“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Universities are struggling to determine when intoxicated sex becomes sexual assault.
Jane and John met in their first week as undergrads at Occidental College. They enrolled in the same freshman seminar, chatted on a field trip, pregamed for a school dance together, and then—on a night when they both claim they were more intoxicated than they had ever been before—they had sex.
According to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last year—which include text message records, witness statements, a police report, and Occidental disciplinary notes—on Sept. 7, 2013, Jane was downing vodka and orange juice while playing drinking games in a friend’s dorm room. John was goaded into chugging booze straight from the bottle in a ritualistic hazing by his new water polo team. “I’m wasted … the worlds moving,” Jane would text her friends that night. “So drunk. Jesus fucking Christ … about to blak out,” John would text his. When John made it back to his dorm, he launched a dance party in his room, and Jane stumbled in.
According to witnesses, who would be asked to recount the night’s events after Jane filed a sexual misconduct claim against John with the school, Jane “was grabbing John and trying to kiss him”; John was “somewhat responsive” but “seemed pretty indifferent.” But he was also “loud, obnoxious, kind of pushing everyone, going nuts a bit,” slurring his words, and at one point, attempted to move everyone but Jane out of the room. Eventually, both Jane and John removed their own shirts while dancing. When Jane ended up lying on top of John on his bed and grinding her hips on him, a couple of her friends pulled her away and tried to lead her back to her own bed. She was “a little upset and indignant,” one of them reported, but agreed to return to her room.
Last month Rolling Stone published a 9,000-word article that described the horrific 2012 gang rape of a University of Virginia freshman, and how the school mishandled the incident. For a few days, it seemed to be serving its purpose: the article sparked a conversation about sexual assault on campus, and how schools nationwide often respond to brutal crimes with indifference. Then as questions were raised about why the author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, either failed to contact the alleged rapists or never even tried, the story morphed into a flashpoint in various other debates, from how we treat rape victims to journalism ethics to the nature of memory. With many apparent contradictions from Rolling Stone, Erdely, and the accuser – the latest twist involves possible catfishing – the story can be hard to follow. Here’s a guide to what we know so far.
November 19, 2014: Rolling Stone publishes “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA”
Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely begins her piece on the UVA’s ineffective handling of rape cases by introducing Jackie, a woman who says she was gang raped in a UVA frat house on September 28, 2012, a few weeks after she arrived on campus.
Jackie, who was 18 at the time, says she was asked out by “Drew” (a pseudonym used in the article), an attractive junior she met while they were both working as lifeguards at the university pool. Drew invited her to dinner and a “date function” at his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. During the party, Drew asks Jackie if she wants to go upstairs. She follows him into a pitch-black room, and screams when she suddenly realizes they’re not alone:
“Shut up,” [Jackie] heard a man’s voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn’t some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they’d return to the party.
“Grab its motherfucking leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.
Jackie says that for the next three hours, seven men took turns raping her as Drew and another man looked on. She says one of the men, who she recognized from her anthropology discussion group, was encouraged by the others to penetrate her with a beer bottle. “Don’t you want to be a brother?” the others tell him. “We all had to do it, so you do, too.”
She comes to after 3 a.m. and runs from the house shoeless, with her “face beaten” and her dress “spattered with blood.” Realizing that she’s lost, she calls a friend, screaming, “Something bad happened. I need you to come and find me!” Her three friends, two boys and girl, find her outside the Phi Kappa Psi house shaking and crying. (All of their names are changed in the article.) Randall suggests going to the hospital, but the others shoot down the idea, and weigh the social implications of their next move:
“Is that such a good idea?” [Jackie] recalls Cindy asking. “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: “She’s gonna be the girl who cried ‘rape,’ and we’ll never be allowed into any frat party again.”
Ultimately, they decide not to seek help. Two weeks later, Jackie sees Drew at the pool. “I wanted to thank you for the other night,” he says. “I had a great time.”
After withdrawing from her school work and social life and buying rope to hang herself, at the end of the semester Jackie calls her mother and asks to go home. She returns to school, and toward the end of her freshman year she reports the rape to Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board. She is given three options: file a criminal complaint with the police, file a complaint with the school, or face her attackers with Eramo present to tell them how she feels. (There’s more information here about the federal investigation into UVA’s handling of sexual violence, which began in June 2011.)
Jackie is now a junior, and she’s become active in UVA’s sexual-assault education organization. In May 2014, with Drew about to graduate, she still didn’t feel ready to file a complaint, but “she badly wants to muster the courage to file criminal charges or even a civil case.” The article notes that Jackie is no longer friends with Randall, who “citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed” by Rolling Stone.
Problems with Rolling Stone’s recent article won’t deter efforts to combat sexual assault, the university’s president says.
Students walk past the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on the University of Virginia campus Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia – A cloud of quiet has settled over the University of Virginia’s campus, and it’s hard to tell whether the silence comes from determination – with thousands of students preparing for final exams this week – or as part of a grasp at normalcy after weeks of turmoil.
In the wake of a famed and now infamous account of an alleged gang rape in Rolling Stone, students on campus appear to be extremely reluctant to talk about the issue at all. Several approached in person and via email declined to be interviewed for this article.
“People at UVA want to get away from the flack they’ve gotten nationwide as a result of this article. They feel wronged in that sense, but I think they’re not shying away from the issue of sexual assault,” says Brian Head, a fourth-year student and president of the all-male student organization 1 in 4, a sexual assault education group.
Following the article – which described in detail an alleged gang rape that took place at a campus fraternity in 2012 – Head says he saw more of a call for change than a call to question among students. Since the piece was published last month, the fraternity in question, Phi Kappa Psi, presented evidence first reported by The Washington Post that challenges several of the article’s key points.
Critics say sexual assault victims cannot continue to wait while a bureaucracy as big the military talks about change.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed more than 28 new initiatives over the last year to combat sexual assault in the military.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed more than 28 new initiatives over the last year to combat sexual assault in the military.
Following news this week that reports of military sexual assaults have jumped 8 percent in the last year, the Pentagon on Thursday unveiled a strategy it submitted to the White House that it believes will stem sexual abuse in the ranks and change a culture that forces victims to keep their mouths shut.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the report, which includes a string of new policies the Pentagon has already implemented, serves as a demonstration of “aggressive action over the last year and a half to stop sexual assault.”
A steadfast group of critics, however, say these efforts are far from enough.
Almost 6,000 victims reported a sexual assault in 2014, up from 5,500 last year, according to the report. The Pentagon claims increased awareness and comfort in coming forward contributes to the rise in numbers. Only 1 in 10 victims reported a sexual crime in 2012, compared to 1 in 4 this year, according to a survey conducted for the military by the Rand Corp. in conjunction with this latest report.
The number of victims who still feel uncomfortable reporting these crimes remains unacceptable, Pentagon leadership says. There was an estimated 20,000 reported cases of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2014, totaling roughly 55 per day.
“These kinds of crimes are still heavily underreported,” Hagel said at a briefing Thursday afternoon.
The secretary, who announced last month his plans to retire, has directed more than 28 new initiatives over the last year that he says will “strengthen how we prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military, how we support the survivors of this despicable crime.”
Among these initiatives is the creation of a new victims advocate position to help those who report sexual assault navigate the military justice system. The report also calls for new training among junior officers and enlisted supervisors for handling claims of sexual assault.
“[We’re] giving survivors for the first time a voice in the military justice process,” says Hagel.
The CNN anchor asked an alleged victim of Bill Cosby why she didn’t stop him. That victim-blaming mindset is pervasive and ignorant.
CNN’s Don Lemon has apologized for asking Joan Tarshis—one of 15 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault—why she didn’t bite the Jell-O King’s penis when he allegedly forced her to have oral sex.”As a victim myself I would never want to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape,” he said Wednesday. “If my question struck anyone as insensitive, I’m sorry as that was not my intention.”It was easy to pile on Lemon, but he isn’t problem. In fact, Lemon was asking a questioning that many, many Americans are probably wondering themselves—that’s the problem.
It seems to only be in cases of sexual assault (or domestic abuse) that people wonder why victims don’t do more to stop the attack. Lemon’s interview just proves how pervasive the mindset is. It shows how unfortunately different victims of sexual assault are treated from those who come forward as victims of other crimes.
So, a brief crash-course in how to discern victim-blaming.
Think about muggings. You don’t ask the victim why she or he didn’t just run faster or break his nose, so why ask the same of victim of sexual assault? Yes, some will fairly argue that a mugger could have a gun and will kill you if put up a fight. But the dynamic is the same: the victim is shocked, threatened, and immediately placed in a vulnerable position where her only goal is to get through it without further damage.
You don’t ask the victim why she or he didn’t just run faster or break his nose, so why ask the same of victim of sexual assault?
Actually, Tarshis did try to persuade Cosby from allegedly assaulting her by telling him she had an “infection” and if they did anything, his wife would get it. So, as Tarshis said in a recent essay: Cosby “just found another orifice to use.”
Of course, there are other details specific to Tarshis’s case—details that she has already shared—that makes the answer to Lemon’s wrongful question even more obvious.
Tarshis was a 19-year-old aspiring comedy writer in 1969, the time of the alleged assault. Cosby was already on the rise, with The Bill Cosby Show being a major success. The power difference was massive. Cosby could kill her career if she didn’t oblige him. Tarshis also mentioned she’s 5’ 3” and Cosby, who is 6’1”, nicknamed her “Midget,” cute and also indicative of the physical differences in size that would make fighting off Cosby futile.
Before a second alleged assault, Tarshis said Cosby spoke to her mom on the phone and told her he was inviting her daughter to come to his show. To turn it down, would have set off alarm bells to her family. On top of all of this, 55 years ago forcible oral sex wasn’t understood to be rape, believe it or not.
We have thankfully made significant gains in our legal and emotional understanding of sexual assault since then. Victims of sexual assault are more willing to come forward, share their stories, and demand prosecution.
As Lemon’s interview shows, though, we’re still struggling to understand the power dynamic behind sexual assault. If the alleged attacker hasn’t physically forced himself against his victim or isn’t threatening her life, too many think the victim submitted to her attacker.
Brute force isn’t the only means of sexual assault. Manipulation, coercion, and threats play into the complicated power dynamic that assaulters rely on to place their victims in vulnerable position. Cosby had tremendous power over his alleged victims. Not only was he influential enough to make or break a career in entertainment, but also he was so beloved by the public that accusing him of rape carried the risk of being ignored or even accused of lying.
Lemon has every right to ask someone who has chosen to make criminal accusations against a public figure on national television about her experience, even in graphic detail. The reaction to Lemon’s interview to be we shouldn’t ask questions of victims of sexual assault. We absolutely should ask because the more we talk about these experiences, the closer we come to understand the complicated dynamic that makes sexual assault so hard to discuss or comprehend.
The “why didn’t you do more?” line of questioning places the blame on the victim rather than the person who placed her in that situation.
Gamergate, a diffuse but relentless online anti-feminist movement aimed at drubbing feminist women out of game development and criticism, continues to expand the scope of its attacks. First it started as a traditional anti-feminist campaign, targeting individual women in hopes that they’d quit the industry rather than suffer any longer. When that didn’t work, they moved into targeting advertisers of websites that hire feminist women. They were sadly successful when Intel pulled its advertising from a website Gamasutra, which had offended the Gamergaters by running a piece that argued video games should be for everyone instead of just for angry white guys. Now the circle of victims has expanded even beyond just the gaming press, as the website Gawker is being threatened with the loss of its Mercedes advertising after Mercedes got a deluge of emails from Gamergaters who take offense at the multiple pieces Gawker and its sister sites have run criticizing Gamergate.
Sure, Gamergaters inevitably claim some moral high ground in attacking Gawker. The B.S. excuse this time is to pretend that writer Sam Biddle was dead serious when he tweeted something that is an obvious joke. At this point, no one in the media is bamboozled by the lies and obfuscations of Gamergaters, who, like the Know-Nothings of 19th century, prefer to play dumb to outsiders about their real goals. That’s what makes it so confusing to see companies like Mercedes, Intel, and Adobe give any credence to a bunch of squalling from an online army of mostly teenage boys and social maladepts who are worried that girls are going to ruin the experience of playing Call of Duty. These people don’t speak for the majority of anyone-—not gamers, not computer users, and certainly not Mercedes buyers-—so why so much fear?
The likely truth is they don’t want the hassle. Most of these big corporations desperately want to be perceived as floating above the ugly fray of politics. Intel pulled its advertising from Gamasutra and then issued a mealy-mouthed apology after the fact, saying, “Our action inadvertently created a perception that we are somehow taking sides in an increasingly bitter debate in the gaming community.” Adobe pulled a similar stunt, rushing to agree with Gamergate attacks on Gawker while claiming some kind of general anti-bullying stance. It’s like watching a kid fight back against a bully who is torturing him and have the teacher put them both in detention. Bullies like those of Gamergate know how to exploit the desire not to “take sides” in order to force people to take the bully’s side against the victim.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show intimate partner violence is more common than you may think.
Domestic violence isn’t limited to Ray Rice. Data show it is common in the U.S.
Nearly 1 in five women have been raped within their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For men, 1 in 71 have been raped in their lifetimes. We reported on these and other statistics on sexual violence from a CDC report previously.
The report includes other data on intimate partner violence and stalking, showing that both are common in the United States. Victims of stalking and intimate partner violence, as well as rape, are at greater risk for adverse health outcomes such as high blood pressure and asthma.
Intimate Partner Violence
Close to one in three women have been slapped, pushed or shoved by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. Nearly one in four women experience severe physical violence such as being beaten, burned, choked, slammed against something or hit with a fist. For men, almost 14 percent experience severe intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.
Half of women and half of men experience psychological aggression by a partner during their lifetimes, most often in the form of being “kept track of, demanding to know where you were and what you were doing” and “called names like ugly, fat, crazy, stupid.”