Campus Sexual Assault
The root of the problem is an ideology
stripping sex of its spiritual meaning.
Everyone agrees that sexual assault is a problem on America's college campuses. Where disagreement arises is on the question of the what causes this criminality. For years, I have argued that the problem of sexual assault on America's college campuses is a problem that, in large part, traces back to campus alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. In response, more than a few people have accused me of sexism. They claim that I ignore the real problem — a culture of male violence against women. And in this debate over sexual assault on campus, I keep hearing the same questions: Why do you support men who assault women on campus? Do you really care about the victims of sexual assault — the women who are assaulted? Where is the sympathy for them?
Conservatives like me who claim that hookup sexual culture — and not just male violence — is the root cause of sexual assault are even called “rape apologists.” That’s an odd accusation for people who, like me, want to see rape prosecuted in criminal courts and rapists locked away for decades, if not life. No one denies that there are rapes on campus, and law enforcement should pursue rapists with the same diligence it pursues all of our most serious criminals. But here’s the problem: Aggressively prosecuting provable rapes will do little to ease the psychic pain of the underlying sexual crisis on campus. That pain is a pain that comes to women who hurt themselves by participating in an alcohol fueled hookup culture that inevitably degrades women and men. Yes, the root of the problem is an ideology that deliberately attempts to strip sex of its inherent spiritual meaning and transform it into little more than transactional, physical, pleasure-seeking behavior.
It’s an ideology that denies differences between men and women, including the emotional differences in the way that many men and women experience sex. Walk onto a college campus today and you’ll see that the place often celebrates sex in the same way it celebrates its football team. One parent dropped off his daughter at college and told me he was stunned to see a basket full of condoms in the bathroom, with a bright sign encouraging kids to grab them by the handful. Another parent showed me a picture on his phone of a banner covering a wall in his daughter’s dorm declaring that sex is great and consent is sexy.
All around, the message is the same — parties are part of the college experience, and parties include sex. Indeed, sex is often the entire point of the party. Powered by propaganda from movies and celebrities, young people take it for granted that they must prove themselves by having sex. And when young students — especially but not exclusively women — approach this new life, something in them rebels. Their sober minds are a bit timid, a little bit nervous about the supposed virtues of free sex. They might even be afraid of trying to initiate such intimate contact with another person. This is the warning of the human conscience.
The sexual revolutionaries, however, disagree. They might call that nagging feeling a “hangup” or an “inhibition” — the product of artificial social constraints imposed by a male dominated patriarchy that seeks to prevent a woman from discovering her sexual self. So, what does the young student do next? She drinks, often with the very purpose of lowering those inhibitions. In theory she wants to experiment, but her sober mind won’t let her. Men of course do the same thing, though the inhibitions are often lower to begin with and the emotional consequences less extreme. Alcohol introduces ambiguity and uncertainty to intimate encounters that are often fraught with confusion even in the best circumstances, especially when the partners are young and inexperienced and barely know each other.
The result? Young men and women engage in the deeply spiritual, deeply meaningful act of sex with minds clouded, hearts uncertain, and emotions raw. They bind themselves together in the way that only husband and wife should unite, and while some people sail through like they’re on a carnival ride, many others are left the next day with a searing, horrifying question dominating their minds — if sex is so great, why do I hurt so much?
Universities do everything wrong when confronting the problem of campus sex. Everything. The core problem isn’t the alcohol. The core problems are the big lies about sex itself. The need for alcohol betrays the existence of the lies. Consider the contrast between the hookup culture — the ultimate expression of easy sexuality — and sex in committed relationships. Booze is the common denominator of the hookup, but its presence typically diminishes the greater the bond between the man and the woman. Ask a happily married couple if they need bourbon before sex and they might look at you like you’re insane. Kids will drink even without the incentive for sex, but sex fuels the drinking and drinking fuels the sex.
Earlier this week, I spoke to a young woman who told an all-too-common campus tale. She “blacked out drunk at a party,” a young man walked her home, and the next day she woke up with her “clothes on inside out.” She started screaming inside herself. She said, “I didn’t know what had happened, but I did know that some part of me had died forever, and that I had been violated.”
It’s a horrible story. Was a crime committed against her? Hard to say. Harder to prove. She recognizes the incredible difficulty of proving a legal case, even with a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard. If the young man claimed that she seemed sober and came on to him (to borrow details from countless other campus cases), and there were no other witnesses, how would an amateur university court resolve the conflict? What if the evidence turned out to be even more complex, with a record of friendly communications after the alleged rape?
Universities do everything wrong. Everything. They combine lies about the nature and morality of sexual relationships with an enthusiastically permissive attitude toward party culture, and then they judge the resulting painful confusion through incompetent and unconstitutional courts.
And they often act with condescending arrogance toward moral systems that elevate sex to its rightful, sacred place — in the union of man and wife. It’s a pitiful display. Truly. The moral response has to be just as comprehensive as the universities’ failures. It can’t simply focus on the end of the process — the fake campus courts that blame male violence for sexual disasters rather than properly ascbing these terrible events to drunken partying by both males and females. We should and do care enough about our daughters to prevent them from becoming “survivors” of this stupid culture. That means speaking the powerful truth about the nature and morality of sexual relationships, rejecting the party culture and its booze-fueled irresponsibility, bringing down the criminal hammer on men who assault women, and bringing down criticism on guys and girls who engage in drunken hookups.
It’s not difficult to articulate this message. One might even call it tried and true. It does require, however, a degree of moral courage that is often in short supply. And it requires parents to keep parenting even when their child is away at school. For the next four years, parents like you might be one of the few morally sane voices they hear.