marcotte wrote about the influential Lisak/Miller study that chronicled the typical rapist: he is not the otherwise decent guy next door, or just a regular guy going to school. He is a narcissistic man who enjoys forcing himself on women, a deviant whose attitudes are not "normalized" but are those of a social outlier. Rapists on campus, as it turns out -- and which everyone other than the zealots already knew -- comprise only a small percentage of the male population, and they account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.

Ms. Marcotte writes: "Far from being ordinary men who get out of control from lust, the roughly five percent of men interviewed who are rapists are men who seek out opportunities to rape women. . . . they pride themselves on their methods of identifying victims and separating them from potential help. They also eagerly explained how they avoided facing consequences, mainly by attacking drunk women. Rapists, it turns out, are acutely aware that if the victim was drinking, she’s much more unlikely to report it, and even if she does, the police are unlikely to do anything about it. As added protection against getting caught, most rapists attacked acquaintances, probably because they know that they can claim innocence, saying they thought she had consented." 

And Dr. Lisak connects the dots: de minimis sexual assault education, like posters reminding men not to rape, aren't going to stop the real criminals. "These are clearly not individuals who are simply in need of a little extra education about proper communication with the opposite sex," he says. "These are predators."

Rape is not "normalized." Sarcastically reminding  college men not to rape accomplishes nothing.Posters and mandatory orientation classes are misdirected and don't get at the real problem: sexual predators who use both alcohol and unsuspecting women to accomplish their vile plans. Any program wishing to significantly reduce sexual assault must focus on them.

The approach taken by the Jessica Valentis of the world hinders the effort to stop rape because it keeps us from focusing on the real problem.  The men who don't rape -- that is, the vast majority of men -- should be thought of as allies in the effort to stop rape, not potential suspects in need of education.