The Hyped Campus Rape That Wasn’t


If a satirist had set out to write a scathing parody of the campus crusade against rape, he could not have come up with anything more bizarre, or more ridiculous, than the real-life comedy-drama that unfolded last month at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

The scandal started, like many scandals do these days, in the social media. On Saturday, October 12, amidst the school’s Homecoming Weekend festivities, photos and a video of two young people engaged in a public sex act near the campus–the man on his knees performing oral sex on the woman while she leaned against a plate-glass window, half-sitting on its ledge–showed up online and promptly spread on Twitter.

On Sunday night, the woman in the photos, a 20-year-old Ohio University student, contacted Athens police to say that she had been sexually assaulted. The news media picked up the story; an October 16 report on the local television channel, WBNS-10TV, opened with the alarming announcement, “An Ohio university student says she was the victim of a rape.  Making it even worse, someone photographed the alleged assault and shared it on social media.” Within the OU community, there was widespread outrage, particularly at reports that at least a dozen people had witnessed the act. OU senior Allie Erwin lamented to 10-TV, ” Our first instinct as a community was not to intervene and help this woman, but to post it on social media, and make a mockery of probably the most traumatic experience of her life.

While Athens police chief Tom Pyle warned against a rush to judgment, noting that the witnesses “may not have realized” they were seeing an assault and, in fact, that no assault may have taken place, the outraged student were not mollified.  Said Erwin, “She obviously wasn’t okay with what happened. It was rape. She reported it to the police as rape.”

Meanwhile, the photos and videos–initially taken down after the rape complaint–resurfaced.

They appeared to show a fully consensual encounter; the woman was seen smiling, flipping back her hair, at one point putting her hand on the back of the man’s head, and even posing for the camera with a grin on her face.  Witnesses confirmed that, while both participants were clearly drunk, the “victim” was not incapacitated and “seemed like she was enjoying it”; she also left with the man afterwards, walking unassisted.

(While none of the onlookers thought the sex was non-consensual, at least one or two of them berated the man as a “slut” and physically assaulted him after he stood up, bloodying his face–an ironic detail considering feminist complaints that women are stigmatized for sexually “loose” behavior while men are not.)

Despite the fact that this information was widely available in the social media and appeared in the campus newspaper, The Post, as early as October 17, the university community continued to treat the sexual assault as a fact, with commentary often omitting even the word “alleged.”  On October 22, students began to leave Post-It notes on the Chase Bank window where the “rape” occurred, with inscriptions that decried “victim-blaming” and offered supportive messages such as “You are not alone,” “This is not your fault,” “We let you down, I am so sorry,” and “You are strong and brave.”  (An Athens policeman took the notes down and stopped the students from posting more, resulting in an informal complaint against him.)  On October 24, the university hosted a student/faculty event titled ” Campus Conversation: Sexual Assault, Consent, and Bystander Intervention.”

The topic, according to the official announcement, included “healthy sexualities, policy (sexual assault/misconduct definitions and existing policy), victim blaming, sexual assault, masculinity/power, consent, bystander intervention and outreach to the community.”

On the same day, The Post published a letter from more than thirty faculty members, including the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, expressing deep concern about “recent events
involving alleged sexual assault, alcohol and social media on our campus and in our community.”

A few days later, on October 28, Athens County prosecutor Keller Blackburn announced the results of the grand jury investigation: no charges were to be filed, since “a reasonable person would think that [the woman] was not intoxicated beyond the ability to consent.”

Blackburn also gave a detailed account of the night’s events, pieced together from the video, security camera footage, and eyewitness testimony.  (The woman and the man, also a 20-year-old OU student, both claimed to have no memory of what happened.)  After leaving a nearby bar where they had been drinking, the pair began kissing in the street and then proceeded to further intimacies.  At one point, when the man realized they had an audience, he asked the woman if they should stop; she encouraged him to proceed.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this story is the virtually unanimous support for the “survivor” from anti-rape activists and their supporters.  Letters published in The Postfrom women and men alike, deplored the “disheartening” skepticism about the “poor woman’s” claims and decried the pernicious sway of “the rape culture.” Class of 2013 alumnus Jared Henderson chided “misguided skeptics” for failing to realize that “it takes incredible courage for a woman to come forward and report a rape,” since she subjects herself to “massive public scrutiny.” The fact that the woman was already unwillingly exposed (as it were) to public scrutiny had apparently escaped his notice: the facts, Henderson confidently asserted, gave “no reason to believe that this is an embarrassed woman crying wolf about rape to save her reputation.”

Feminists outside the OU campus took the same stance.  A column on, the website of the Center for the American Progress, suggested that eyewitness accounts confirming that both participants in the act were “very, very drunk” proved that, no matter how consensual it looked, it fit Ohio University’s criteria for sexual assault. (Actually, the university policy quoted in the column states that a person is unable to consent if “incapacitated” due to alcohol or other factors.)  The writer, Tara Culp-Resser, did not seem to realize that by her definition, the man can be considered a victim of sexual assault as much as the woman–leading to the absurd conclusion that they were raping each other.

Culp-Resser laments, “When women allege that they have been sexually assaulted, everyone from police departments to university officials to their neighbors often tells them they’re mistaken, and assumes they’re simply ‘crying rape’ after waking up the next morning and regretting a sexual encounter.” And yet, ironically, the Ohio University incident validates precisely that stereotype. Doing stupid things when one’s judgment is impaired by alcohol is not the same thing as being coerced while unable to resist or consent.

In a way, the advocates’ fanatical insistence that the woman must be considered a
victim because she says so is a perverse mirror image of the most misogynist traditional attitudes toward rape–such as the requirement, under some interpretations of Sharia law, that a rape victim must have four male eyewitnesses to prove her claim. In this case, there is not only eyewitness testimony but a visual record to show a consensual encounter; yet the activists’ response seems to be, “Whom are you going to believe, the woman or your lying eyes?”

The university is still considering whether to take disciplinary action against one or both of the students.  (One may safely assume that charges against the woman for filing a false police report is not one of the options on the table.)  Meanwhile, a follow-up “campus conversation” on sexism, sexual assault, and alcohol is scheduled for November 18.  Since the proposed topics include “double standards,” it would be interesting to invite the discussants to
consider the following scenario:

An intoxicated woman performs oral sex on an equally intoxicated man in public view.  Some female passers-by outraged by the woman’s loose conduct berate her as a slut and beat her up before she leaves the scene in the man’s company.  Which of the two would be seen as the victim deserving of public support?

(Photo: Ohio University, Athens. Credit: Ohio University)


13 thoughts on “The Hyped Campus Rape That Wasn’t

  1. What ever became of this? This story was national news, then dropped off after it became clear that things did not add up. Chances are, without video and other witnesses, the guy would be behind bars for a long time. You know his word against hers, DNA evidence and it is all possible, other innocent people have gone to jail. When he would get out of jail, his life would be over, he would have to file as a sexual predator. This is serious stuff!
    The report of rape should be taken seriously. This is to protect the victim whoever that turns out to be. Being raped can destroy a life of a young woman. A false rape claim can destroy an innocent persons life. Both very important but not treated the same. This woman is a danger to the next unsuspecting man she has a relationship with. Justice was not served that I can tell.
    Look at the Duke lacrosse case. That woman ended up killing her boyfriend years later. Perhaps this could have been avoided if they took that false rape claim more seriously. It is not always the man that is the abusive person.
    The guilty are guilty. The guilty should have equal punishments. Not just, “O sorry, we almost ruined your life, no we will not press charges against a false claim.”
    How do you even file a rape claim if you do not remember what happened, not that I believe that. If I got drunk and woke up to find out somebody took pictures of me having sex that I did not remember, it would be a huge wake up call to me. Wow, what was I doing? Perhaps I drink too much, I should stop doing that. But she will always be innocent, no name reported, no history for the next time her victim has to defend himself.

  2. As I read articles like this (great work from Cathy Young), I feel a deep, abiding sadness. Logic, reason, and evidence appear to have no effect on those such as the OU campus-dwellers who insist that the only proof needed for the validity of a rape charge is the testimony of a “victim.”

  3. The use of the term ‘survivor’ is an insidious way of sneaking the the assumption which itself is the thing to be proved. “Believe the survivor” implies that the rape really happened? Why? She survived it. Pure circular reasoning that people are afraid to question because they are accused of ‘blaming the victim,’ even though victimhood is not established (or at least should not be established) through a proper trial process. But then, logic is a tool of the patriarchy that oppresses women too, isn’t it, and must be abandoned to de-fang those who call women illogical.

  4. “Our first instinct as a community was not to intervene and help this woman, but to post it on social media, and make a mockery of probably the most traumatic experience of her life.”
    What nonsense! A “community,” as opposed to an individual, does not have an instinct?
    This is a good example of the kind of group-think college students have fallen prey to. Emphasis on individual responsibility might helps students avoid situations like this one.

  5. Searching back from 10/28 to today:
    Salon has only an AP report on the grand jury declining to charge
    Nothing from jezebel about the case
    Nothing from gawker about the case
    Nothing from about the case
    xojane in fact never seems to have covered it.
    slate which had an emily yoffe post telling college women to not get totally shit-faced as well as a column excoriating emily yoffe for oppressing women doesn’t seem to have covered it
    rawstory does do one follow-up:
    huffingtonpost publishes the AP report
    So credit where credit is due to for following up. Partial credit to huffpo for printing the AP report. A failing grade to salon for printing the ap report, but not having any of their stable of feminists like Joan Walsh or Mary Elizabeth Williams comment on it and correct any past reports.

  6. I haven’t looked in a couple of days, but about three days after the grand jury declined charges I did a check of the usual suspects, Salon, Slate, Jezebel, XOJane, and none had any discussion of the charges being dropped or why. I believe Salon had an AP report that the charges were dropped and that was teh only mention anywhere. Nothing from Mary Elizabeth Williams.
    This incident reminds me of the 2007 Cosmopolitan Gray Rape internet feast where pretty much this identical scenario was proposed in many discussion forums: what if two people, drinking heavily have sex after a party and the next day, the woman reports she can’t remember what happened but it was rape, and the man reports it as consensual sex, what happens then?
    Well now we know since the scenario was filmed for us. Feminists demand we believe survivors, and because and only because it was filmed does the grand jury decline charges.
    There are other issues it brings up to.
    The value of video. Immediately after this incident, feminists were demanding that the videos be taking down, and even if left up, the videos were heavily censored so as to disallow facial identification. Yet it was in seeing her expression, her eyes, and mouth that it becomes pretty clear this was consensual.
    And after all of the times that eyewitness video has revealed unknown truths about accidents, crimes, assaults, murders, terrorist incidents, is it really needed for rape that we must take the video down? Hell, the decapitation of the bus passenger in Manitoba was widely left up.
    If you take the feminist position as discussed here and often seen, that is, that even a single beer renders a woman incapable of consent, but not a man, how can society allow women to legally drink?

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