‘Rape Culture’ and Free Speech


Much has been said about the campus “war on rape” and the way it imperils students’ due process rights, but there is another casualty as well: the free exchange of ideas on college campuses when it comes to the subject of sexual offenses.

A particularly revealing recent example comes from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  On November 5, Katherine Krueger, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Badger Herald, ran a long piece explaining why the previous day’s edition had featured a letter to the editor from a student named David Hookstead questioning the existence of “rape culture.” Krueger wrote that she had made the decision to run the letter “after careful deliberation and debate with our managing editor and opinion editors.”

The fact that Krueger felt the need to justify the letter’s publication is remarkable enough; but the reason she gave for publishing it was even more striking.  Hookstead’s letter, you see, was an object lesson in “what rape culture looks like,” since it expressed “morally repugnant, patriarchal and offensive” views that are “an embodiment of rape culture” itself.

Asking for It?

And what exactly are those abhorrent views?  Krueger wrote that Hookstead “peddles the horrifically misguided beliefs that sexual assault victims were asking for it with their clothing or behavior, were drunk or are flat-out lying about being raped.”  But in fact, the letter says nothing at all about victims “asking for it.”  As for “drunk” and “flat-out lying,” here’s what Hookstead wrote:

Not everything that is claimed to be rape is actually rape, and false accusations only take away from the credibility of real victims.

For example, I’ve heard many women tell me they regretted having sex with somebody, and that if anybody asked them they’d just lie and say they were too drunk to remember. It’s people like them that are huge problems.  Why are women so desperate to demonize men that they’ll lie about being raped?

Hookstead’s letter, it should be said, is not a particularly well-constructed argument (and, given that he’s a junior majoring in political science, not a particularly flattering testimony to the quality of education at UW-Madison). His comment about women demonizing men is phrased in a way that seems to generalize about all women (of course, feminists have no problem with similar generalizing language about men and rape). And, early in his piece, he makes a statement both confrontational and condescending: “I know that people are out there on the fringe of reality who are going to criticize me for what I’m about to explain–but somebody has to explain this.” Nonetheless, Hookstead’s response to the shibboleth that “we can prevent rape by teaching men not to rape” is actually quite sensible, if not very elegantly written:

Anybody who’s ever watched the news knows that rape is illegal, and yet the above paints the picture that our society is failing to educate young men on rape. Secondly, it implies that education can prevent true acts of evil. We teach kids not to murder and rob, but people still do it. Once again, you can’t always stop criminals.

The letter, which also notes that men are not the exclusive perpetrators of sexual assault, concludes with a fairly uncontroversial plea: “Let’s focus on those that truly need our help, and let’s stop evil people when we can.”

Here’s Krueger again, explaining the letter’s publication:

We hoped this piece would be torn limb from limb in the ensuing fray, and we haven’t been disappointed by the quality of the campus’ impassioned debate in response to the letter.

While many of the responses condemned Hookstead’s reprehensible opinions, others came out of the woodwork in support of his ideas.

Ironically, Krueger’s article unintentionally offers a rather damning picture of the ideological uniformity that exists on the UW-Madison campus on issues related to sexual assault.  Students, she writes, are often “lulled into complacency on these issues” because there is “an understanding that everyone’s on the same page.”  Needless to say, her idea of “debate” is one in which heretical ideas are “torn limb from limb” (one can only imagine how feminists would respond if a male writer used such violent imagery in calling for vehement criticism of a feminist piece) and ultimately stamped out of existence.  Again and again, Krueger reiterates that such “hateful” and “ugly” opinions are utterly unacceptable and responsible for the perpetuation of rape culture itself, and that it’s “infuriating” that “this is an actual view held by more than a few UW students.”

Unanimity of Thought

Unfortunately, the climate at UW-Madison is in no way unique in this regard. In my recent article about the bizarre University of Ohio incident in which a public sex act involving two drunk students led to a rape charge (eventually dismissed by a grand jury for lack of any evidence of non-consent), I noted the virtual unanimity of support for the “victim” on the campus.  The student newspaper, The Post, ran several letters denouncing “rape culture”–and one from a dissenter, journalism major Tom Pernecker, who questioned whether such a culture was in fact prevalent at the university.  Pernecker wrote that “if both parties head home inebriated and one party calls rape on the other party this serious accusation should be taken with a grain of salt” and pointed out that if a sexual act is to be considered nonconsensual solely on the ground of intoxication, the alleged victim could also be seen as “raping” the alleged perpetrator.  While Pernecker was not subjected to the same avalanche of abuse as Hookstead, a letter that appeared in The Post the very next day concluded with a stark accusation: “You question whether rape culture is a problem. You’re perpetuating it now, Tom. You’re a part of it.”

A number of academic feminists are fairly straightforward in their belief that criticism of “rape culture” ideology should be not only condemned but suppressed.  Recently, the London School of Economics held a widely publicized panel on rape in its “Debating Law” series.  Two of the four speakers, law professor Helen Reece and prominent attorney Barbara Hewson, challenged feminist orthodoxies on consent and “victim-blaming” (ironically, their principal argument was that rape should be treated no differently from other crimes–which was once a feminist position).   Shortly afterwards, there was an outraged editorial in the online feminist legal journal Feminists @ Law, based at the University of Kent.  The editors expressed their dismay at “LSE Law’s decision to give a platform to Reece and Hewson’s dangerous and unsupported views,” asserting that there was “an onus on the LSE Law Department to ensure that the ideas that are being disseminated do not feed dangerous stereotypes about women being responsible for the sexual violence perpetuated against them.”

To the anti-rape activists and their supporters, discussing false accusations or disputing the notion that a woman who has sex while her judgment is impaired by alcohol is a rape victim is not just expressing an opinion that differs from theirs: it amounts to enabling the rape culture, helping silence victims, and undermining rape prevention efforts.  It is hardly surprising that they believe these views should be not only condemned but suppressed.

More than twenty years ago, when the campus crusade against date rape was in its infancy, a University of Michigan student who had posted in a discussion on the school’s electronic bulletin board pointing out that some allegations of rape could be false received a warning letter from a school administrator.  His comments, the student was told, reflected an “insensitive and dangerous attitude” toward women and could result in a charge of “discriminatory harassment.”

Thankfully, so far, the use of administrative penalties against dissent from rape-culture ideology has been uncommon–partly because, at least at public universities, such a definition of sexual harassment would quickly run afoul of the First Amendment.  But, as the outrage over Hookstead’s letter in The Badger Herald demonstrates, a student who publicly voices such “repellent” and “patriarchal” views risks an extremely strong and nasty social backlash.  After all, according to the editor of the student newspaper, the only purpose of airing dissent is to bring it out into the open so that it can be attacked, shamed, and finally eradicated.


14 thoughts on “‘Rape Culture’ and Free Speech

  1. At least we’re starting to see the names of false accusers made public, though there are still too many media that refuse (but think nothing of naming the accused).

  2. The DOE’s demand that schools take away due process is part of a much broader push by the federal government, not only to criminalize a lot of behaviors that aren’t wrong, but also to strip away all the rights of accused people, to the point where accusation = conviction.
    The French Revolution showed what will happen after that.
    I think it’s high time we start a boycott of all institutions that impose rules like UWM’s, whether against mere speech or against alleged rape. And while we’re at it, let’s demand that all false accusers suffer at least the same punishment they tried to inflict on their victims.

  3. Everyone lies and cheats on taxes. Female politicians lie just like male politicians. Both men and women cheat on their spouses. Women lie about their age, their weight, and when they will be ready to leave the house. But they never lie about being raped? Really? This claim is either delusional or is a pure cynical power play.

  4. The “Rape Culture” fanatics are really the same people as the Burkah Crowd. Women can’t take care of themselves, and must be protected from animalistic men. The only workable answer is to keep them in purdah.
    Can’t display uncovered meat before us dogs.

  5. This is always sensitive so let me say this as gender-neutral as possible:
    When I did research in 1998 the common rallying cry was that “50% of rapes go unreported!” When speaking with law enforcement at the time, I was regularly informed that 50% of reported rapes were eventually determined and/or ruled to be consensual.
    The devastating side-effect was that the person who made the claim never received any sort of penalization for false testimony as courts believed punishing criminals for bearing false witness would discourage real rapes from being reported.
    The targets of the false accusations would usually be devastated regardless of the court ruling.

  6. The purpose of the “rape culture” idea is to give cultural marxists a tool which which to browbeat, and ultimately silence, men. If men are unwilling or afraid to defend themselves, there will be no impediment to the marxists’ seizing of power.

  7. Any person who uses the adjective “dangerous” to describe an *idea* is a fascist-at-heart who should be run out of the academy.

  8. So any criticism about whether rape culture exists is proof that rape culture exists. Sounds a bit like the UFO people, who insist those criticising the lack of evidence for real UFO’s are just perpetuating the conspiricy, and the lack of evidence just proves how successful the coverup is.

  9. I think it’s fun to create scenarios that intentionally leave out the sex of the individuals involved, then ask these types of people who committed the crime. The results are hilarious.
    They are , quite simply, sexist bigots of the highest order. They should be laughed out of polite society.

  10. It never seems to occur to these folks that believing women must be protected from dissenting views on the existence of rape culture implies that we are too fragile and delicate to compete with men (or even to talk with them, apparently!) in *any* venue – work, home, school, society – lest somehow, we be made uncomfortable.
    What makes these folks believe women are incapable of defending ourselves verbally on the battleground of ideas?
    The notion that universities should selectively protect female (but not male) students from Dangerous, Scary Arguments ought to terrify us all.
    Great article, Cathy!

  11. If I had a son going off to University I would tell him to date only girls majoring in STEM programs. They seem to be the most level-headed ones out there. The ones majoring in Gender Studies or whatnot seem to be real whackadoodles. They should be avoided like the plague.

  12. My oldest son is at college now, and during his orientation we parents were shuffled off to a large auditorium where we were solemnly informed about the university’s drug, alcohol and sexual policies. It became clear in no time that the attitude described here was operative, and that any accusation of rape was presumed to be absolutely true and it was just a matter of administering the auto-da-fe to the accused. I asked what due process was afforded an accused student, and was distressed to receive a reply as evasive, empty and mealy-mouthed as one can imagine.

  13. Mr. Pernecker’s point is entirely valid. I have known of several incidents in which a drunk male was coerced into a sexual encounter that he not only did not initiate but would have entered into (pun intended) if he had been sober. The point is that there is a distinct difference between drunken sex and comatose sex, and it treats a woman as little more than an irresponsible child to assume the former is synonymous with the latter. It does, however, server as a balm to lessen the sting of regret and absolve one of having to take responsibility for one’s own actions and choices.

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