College rape culture out of control [Updated]

[See update below.]

Rolling Stone has an explosive story about rape at the University of Virginia, where the culture of drinking and rape and sexual assault centered around fraternities seems to be out of control. The report has rocked the campus and the university’s president has suspended the fraternities until the beginning of the next semester. The story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely is both shocking and disgusting in describing what female students went through.

And as usual, apologists have argued that the situation is being overhyped, that assaults arose out of ‘misunderstandings’ about consent, and that cracking down on these things would undermine hallowed traditions. Those traditions include an absolutely disgusting fight song called Rugby Road (the name of street where the fraternities are located) and that looks down on the victims and ostracizes them if they should have the courage to complain.

Erdely says that this culture allows a dangerous type of predator to roam freely.

[Psychologist David] Lisak’s 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak’s study had ever been reported. Lisak’s findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

In his study, Lisak’s subjects described the ways in which they used the camouflage of college as fruitful rape-hunting grounds. They told Lisak they target freshmen for being the most naïve and the least-experienced drinkers. One offender described how his party-hearty friends would help incapacitate his victims: “We always had some kind of punch. . . . We’d make it with a real sweet juice. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.” Presumably, the friends mixing the drinks did so without realizing the offender’s plot, just as when they probably high-fived him the next morning, they didn’t realize the behavior they’d just endorsed. That’s because the serial rapist’s behavior can look ordinary at college. “They’re not acting in a vacuum,” observes Lisak of predators. “They’re echoing that message and that culture that’s around them: the objectification and degradation of women.”

One need only glance around at some recent college hijinks to see spectacular examples of the way the abasement of women has broken through to no-holds-barred misogyny: a Dartmouth student’s how-to-rape guide posted online this past January; Yale pledges chanting “No means yes! Yes means anal!”

That last chant captures perfectly the mentality of people who think that women are theirs to do what they want with. And to top it all, colleges seem to be more concerned about their reputation than the wellbeing of their students. While they have counselors that students can talk to about their ordeal, these counselors are employees of the university and sometimes nudge victims to choose some form of in-house mediation or internal disciplinary proceedings under the guise of giving them the choice of what action to take. But rape is one of the most heinous of violent crimes that requires the full weight of the criminal justice system to properly investigate, and universities are nowhere close to being able to do the kind of rigorous investigation and prosecution it demands.

It is true that sometimes victims, fearing the ordeal of criminal proceedings, hesitate to go to the police even though they have every right to. But the counselors provided by the university, however well meaning, have an inherent conflict of interest and should not be the people advising the students. In order to preserve the victim’s sense of agency as well as giving them a better sense of the various options and their consequences, any student who says that she was raped or otherwise sexually assaulted should be referred to someone at an independent rape counseling center that has no connection to the university and whose main charge is helping the victim and not in preserving the reputation of the college.

This situation has to be brought back under control. Colleges that make no effort to do so deserve to have their lack of action spotlighted, however much harm it may do to their recruitment, their relations with alumni, and the money they receive from donors. Rolling Stone is to be commended for their doggedness in pursuing this story despite less than complete cooperation from the college..

As a result of the publicity, the University of Virginia has suspended all fraternities until the end of the semester but I am not sure what exactly that means and if they are just trying to buy time and hope that the whole thing blows over and they can go back to business as usual. You can be sure that powerful alumni of the fraternities and the secret societies will exert great pressure on the school administration and trustees to not make major changes.

Because it’s tradition, you see.

UPDATE: It turns out that there were serious journalistic flaws in the reporting of this story. Olga Khazan sums up what happened and the implications.

After Rolling Stone published the piece in late November, the Internet at first wolfed it down as a masterfully written outrage-read, and then later meticulously picked apart its reporting. On Friday, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana appended an editor’s note at the top of the story admitting that there are problems with the narrative the main character, a woman named Jackie, recounted to Erdely.

“There now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” Dana wrote, “and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”

The problem seems to stem from the fact that Erdely, honoring a promise to Jackie, did not attempt to contact the fraternity brothers whom Jackie accused of gang-raping her during her freshman year. Now, several of Jackie’s close friends and rape-prevention advocates at UVA are doubting her story, and a lawyer for Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity implicated in the rape, has released a statement rebutting her claims.

Most, if not all, of Erdely’s story might still hold up. But even if the story turns out to be 98 percent right, this whole episode is terrible news for survivors of rape on college campuses and elsewhere.

Rape stories, meanwhile, are a genre that’s uniquely unforgiving of inaccuracies. Universities and fraternities could use an inconsistent story as an excuse to move on to other issues and to downplay their assault problems. Anti-feminists brandish wrongful accusations in order to claim that “most” rape victims are liars. Victims, meanwhile, become even more skittish, understandably wishing to spare themselves the same scrutiny and persecution. The overwhelming majority of rapes are never reported, in part because many victims fear they won’t be believed.

As the chart above, from The Enliven Project, shows, only about 2 to 8 percent of rape claims turn out to be fabricated, but those that are echo in the media and in public discourse for seemingly much longer than the true ones do.


  1. carbonfox says

    I read Rolling Stone’s article yesterday and the heinousness literally made me cry, especially when the victim recognized one of the perpetrators as a discussion group classmate. I will never understand how these rapists learn to disregard women’s humanity, viewing them as…animals I don’t even know what, because I doubt they treat their pets this bad.

    university’s president has suspended the fraternities until the beginning of the next semester

    While a good first step, this move would be more impressive if the suspension didn’t coincide with winter break, when I suspect many (or most) students will be leaving campus, anyway. It’s a great way to act like doing something without actually disrupting most fraternity activities, I suspect. Not to mention that the sororities have also been suspended, even though (as far as I can tell), they weren’t facilitating gang rapes.

  2. smrnda says

    In terms of rapists being calculating and deliberate offenders, this is hardly a new finding but one that is pretty much ignored by a large segment of the population.

  3. hyphenman says

    Paterfamilias like scion…

    Seriously, the only factor that has changed in all of this from 10, 20, 40, 80 or even 160 years ago, is that women are beginning to feel safer (but not yet, sadly, safe) in coming forward and outing their rapists.

    Good on them!

  4. Ronald says

    As much as i criticize they destructive atmosphere of hypersensitive feminism I’m actually glade to see that a University is going “Oh shit, this kind of thing is going on?!” and pleading both investigation by both the administration and the police, i saw this story on NBC news (Or was it RT?) and there is bit more then what is being covered here. Now it could be that the university may have always known, but decided to ignore allegations of rape and abuse until they where publicly shamed. But that level of high profile shaming made have the opposite effect of what Mano fears, the trustees and the super secret frats maybe be force into action because high profile donors might pull their dollars and trustees’ money only last so far.

  5. resident_alien says

    “destructive atmosphere of hypersensitive feminism” -- because it’s feminists who threaten and commit murder and rape,huh?
    We’d have to breed an army of Valerie Solanas clones in order to achieve a fraction of the destructiveness dealt to us.

  6. dean says

    As much as i criticize they(sic) destructive atmosphere of hypersensitive feminism…

    Please, tell us where you draw the line between feminism that you find simply amusing and that which you find destructive.

    Second thought -- don’t: your first comment is enough stupid for one lifetime.

  7. says

    When I went to college 10 years ago, one of our fraternities was suspended for maybe a couple of years. Basically, they weren’t allowed to advertise or recruit on campus. If there was any assistance they received from the college, they likely lost that, too. I would suspect they lost their listing in the campus organizations directory, or should have if they didn’t. The college couldn’t shut them all the way down, though, being that the house was on property not owned by the college. I don’t think they held any big parties, either, but I don’t think that could have been enforced; that was probably voluntary so as not to make their situation worse.

  8. plutosdad says

    “Oh shit, this kind of thing is going on?!”
    It was going on when I was in college in the late 80s / early 90s, I highly doubt people did not know. But rather, it was “normal”, girls who were raped were “sluts”, and they “asked for it” by getting drunk, or dressing attractively. Feminists who said otherwise were called “hypersensitive” and told they should focus on more important things than “protecting sluts and whores from themselves.”

    It is rather that broader society is finally recognizing these activities as rape. And the people you have to thank for this are feminists who were “sensitive” and kept demanding to be treated better.

  9. jenniferphillips says

    This chink in rape culture’s armor is brought to you by destructive hypersensitive feminism™

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Another great idea for a t-shirt: Destructive Hypersensitive Feminist
    Other goodies;

    Enemy Combatant (I’ve got this one, thanks to Chris Clarke)
    Warmist Thug

  11. Ronald says

    Feminist inability to rational argue and just naturally assume that there is a grand patriarchy conspiracy without any kind of evidence is causing Feminism to implode.
    It looks like it may already be too late, it’s a small number of shrieking rage addicts who are destroying an otherwise noble moment for equality.

    Rage Addict?

    And given that rape allegations are hard to prove because many victims don’t come forward in a timely manner and evidence is destroy, also people are innocent until proven guilty. Society needs to encourage those who have suffered sexual violence to come froward so they can get justice and investigators to take allegations seriously.

  12. bigwhale says

    Patriarchy isn’t a conspiracy you loon. Most of the people causing harm don’t realize it, like you. You have a lower threshold for feminist sensitivity than for groups you identify with. That is only natural, I do it to some extent too. It is the society and culture that is a patriarchy. We get small, subtle messages every day that women are less than men, because it sells products or that is just the way it has been. But I am no expert, google patriarchy 101 or something, and get back to us.

    There are good studies that women are perceived as raging when men behaving the same way are percieved as being strong and capable. So you really have to think twice and second guess yourself before you make such an accusation.

  13. plutosdad says

    The inability to argue is probably due to the fact the individual is tired of having to explain the same things over and over. ( ) If you read the some black american skeptic blogs, they report something similar: always having to explain the same basic concepts, because instead of educating ourselves we just ask them to tell us.

    There is no conspiracy, it is just society. Men have always run things, we assume men are better than women at things, but don’t ask ourselves why. And even if we do ask ourselves, we think “well it must be biology, women are just more nurturing, men are hunters, women gatherers” etc, It seems totally natural to assume those things, but when we think about it there is no real proof to what extent differences are biology or genetic, and to what extent they are taught to us by our culture. that is all “patriarchy” is, a set of expectations and assumptions that harms both men and women that don’t fit in or don’t feel like they fit into the stereotypes. It is this “patriarchy”, that men are providers, that causes men to be screwed in many divorces. that is not due to feminism, but the expectation that men have to take care of their families. It shows up in many ways.

  14. says

    many victims don’t come forward in a timely manner and evidence is destroy, also people are innocent until proven guilty

    Weird that you simultaneously acknowledge that there’s evidence (not coming forward in a timely manner) and then assert “innocence”
    What you really mean is that society lets people get away with shit, unless they’re more or less caught in the act. Yes, that needs to change.

  15. says

    Feminist inability to rational argue and just naturally assume that there is a grand patriarchy conspiracy without any kind of evidence is causing Feminism to implode.

    ANYONE would have a hard time arguing rationally with someone determined to argue dishonestly and irrationally. That’s not the feminists’ fault, moron.

  16. says

    I went to UVA in the ’80s, and did a lot of partying at frat-houses. While I did not encounter any clear evidence of rape, I did hear a lot of vague talk about getting “babes” wasted and “training” them. And no, the talk was not at all disapproving of such actions; it just seemed to be tacitly assumed that the sex was more or less consensual. In any case, give or take some vague standard advice from our RAs, it just seemed that drinking, getting wasted, and dealing with the consequences of same was part of the “university experience.” The Rolling Stone story disgusts me, but it doesn’t surprise me.

  17. Numenaster says

    @Jonny Vincent, it is no more relevant than the length of a woman’s hemline is relevant, i.e. not at all. Rape is by definition done without consent, and it’s the non-consensuality that makes it a crime. Consensual rape fantasy play falls under “kink”, which isn’t the subject here.

  18. brucegee1962 says

    @18 Jonny Vincent
    You must not read the other FTBers; Avicenna answered your question before you asked it.

    @17 Raging Bee
    I went to UVa in the 80s and early 90s too, but I steered far clear of the fraternities. (I’m surprised the article didn’t mention why they never call them frats at UVa: because “If you’d call your fraternity a frat, then what would you call your country?”) In fact, it’d be fair to say I was prejudiced against them; my estimation of someone’s intellect went way down when I saw those Greek letters on their shirt.

    In fact, I lived for a year in an apartment on Rugby Road, in between a fraternity, a sorority undergoing construction, and a railroad (not exactly a quiet neighborhood). True story: one night I heard a commotion in the alley behind. I looked out the window. Someone was throwing bricks through the glass panes of the window of the fraternity — from the inside. Cinder blocks followed, to take out the wooden slats. Last of all was a washtub, to take out the wooden bar across the center. Well, I guess there’s a reason they pay those expensive dues.

    One time only, I went inside the place (because someone’s sports car was blocking our driveway). The main room where the party took place reminded me of a cave. Just a dark room with some pictures of previous classes on the walls, and a bunch of swaying guys standing around a keg. It was the most joyless setting imaginable.

  19. Ronald says

    ANYONE would have a hard time arguing rationally with someone determined to argue dishonestly and irrationally. That’s not the feminists’ fault, moron.

    Yeah it is their fault, if they can’t not adequately describe their potion and not back up their potion with objective evidence. The absolute sloppiness of Antia Sharkeesian’s and whiners of the Matt Taylor shirt are proof of this.

  20. culuriel says

    I’m really tired of any woman, complaining, ever, labeled as “hypersensitive”. Women are not limited by any ethics to complaints that men want to hear about. The whole point of feminism is to complain about things whether men like it or not. Also, I’m tired of critics of feminism acting like rational dialogue ever got anything. Women had to march in the streets for the vote. Women had to sue for their employment rights. Women had to hold rallies to get rape complaints taken seriously. Women have never gotten anything asking nicely. If that’s too much for you, stop pretending to be a feminist and just go back to wishing women would shut up about stuff you take for granted is okay.

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