Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Victimization and the rape rhetoric

Heather Mac Donald has come under a scathing attack for her LA Times and City Journal piece on “the campus rape crisis myth”. I doubt that no response was more intemperate than the one which appeared on the LawandLetters blog entitled “Take Back the Rhetoric on Rape” by Belle Lettre.

Belle Lettre in the first sentence of her post sets the tone of what was to follow- “I do not believe in this stupid article by conservative Heather Mac Donald arguing that the statistics on campus rape are overblown.”

After this “informative” intro sentence, she states the following-

I do share in the views of Tracy Clark-Flory, who disputes the main “arguments” made by Mac Donald, and attacking the main tenet of Mac Donald’s article: that girls are getting wasted and laid, not raped, and so it’s their own damn fault, and that sexual restraint is the problem!
Mac Donald explains that the statistic originated from a survey by Mary Koss, a University of Arizona professor of public health. It found that 15 percent of women had been raped, 12 percent had experienced an attempted rape; therefore 27 percent had either experienced a rape or attempted rape. Koss attempted to strip her questions of the word “rape,” so as to lessen the social stigma facing her respondents; she didn’t ask them whether they had been raped but whether they had experienced a range of incidents that are, by definition, rape. For instance, she asked: “Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” Understandably enough, some have criticized her approach, noting that the question could be misinterpreted to mean, “Have you had sex under the influence and regretted it the next morning?”

But, these concerns have already been invalidated! In 1999, researchers set out to test whether Koss’ question was actually getting at the rape question. They asked: “Have you engaged in sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to but were so intoxicated under the influence of alcohol or drugs that you could not stop it orobject?” And, what do you know, this much more precise question yielded similar results; 17 percent of female students responded “yes.” Not to mention, these findings have been duplicated by a number of other studies — look here, here and here, just for starters.)

Mac Donald ignores these inconvenient facts and simply notes that subsequent studies show a “divergence between the victims’ and the researchers’ point of view.” Consistently, researchers are far more likely than the respondents themselves to define nonconsensual sex as rape. No! You mean there’s a widespread resistance among rape victims to labeling such a traumatic experience by its culturally loaded name? Next, Mac Donald will argue that a woman isn’t abused, isn’t a victim of domestic violence if she doesn’t personally choose that label — regardless of whether her experiences define her as such. (Apply that to any number of abuses, illnesses or crimes.)

It’s a pity Mac Donald went through all this trouble to explain why so many women are resistant to calling a forced, nonconsensual sex act “rape,” when researcher are not. She need only look at the prevalence of victim-blaming attitudes like her own.

And this, my friends, is why sociological studies that demonstrate empirically when and generate theories as to why victims report/underreport, leading to a study of victimology really matter.

The dankprofessor believes that neither Tracy Clark-Flory nor Ms. Lettre invalidate Heather Mac Donald’s basic thesis- “Believing in the campus rape epidemic, it turns out, requires ignoring women’s own interpretations of their experiences.”

It is axiomatic that in social science research that researchers do not obscure or attempt to invalidate the reality, the meanings, the interpretations of their research subjects. As a professional sociologist, I know that such is a cardinal rule for all social scientists, whether they be qualitative or statistically orientated. Of course, no such rule is relevant to the ideologically committed. No one who takes sociology seriously, and Ms. Lettres professes to take the discipline seriously, starts out by labeling the article one is critiquing as stupid.

The bottom line is that Lettre and Clark-Flory insist on labeling women as rape victims even when these women do not apply the label to themselves. In other words, they know these women better than the women know themselves. One of the worst forms of degradation is when persons simply ignore the reality of others, when the ideologically orthodox ignore the rights of others to identify themselves as they wish to be identified. Such in my opinion is a basic human right, the right to answer the question “Who Am I?” “How do I identify myself to myself?” Such is a basic right whether it be applied to religious identity or ethnic identity or political identity and even to the identity of rape victim.

Ms. Lettre and Clark-Flory may be doing good work in their attempt to help victims of rape which represents a crime of both sex and power. The irony is that they end up engaging in a form of power abuse when they attempt to apply a rape identity to those women who reject this identity.

If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

February 26, 2008 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sexual politics, sexual rights, victimization


  1. […] feminist and rapist rhetoric of hate The dankprofessor has previously pointed out that the response to the Heather Mac Donald LA Times article on on the campus rape crisis myth has […]

    Pingback by The feminist and rapist rhetoric of hate « Dankprofessor’s Weblog | February 29, 2008 | Reply

  2. Well, Professor, I don’t believe that labeling my experience as “stealing” really covers my liberation theology. So why am I in Jail?

    The idea that a victim’s label of an event has much to do with the event itself is one that you would undoubtedly give a “C” or less if it were presented to you by a student.

    If I am robbed, and you want to call it burglary, it doesn’t change the underlying issue: someone entered my space and removed my possessions. Similarly, taking advantage of a woman’s drinking or unwillingness to say no in order to forcibly penetrate her does not change if you want to call it rape or mistake. It is wrong in every case.

    The second paragraph after the quote-block is an Ad Hominem attack, and unworthy of your stature as a professor.

    Comment by John Beaty | March 1, 2008 | Reply

  3. John, I believe you missed my point. I was in agreement with Heather Mac Donald’s central point which was-
    “Believing in the campus rape epidemic, it turns out, requires ignoring women’s own interpretations of their experiences.”

    Ignoring the woman’s interpretation of the act and giving more credence to a researcher’s interpretation, particularly as it impacts on the woman’s interpretation of self, functions to demean the woman, the woman’s interpretation just isn’t being taken seriously.

    Re your example of someone entering your space and taking your possessions does in fact change if you believe that the person removed your possessions with your consent. Interpretation is of key importance. If the woman interprets sexual intercourse as being consensual, then it is not rape, no matter what someone else says. Of course, I agree with you that rape is wrong, but the issue is whether you or I am the decider, and not the woman, as to whether the act of sex was coerced or forced.

    As for myself engaging in an ad hominem attack in the paragraph starting with “It is axiomatic…”, I just don’t see it. Of course, the dankprofessor is open to further input from you on this.

    Comment by dankprofessor | March 1, 2008 | Reply

  4. Hi Professor,

    A couple of misunderstandings, first. I believe that it is the event itself, not the label, that we want to count. THerefor, if I call it burglary and you call it breaking and entering, for all intents and purposes, we are talking about the same thing. With rape, we have a situation where the label is itself reason to change the name. SO, we have to start with the notion that what we are really talking about is non-consensual sex. THis leads to the question as to when consent is given, and whether there are circumstances that would render apparent consent non-consensual. A simple example would be threatened consent, “Agree to sleep with me or else.” Is that consent in your mind? Another would be intoxication. Other examples could be found fairly simply, and it is my position that those cannot and should not be listed as consensual sex. You might fairly disagree, but I would question how this would disenfrancise the women in question.
    Another take might be cannabalism:If I think it applies only to the case of eating one’s enemies, and not one’s friends, we could end up with a situation where we get differing numbers.

    As a former police officer, there were times we simply had to ignore the victim’s interpretation, which was biased in favor of less fuss/fear of retribution etc.

    AS I said, the fact of my possessions being taken doesn’t change regardless of what we call it. If the thief claims that I agreed (after 5 shots of tequila, or someting similar). If I am worried that the society I live in will brand me “stupid”, (or, more clearly, “loose”) then I might not want to label the event burglary. In the instant example, it might even be true that the tequila has clouded my recall.

    But it still seems to me that forcing oneself on another, by means of coercion or alcohol is just as much rape as by physical force.

    AS far as the Ad Hominem goes, here’s the money quote:
    >No one who takes sociology seriously, and Ms. Lettres professes to take the discipline seriously, starts out by labeling the article one is critiquing as stupid.

    The backhanded slap is, by definition, Ad Hom, and as I said, I believe that it is unworthy of a professor. It served not to make your argument stronger, but to take down the arguer.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

    John Beaty

    Comment by John Beaty | March 3, 2008 | Reply

  5. ‘Girls are getting wasted and laid, not raped, and so it’s their own damn fault, and that sexual restraint is the problem!’ No it’s not, the problem is that they cry rape afterwards – since exactly that, getting wasted & having sex is most certainly NOT rape. It’s stupidity – on both parts.

    ‘The bottom line is that Lettre and Clark-Flory insist on labeling women as rape victims even when these women do not apply the label to themselves’ – exactly, like rest of them, out to make EVERYTHING rape.

    Comment by Novalis Lore | October 19, 2010 | Reply

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