When I was in high school I heard a story about a girl who got drunk at a party after a football game and had sex with more than one of the football players. The story was told at the expense of the girl, who was categorized as “easy” and “cheap.” The idea that gang rape might have occurred was not something that either the teller or I might have been capable of considering, for these words and the reality to which they point were not part of our vocabulary.
However, the fact that I remember this story decades later suggests that even then something did not “sit right” with me about the way it was told. The image of the girl, who was cute and had curly long light brown hair still fleets through my memory.
Yesterday I read that the following universities are under investigation for possible violation of Title IX Civil Rights protections for failure to investigate charges of rape on college campuses.
• Arizona State University
• Butte-Glen Community College District
• Occidental College
• University of California-Berkeley
• University of Southern California
• Regis University
• University of Colorado at Boulder
• University of Colorado at Denver
• University of Denver
• University of Connecticut
• Catholic University of America
• Florida State University
• Emory University
• University of Hawaii at Manoa
• University of Idaho
• Knox College
• University of Chicago
• Indiana University-Bloomington
• Vincennes University
• Boston University
• Emerson College
• Harvard College
• Harvard Law
• Amherst College
• University of Massachusetts-Amherst
• Frostburg State University
• Michigan State University
• University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
• Guilford College
• University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill”
• Minot State University
• Dartmouth College
• Princeton University
• City University of New York – Hunter College
• Hobart & William Smith Colleges
• Sarah Lawrence College
• State University of New York at Binghamton
• Denison University
• Ohio State University
• Wittenberg University
• Oklahoma State University
• Carnegie Mellon University
• Franklin & Marshall College
• Pennsylvania State University
• Swarthmore College
• Temple University
• Vanderbilt University
• Southern Methodist University
• University of Texas-Pan American
• College of William & Mary
• University of Virginia
• Washington State University
• University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
• Bethany College
• West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
If like me you did not find the college or university you attended on this list, it may mean that, as in the case of Yale, that the investigation was concluded and the case resolved, either with findings of insufficient information or with a promise by the university to institute new procedures. Or it may simply mean that women raped during or following campus parties on your campus or alma mater have not yet have brought their cases to the attention of the Title IX authorities.
The release of this information came about only after concerted efforts by groups like End Rape on Campus and members of congress led by Claire McCaskill, Kirsten Gillebrand, and Carolyn Maloney, along with the media coverage surrounding the newly-formed White House Task Force on College Sexual Assault forced the Department of Education to make public the scope of its investigations.
Rape is a widespread problem on college campuses, with statistics indicating that 19% of women and 6% of men will experience rape at the hands of men (who are 99% of rapists) while in college.
How can this problem be so widespread more than 4 decades after the feminist movement began to publicize rape statistics and to insist that “no means no” and that rape is almost never “a woman’s fault”?
One of the complicating factors is that the so-called “sexual revolution” was occurring at the same time as the feminist movement. On the one hand the sexual revolution was telling us—women and men—that sex was free and fun, challenging longstanding sexual mores that had previously told us that sex was meant to be practiced within a loving permanent relationship known as marriage. As birth control became available to unmarried women in the late 1960s, women became free as we had never been before to experiment with our sexuality. For some of us, being as casual about sex as men had always claimed to have been, became a mark of our feminist freedom.
Though some feminists later questioned whether we were acting freely or being manipulated in new ways by men and the media, and though evangelical groups have reiterated traditional prohibitions against sex outside marriage, we have yet to have had a new and open discussion as a culture or in our subcultures about what constitutes good sex.
From what I read, girls as young as 10 are being told by boys not much older than they are to consider it “normal” to give blow jobs to one or more than one boys in the presence of other boys and sometimes other girls at parties. I was not expected to do anything like this when I was experimenting with my own sexuality, but as the story with which I began this blog suggests, this does not mean that it is a new phenomenon.
I applaud Barack Obama (who is right to be worried about his daughters will soon be starting college) for creating a Task Force on College Sexual Assault. Colleges and universities must be forced to insure that those who rape are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The collusion of college authorities in covering up rape in order to protect the “reputations” of their schools, fraternities, or teams must be stopped. Rape is a pathology and few rapists act only once; this means that failure to prosecute leaves campus rapists free to prey on others. Alcohol and drug cultures on college campuses need to be addressed with educational programs and if necessary by enforcement of laws. Rape culture education, including programs that encourage witnesses to intervene, are being mandated, and they can be instituted voluntarily.
The culture of sexual abuse at parties that include drinking and drugs does not begin on college campuses and it is not limited to them. Though the Task Force on College Sexual Assault is admirable, more must be done. Rape culture education is needed in high school and junior high–and maybe even in 5th and 6th grades. We must also start talking among ourselves and with the girls and boys in our lives about what constitutes good, healthy, responsible sexual activity. If our bodies are ourselves, none of our sexual activities are “free.” Rather they shape our lives, the way we feel about ourselves, and the way we feel about others.
We can start by telling the kids we know that gang rape and group blow jobs do not constitute sexual freedom. We can tell girls that they have a right to say no. We can also tell them that if they get really drunk, they do not deserve to be raped–but they might be. We can tell our boys that “no” means no and that a girl who is drunk or drugged is incapable of saying “yes.” We can tell boys and girls that they have a right and responsibility to say no to participating in group sexual activity and gang rape. We can tell boys and girls that they should and must intervene verbally, physically, or by calling 911 when they are witnesses to rape.
We should not be afraid to give our opinions. Notoriously kids do not listen to their elders on these matters, but if we offer them no guidance at all, out of embarrassment or because we don’t have all the answers ourselves, should we be surprised at the outcome? We may not know all the answers but we do know that some things are wrong. We can start there.
Carol P. Christ is looking forward to the spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institute—space is still available on the spring tour. Carol can be heard in a recent interview on Voices of Women. Carol is a founding mother in feminism and religion and women’s spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.