The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been under heavy fire for running James Taranto’s February 10 column criticizing the double standard in campus policies that treat the man as a criminal and the woman as a victim when they have drunken sex–widely and egregiously misinterpreted as “if a drunk woman is raped, it’s as much her fault as the rapist’s.” On February 24, presumably for balance, the Journal ran an op-ed by an anti-sexual violence activist defending the government-backed campus crusade against (broadly defined) sexual assault. In a stroke of unfortunate irony, the activist who delivered the message was in the media spotlight a few years ago as a rape victim advocate–and, back then, she was defending a notorious rape hoax.
The February 24 column by Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the board of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, is a fairly unremarkable recycling of talking points. Johnson Hostler asserts that acquaintance rape is a “scourge of college life,” with one in five female students becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape. (Her source is the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study–which, apart from its dubious criteria for defining sexual assault, included non-penetrative unwanted sexual contact.) On the bright side, she seems to steer clear of the rhetoric that brands the average male college student a rapist, instead asserting that serial sexual predators who deliberately target incapacitated women “often blend into their schools and student communities with ease.” Of course, if that’s the real problem of college sexual assault, it’s not clear why the average college male must be terrorized with dire warnings that he could be an unwitting rapist if he fails to ascertain that his apparently willing partner is sufficiently sober (or sufficiently enthusiastic) to consent.
Rewind to 2006, when the sensational rape allegations against members of the Duke University lacrosse team were playing out in the headlines across the country–and when revelations of factual problems with the alleged victim’s account of the events began to raise questions about the rush to judgment. Johnson Hostler, then executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, was quoted extensively in a Cybercast News Service story on April 20 lamenting the critical media coverage: “Johnson-Hostler said the woman is being “re-victimized” by the public examination of her account of the evening’s events, and the scrutiny will “absolutely” discourage future rape victims from coming forward out of fear of embarrassment.”
Johnson Hostler also brushed off the suggestion that three young men facing charges in the case might be facing a painful ordeal if unfairly accused: “‘I think they’ll be glorified if they’re found innocent,’ she said. ‘The sensationalism of this case will go to another level if they’re found innocent.’ Johnson-Hostler added that a not guilty verdict would “allow people to say, ‘See, women do cry rape,’ a reference to the fable of the boy who cried wolf.”
The same day, Johnson Hostler appeared on the Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor, where she reiterated her conviction that the woman had indeed been raped and saying that her role was “to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.” When O’Reilly asked, “Even if they weren’t?”, Johnson Hostler replied, “I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t.”
Certainly, a sexual assault counseling service should provide support to any person who reports an assault without investigating the veracity of the claim. However, it’s certainly a leap from such support to publicly defending the absolute truthfulness of any rape claim, denouncing the media for having the gall to investigate facts that don’t match the “victim’s” story, or transparently suggesting that a not guilty verdict would be bad for women.
Ironically, while Johnson Hostler also asserted at the time that a not-guilty verdict “won’t tell us anything” about the players’ actual innocence or guilt, the actual outcome of the case–a full dismissal of all the charges–was a strong statement of their innocence.
It is possible, in theory, that Johnson Hostler’s views have evolved since 2006. Or, more likely, this is precisely the kind of guilty-by-fiat ideology she would like to see enshrined on college campuses far beyond Duke.
One would think that taking such a spectacular drubbing in the Duke case would severely undercut Ms. Johnson Hostler’s credibility as a spokeswoman for rape victims. But evidently, being a warrior against “the rape culture” means never having to say you’re sorry.