Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Writing right about rape and Heather Mac Donald

University of Virginia student, Patrick Cronin has an op ed piece, THE RIGHT RAPE STATISTICS, in today’s LA Times. It should come as no surprise that this op ed was primarily devoted to attacking Heather Mac Donald’s earlier LA Times piece on the campus rape crisis myth. As for right rape statistics which the title implies the column is all about, the dankprofessor ended up disappointed since Cronin did not write about right rape statistics. Almost all of the column was a rehash of previous criticisms of Mac Donald, many of which have already been commented on by the dankprofessor. So I will only take a couple of excerpts from this column and keep my commentary to a minimum and hopefully avoid engaging in redundancy.

Cronin states-

Mac Donald makes several false assumptions when constructing her argument. First, she assumes studies on campus rape are irrelevant because many survivors do not call their experience rape. She later blames the victims, citing their behavior as a contributory factor to their experience. Such victim-blaming has a direct and obvious effect on reporting. If people like Mac Donald stigmatize a survivor as a promiscuous, irresponsible alcoholic, is there really much incentive to come forward? And if a victim convinces himself or herself that no assault took place, why use the resources available?

I don’t think that Mac Donald characterized campus rape victims as promiscuous irresponsible alcoholics. She simply indicated that putting oneself in a highly sexualize environment in which alcohol is being consumed by self and many others can put women at risk of being sexually victimized. To indicate that Mac Donald’s cautionary rhetoric represents a form of stigmatization is in the dankprofessor’s opinion other worldly thinking.

Acknowledging having been assaulted can be a very difficult first step toward recovery. That’s why sociologists performing these studies ask if a person experienced what’s defined as rape or sexual assault without putting those words into the questions. As a result, these studies catch people who were raped or assaulted according to the legal definition, even if they do not recognize their experience as such. Mac Donald asserts that this style of questioning undermines the validity of these studies, but, in fact, it exposes the difficulty and trauma of reporting.

If the alleged victim of rape does not recognize, or psychologically construct her experience as rape, it does not matter how a researcher may characterize the verbiage of the respondent. It only matters if one does not consider the woman’s definition of the situation to be paramount. As for these studies exposing the difficulty and trauma of reporting, almost all crimes are underreported, whether they be violent or non-violent crimes. As far as I know, there is no trauma reporting syndrome. In fact, it is usually the opposite, telling others of ones experiences is usually therapeutic. And one could go even one step further and argue that if potentially violent persons had the opportunity to verbalize to others their violent feelings and inclinations, there would probably be less violence. The dankprofessor finds it interesting that there are suicide hotlines for potential suicide offenders but no homicide or rape hotlines for potential violent offenders.

There are those in our society who choose to ignore rape and sexual assault because of its gravity, frequency and complexity. They choose to blame the survivor, dismiss the statistics or question the political motivation of those who try to end rape and sexual assault and mitigate the life-altering consequences of its occurrence. They rely on antiquated notions of drunken frat boys and promiscuous young women looking to “have a good time.” I know plenty of the people Mac Donald chooses to define based on these stereotypes. None has ever asked to be raped. Some have been raped anyway.

The dankprofessor agrees that stereotypes do play a role in rape and sexual assault. But I would argue that both men and women have to free themselves of stereotypes such as “these guys are not the type of guys who would commit rape”, “college guys are cool, no need to worry” or “women wouldn’t be acting and imbibing if they really didn’t want sex” if we are going to decrease rate of rape and sexual assaults.

And Cronin doesn’t do anything to improve the “sexual climate” when he ends his essay on this note: “None has ever asked to be raped. Some have been raped anyway.” Using nonsensical word play is no way to deal with rape or any other form of violence.

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 dankprofessorTM
© Copyright 2008

March 4, 2008 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sex, sexual politics

1 Comment »

  1. First of all, you’re right with your dissection/rebuke of Cronin’s ‘analysis’ of MacDonald’s piece. One might have thought it the other way around, Cronin being the feminist, not MacDonald. Who’s the bigger feminist [hypocrite] I wonder.

    You say: ‘If the alleged victim of rape does not recognize, or psychologically construct her experience as rape, it does not matter how a researcher may characterize the verbiage of the respondent’ – I’d included that the law doesn’t recognise it either – not only Cronin & plenty others – since the law per se is too stringent for both the accuser & accused, as it already starts with the fact that the rigid age of consent is a major factor of many consensual encounters to be seen as ‘rape’.

    What constitutes ‘rape’ is a problem in itself, since it legally is only forcible intercourse, as that it should be. But too many see anything less than that as rape too, in effect trivialising an actual rape just because they ‘feel’ they have been ‘taken advantage of’ at no physical harm, or didn’t like the oral sex, you name it.

    Too many call anything sexual related rape these days to start with, rather than name it for what it is, blurring the line completely of what is ACTUAL rape. Which is also reflected in the penalties dished out – since giving a life sentence to someone who merely touched someone lewdly is not only excessive madness, but what is the actual rapist to get? A few years for a bruise given or several years for each ‘act’, or several life sentences like a brutal murderer? While someone who slept with a willing underage teenager can look at the same excessive punishment? Though a murderer can look at parole after 10, 20 yrs, the [actual & statutory] rapist cannot, the murderer clearly being a bigger danger to society than the actual rapist let alone the consensual sex ‘offender’, who also does not need to register as ‘murder offender’, in turn trivialising the murder?

    What one might feel was being taking advantage off & shrugs it off, another might consider the same a terrible trauma – it’s all too relative. And so are the highly lacking & biased laws & excessive penalties that don’t deter anyone, but send innocent wo/men into jail hell undeservedly.

    To say: ‘The dankprofessor finds it interesting that there are suicide hotlines for potential suicide offenders but no homicide or rape hotlines for potential violent offenders’, is spot on. But then again, both could be given a chance to be treated before they did anything, which no one wants.

    Comment by Novalis Lore | October 19, 2010 | Reply

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