The Blame Game and The Dangerous Influence of “Credible” Sources

In a recent Times piece titled The Debate: How Should College Campuses Handle Sexual Assault (http://time.com/100038/college-sexual-assault-debate/), they compile a list of opinions ranging from “survivors to politicians, activists and lawyers”, on how they feel sexual assault should be handled on campus.  Those who have written an opinion and have been included in the Time piece span both parties and level of expertise, however, one common goal is clear – to address sexual assault, whether that be aggressively or not at all..  Given the alarming statistics about sexual assault on College campuses, one would think that most scholars and politicians would agree that we are in the midst of an epidemic that needs to be addressed, however many authors disagreed (or did not completely agree) on this point. Since opinions vary drastically in this piece therefore the three articles that I will focus on for this post will be the ones written by Christina Hoff, Matthew Kaiser, and Emma Sulkowicz.

“Rape culture is a panic where paranoia censorship, and false accusations flourish”.  This is a quote that was pulled out by Time and used to title the article by Hoff.  This quote also very accurately sums up her argument.  Hoff writes on the experience of a young man who was falsely accused of rape and then goes on to name “numerous” other who have suffered from the same accusations.  Though this does happen, those instances are few and far between.  Sexual assault does affect men as well and there are those cases of false accusations, however this does not happen very often, or at least at the alarming rate that sexual assaults with female victims do.  To use the “exception to the rule” explanation to try to illustrate to others why rape culture is merely “paranoia” is a way in which data is manipulated to fit solely your opinion and a shaky argument at best.  She goes on to state the 1 in 5 statistic as one derived from “biased” respondents (with no explanation as to what a biased respondent is; she merely cites another [hand picked] Time article proving her point) and then cites a “reputable study” that is over 10 years old – again only using statistics to her benefit. Hoff then goes on to label those who believe in the idea of rape culture as a “mob” and a “crusade” along with her later comment on paranoia.  Language, is very important and I would argue that Hoff’s language is not a sloppy overlook but very deliberate.  She wants to get the message across that this is just a trend that will fade, discrediting the experiences of survivors and distracting from the real overwhelming statistics.

“Based on the cases I’ve seen, I’m more concerned for my son than my daughter”.  This is a quote taken from the article written by Kaiser, which echoes very similar sentiments found in the article written by Hoff.  This quote is to mean, Kaiser is more concerned for the tarnished reputation his son will receive if he were to be accused of rape as opposed to his daughter who would have to deal with the psychological and emotional consequences of actually being raped.  This one statement, in itself, again minimizes the experience of survivors of sexual assault.  It is to say that life is harder as the accused as opposed to the one dealing with this physical violation.  This is not to say however, that being falsely accused can negatively impact your life, it can, but one can be exonerated and depending on how much social support one had to begin with (which the accused tend to have a lot of) live out the rest of their lives normally.  One cannot “exonerate” a rape and this is something a woman will forever have to live with.  Though some of the issues brought up in these article need to be addressed as well (false accusations) it is merely distracting from the larger issue at hand and minimalizing the experiences of survivors.

“Women teach men how to objectify them”.  This is a statement that was said to me when having a conversation with the pastor of a congregation about rape culture.  He believed that women strategically get dressed in the morning for the sole purpose of “looking good” and enticing “compliments from males”.  This implies that 1) women are solely getting dressed for the benefit of males as opposed to getting dressed to please yourself and express one’s personal style (a very hetero-normative statement) and 2) women are asking for catcalls and rape and therefore we are responsible for any violation that may come to us. This is a further perpetuating of the myth that “she was asking for it”.

What is even more alarming to me however, other than the distracting, insulting, and minimalizing messages these articles and conversations are getting across, is who it is coming from.  Hoff is a “resident scholar”, Kaiser is an attorney, and the last comment was made by a respected member of the church.  These individuals have great influence in their respective arenas and have the power to sway the thoughts and opinions of the masses.  They are considered “credible sources”.   They possess degrees and clout, which for many, is equivalent to credibility.  Oh the power they have and the potential harm they can do! In the article by Sulkowicz, she writes of her personal experience with rape and what should be done about it, but her opinion is condemned because she is merely a student with no degree or power.  But what is more powerful and credible than a lived experience?  Those who have lived through these experiences should be given way more credibility in the national debate, for there is no better expert than the expert who is immersed in the issue.

Why is it that we dismiss the opinions of rape victims but so readily agree with old scholars and politicians who haven’t stepped foot on a college campus in 20 years?

Also, what do you see as the potential harm of “credible sources” that effect the ideas of millions, who are solely pushing their agenda?

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