‘Rape Culture’ Fraud–Unmasking a Delusion


Anyone who follows the contemporary media closely is doubtless familiar with the suddenly ubiquitous phrase “rape culture.” In the context of higher education, the phrase implies two interlocking beliefs. First: despite crime statistics showing sexual assault (as well as all violent crimes) to be very uncommon on campus, colleges and universities are, in fact, hotbeds of rape (but not, it appears, of all other violent crimes). Second: despite the fact that most college faculties and nearly all administrations are extraordinarily sympathetic to the activists’ position on gender issues, the campus culture over which these figures preside nonetheless–somehow–actually encourages the prevalence of rape at college.

That little, if any, evidence exists to sustain either of these beliefs has not deterred the “rape culture” believers; if anything, the lack of evidence for their claims appears to have emboldened them. Nor have they been deterred by the revelation of high-profile false rape claims on campus (ranging from the Duke lacrosse case to the Caleb Warner affair at North Dakota); if anything, the increasing build-up of sympathy for clearly railroaded males has intensified the rage of those who discern a “rape culture” on campus.

Duke’s “Campus Culture Initiative”

An early sign of an obsession with “rape culture” on campus occurred at Duke during the lacrosse case. In April 2006, in a 2000-plus word statement that declined to mention the presumption of innocence, Duke president Richard Brodhead created a “Campus Culture Initiative,” to explicate and “confirm [emphasis added] the existence of a dominant culture among Duke undergraduates.” There was, of course, no rape, but the CCI proceeded along as if there were, operating under the Orwellian slogan that “diversity makes a more excellent university.”

The CCI had four subcommittees; three were chaired by extreme anti-lacrosse voices among the faculty (Professors Karla Holloway, Anne Allison, and Peter Wood). The gender subcommittee accepted as an unquestioned premise that “Duke’s gendered culture is, in no small part, derived from a fundamental lack of respect, fueled by a mix of insecurity, dis-empowerment, and alcohol.” Members detected a harsh campus culture caused by men’s athletics and Duke’s policy of allowing fraternities, which simply “supports our community of divides.”

When evidence didn’t support the CCI’s claims of a campus culture that tolerated rape, Allison and her colleagues ignored the facts. They claimed that between 20 and 25 percent of Duke female students were victims of “sexual assault”–even though the most recent Duke statistics available to them, which covered from 2000 through 2006 and used a much broader reporting standard than the FBI database, indicated that 0.2% of Duke students, not 20%-25%, “report that they have experienced a rape or attempted rape.”

The CCI’s recommendations, especially about athletics, were so extreme that even the craven Brodhead rejected them. But their spirit lived on as attention from the lacrosse case tailed off. The university subsequently revised its sexual assault procedures to hold that sex between students of “perceived” power differentials could be a sexual assault; and Duke recently further revised procedures to all but guarantee expulsion when a student is deemed a rapist through the school’s due process-unfriendly disciplinary panels.


A continuing theme in campus “rape culture” debates is the manner in which the critique clashes with reality. Consider, for instance, the escalating protests last spring at Dartmouth. Exercising a “heckler’s veto,” activists concerned about what ThinkProgress delicately described as the “school’s attitude toward sexual assault, racism, and homophobia” (it’s pretty safe to say the school opposed all three) disrupted an orientation event for incoming students, on grounds that the college had not invited them to address the incoming students. In the preferred terms of the protesters, who wore t-shirts with such sayings as “Real rapists walk this campus,” the college had “silenced” and “boycotted” them–as if every Dartmouth student has a right to speak at an orientation event for new students.

The protest prompted an alleged backlash–nasty, even violent, items were posted on a message board to which Dartmouth students had access. But, intriguingly, the protesters didn’t report their concerns to the police, even though law enforcement could have obtained a subpoena to determine who precisely posted the threatening items. (“Rape culture” activists generally steer clear of law enforcement, since police might demand evidence to substantiate their claims.) Instead, they appealed to the Dartmouth administration, bizarrely arguing that some were afraid to attend class–even though these “fears” did not seem serious enough to prompt the activists to report the alleged threats to police. In the event, the administration cravenly canceled classes for a day of events that included an address from “a social justice and diversity consultant and facilitator.”

The theater of the absurd culminated when mainstream students, not unreasonably, protested the protesters, noting that the cancellation of classes had robbed them of a day’s worth of instructional time for which their tuition dollars had paid.

Here’s how Huffington Post’s Tyler Kingkade–who, as is typical in all of his work on campus events, uncritically presented Dartmouth matters according to whatever version of events the politically correct offered–described what happened next:

Dartmouth sophomore Nastassja Schmiedt, part of the protesting group, told HuffPost that they continued to receive hate mail after the teach-ins. She gave as one example an email with the subject line of “thievery” and the body simply reading, “You owe my family $280 in tuition for forcing classes to cancel.”

Only in the academy could the item quoted above be considered “hate mail.”

As at Duke, the fact that statistics didn’t support the protesters’ claim of a “rape culture” had no effect. Instead, the Dartmouth administration promoted Amanda Childress to coordinate all of the college’s handling of sexual assault matters. Childress then promptly humiliated the school by musing, at a national conference, about the possibility of expelling accused students based solely on an allegation–on grounds that while campus due process isn’t a right, “safety” is.

“Rape Culture” at Occidental

In the past year, perhaps the highest-profile allegations of a “rape culture” poisoning a campus have occurred at Occidental. Despite the college’s sexual assault procedures, which hold that a male student can be deemed a rapist even if his partner said “yes” to sexual intercourse, campus “activists” and their faculty allies filed a Title IX complaint, alleging that these procedures unlawfully denied the rights of accusers. The move drew extensive media coverage from both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, as well as from more openly ideological publications. (“Occidental Takes on Rape Culture,” blared Ms. magazine.) The protests paved the way for the introduction of California’s SB 967, which essentially seeks to codify by law (and in some instances go beyond) the due process-unfriendly provisions of the “Dear Colleague” letter.

But what will the “rape culture” believers say of this recent editor’s note in the Los Angeles Times? The paper admitted that its reporter covering the story (who was subsequently fired) had an “inappropriate” relationship with one of his Occidental sources. On more substantive grounds, the Times admitted that it had, in effect, been duped by the very “rape culture” people it so fawningly quoted. It turns out that some of the events at Occidental were not sexual assaults as anyone outside of campus walls would understand the term, but instead allegations of sexual harassment or simply “inappropriate text messages.”

Just as the Dartmouth “rape culture” folks considered an innocuous e-mail to be “hate mail,” so too did the “rape culture” protesters at Occidental deem an inappropriate text message to be sexual assault. And yet there’s every reason to believe–as occurred at Duke and Dartmouth before them–Occidental’s administrators will accept the demands of the “rape culture” believers.

The Premise

The “rape culture” movement operates from three central characteristics.

First, it has received almost fawning press coverage (what media members want to be deemed pro-rape?)–allowing for transparently absurd allegations, such as those at Occidental, to be presented as credible. In some instances, this has come from the usual suspects, such as Kingkade at Huffington PostAllie Grasgreen at Inside Higher Ed, and Richard Perez-Peña of the New York Times. But the phenomenon has also received extensive, uncritical attention in BuzzFeed, which despite its generally solid treatment of legal issues just hired the discredited Katie Baker to help coordinate its “rape culture” articles. In a media too often accepts at face value a politically correct narrative on campus, the “rape culture” claim is almost ideal for campus “activists.”

Second, the “rape culture” approach allows activists to shift the narrative away from uncomfortable questions about due process and false accusations against innocent male students, and toward a cultural critique in which the facts of specific cases can be deemed irrelevant. Selena Roberts pioneered the tactic at Duke–when the case against the lacrosse players imploded, she (falsely) claimed that her guilt-presuming columns were merely designed to critique a flawed “campus culture.” Or, as Amanda Childress implied in her oft-criticized remarks, whatever value might exist in following specified procedures in sexual assault cases, universities should focus their efforts on tackling broader cultural mores.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the “rape culture” approach provides a weapon to advance a particular type of gender-based agenda (curricular and administrative priorities need to be revamped to recognize that women are victims) in a campus environment in which race/class/gender advocates already dominate. There always will be a stray, anonymous misogynistic comment on a message board, or by a drunken student at a spring-break party, from which advocates can then generalize to claim that a crisis exists on campus–without ever defining precisely what a “rape culture” is, or how the steps they recommend could possibly eradicate it. And since there isn’t a recent example–from Duke to Dartmouth to any of the current Title IX claims–in which those who have cried wolf on campus have experienced any repercussions for their actions, there is no drawback in advancing inflammatory claims, no matter how unlikely.

So expect a lot of talk about “rape culture” in the coming months.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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22 thoughts on “‘Rape Culture’ Fraud–Unmasking a Delusion

  1. I disagree with you about the absence of rape culture on college campuses. Sexually active young men there are about to experience a 20-25% rate of legal rape as they are driven out of higher education.
    Just like the sexual harassment litigation was used to largely desexualize the workplace, sexual assault regulation should successfully desexualize college campuses. It would require a suicidal level of hormonal stupidity for a male college student to associate in private with a female student. The phrases of “Don’t shit where you eat” and “Don’t date where you work” will be joined by the phrase “Don’t mate where you study”. So much for Princeton Mom.
    Just another step towards the universal use of the last constitutionally protected speech left in the United States: pornography. What used to be a shameful indulgence has now become the legally prudent thing to do on college campuses. For the sake of the few men left on college campuses, perhaps the Supreme Court will eventually strike down all laws prohibiting prostitution.

  2. “Rape culture is a concept of unknown origin and of uncertain definition; yet it has made its way into everyday vocabulary and is assumed to be commonly understood. The award-winning documentary film Rape Culture made by Margaret Lazarus in 1975 takes credit for first defining the concept.”
    Blackwell Encyclopaedia Of Sociology, 2007, Page 3791 – http://goo.gl/9sEkWi
    Footage from the film is on YouTube http://youtu.be/RwdVENIVaJY
    Why do Feminist Academics and their cohorts of students now know about the origins of the term they bandy about so loosely and with such abandon?
    Is it because they can’t handle the idea of a film featuring Black men in Prions (Prisoners Against Rape Inc) working with the Washington DC Rape Crisis Centre is too amazing – or is it because they are racist? #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen ?

  3. “Uh, no. You’ve got it backwards. The argument is that men shouldn’t rape women and the prevailing culture shouldn’t shame or blame women who are raped. When a man rapes a woman who is drunk to the point of being unconscious, we should hold him accountable instead of blaming the woman for being drunk. It’s really a very simple concept and it’s sad you have to strawman it to such a degree”
    NO. The current culture in universities promote the accused being shamed and sometimes expelled and not using reasonable logic to check the credibility of the accuser and this is backed by the feminist’s false rape culture activism.
    Also it has never been mentioned that the woman has to be drunk and unconscious for the accused to be guilty of rape. In the current university climate a woman having a half a glass of wine could accuse a man of rape, even if the sex was consensual and get him successfully expelled. And the administration is biased towards the accuser. So who has the strawman?

  4. The photograph accompanying this essay reminds of the scene in “Zorba the Greek” of the protesting village women.

  5. “These Rape Culture activists are making the islamist argument. Women are incapable and incompetent. They cannot be allowed out in public without a male minder. We should keep them in burkahs, because allowing uncontrollable males to view them, is like putting meat out in front of dogs.”
    Uh, no. You’ve got it backwards. The argument is that men shouldn’t rape women and the prevailing culture shouldn’t shame or blame women who are raped.
    When a man rapes a woman who is drunk to the point of being unconscious, we should hold him accountable instead of blaming the woman for being drunk. It’s really a very simple concept and it’s sad you have to strawman it to such a degree.

  6. The US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that decreed the “Dear Colleague Letter” should require that the following statement be included on each and every piece of Recruitment Literature distributed by every public and private college and university in the US, and further that this statement must be included on all university/college applications to be read and signed by every applicant and the applicant’s parent(s) or guardian(s):
    “Female students at (Name of Institution) college/university will have a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted, according to a report signed by President Obama and issued by The White House Council on Women and Girls in January 2014.
    Male students who are accused of sexual assault at (Name of Institution) college/university will be disciplined by a school committee and will not have the right to either, (1) question their accuser, or (2) have an attorney represent them.”

  7. Does anyone else see the irony of University cultures that include classes on Pornography and entire weeks dedicated to sexual demonstrations, including sex toys, who then turn around and scream bloody murder about consensual hetero sex?

  8. I attended a Baptist affiliated university in which SongDog’s suggestions were pretty close to the actual rules.
    The Men’s Dorms were across campus from the Women’s Dorms. The shortest path passed through the campus rose garden, and there was a $75 fine (in 1980) for each flower a student picked.
    It was traditional to arrive at the Women’s Dorm with at least one, or better yet a dozen, roses.
    I once violated the rules (i.e., got caught) and was summoned to the office of the Dean of Housing. As my punishment, a sternly worded letter was placed in my permanent file stating that should I be caught in the Women’s Dorms again, “further measures will be taken.”
    I have used that administrative bon mot in many situations over the years, and it has served me well.

  9. These Rape Culture activists are making the islamist argument. Women are incapable and incompetent. They cannot be allowed out in public without a male minder. We should keep them in burkahs, because allowing uncontrollable males to view them, is like putting meat out in front of dogs.

  10. Umm, IRA Darth Aggie, unless you’re involved in some unsavory activities out in the woods involving does, I’d do a closer spell check next time.

  11. Deer rape culture warriors,
    I’ll make a counter-proposal: allow the women the right to open carry. It’ll be…empowering.
    Side note: I work for a public university. I do not permit unescorted women in my office, I do not meet with them in a closed office space. The door must be open, or we need to meet in an open location.
    Otherwise: not happening.

  12. SeteCidades, no self-discipline needed. Young men can find much higher quality sex from real women who are not part of the student feminazi culture. Flaunt the free, no-drama sex with nubile non-students. It’ll drive the “rape culture” kitties nuts.

  13. Given the “rape culture” on campuses today, perhaps they should institute rules that require all females to travel only in pairs whenever they go outside. In addition, since so many incidents happen following an evening of drinking, all alcohol should be banned. Because of the danger men provide, all co-ed dorms should be immediately segregated by sex, and no men should ever be allowed in female dorms, except in a chaperoned common area. Any infraction of the above rules must be dealt with severely, with both males and females receiving equal punishment.
    The above rules might kill some of the fun being in college, but they must be imposed in order to protect the women and make sure that they are not taken advantage of. A college’s failure to institute these rules is a sign of their support of the “war on women.”

  14. Isn’t it odd that those who a generation ago were promoting the idea that women should act like men and engage in non-marital sexual relations without recrimination are now seeking to set obstacles to that behavior by demonizing men to the point that their interest in sex must be dimmed? Could it be that the modern feminists have secret regrets for the results of the sexual revolution for women and are trying to roll it back without admitting to any errors in their prior thinking?
    Just a thought.

  15. Maybe it’s time to rethink gender-separate campuses. IIRC, it was the women who campaigned for coed campuses, because the men had the advantage of the “old boy network”. Now women are the majority on most campuses, and they’re complaining about “rape” that consists of not much more than ogling, and definitely not touching.

  16. “My Little Dress Does Not Mean YES”
    I suggest the conversation begin examining exactly what does “My Little Dress” actually mean.
    That “Little Dress” is, in fact, part of the “Rape Culture.” Ignore it at your own peril.

  17. It seems that Roman pleibeians tried to see some fundamental rights acknowledged by the patricians, to no avail. So they left Rome. Missing people for doing the heavy work soon the patricians sent for the departing pleibeians and offered some rights.
    Men in campus are the new pleibeians. What they must do is to go away from women. In an age when hormones are jumping this is difficult but it is also the sole way to rebalance things.
    Rational arguments are time lost. Until women feel the pain from their ideology and actions they have no reason to change attitude. And it’s only needed 10 percent of them to rot the ambiance.
    Hence let’s train young men in self-discipline.

  18. Isn’t it odd that when the rape culture exists in, let’s say the Clinton White House, or maybe Barney Frank’s basement, or even the Kennedy compound, there’s very little talk about a rape culture.

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