Throughout the coverage of the Vanderbilt football players' alleged rape, a certain theme has emerged which I'd like to take a moment to try to kill. This theme is that campus rape is something that happens because of nebulous reasons.
In this New York Times story, there's an insinuation that this rape happened because Vanderbilt is now letting in the wrong people in order to have a winning football team:
While scant evidence surfaced that Vanderbilt had relaxed its standards to admit football players of questionable character, the case forced fans to confront whether the charges came about independently of the grand changes in the football team’s fortunes, or whether they were directly tied to the changes that occurred.
But Coach Franklin has only been with the team two years. Even if he had "relaxed" some standards, how does that explain the 14 reported rapes at Vanderbilt in 2007 (according to The Tennessean, the highest number in the last decade)? Franklin is pretty powerful, but I feel certain he didn't go back to 2007 and lower the standards that let the assholes who committed those rapes in before Franklin was even on campus.
But that Tennessean article is full of its own nebulous reasons.
Vanderbilt’s programs directly challenge men to change their behaviors, a tactic advocates say is among the most important prevention measures.
“Addressing hyper-masculinity is getting men to understand that sex is a mutual decision and that consent should be indicated overtly in word or deed,” [associate provost and dean of students, Mark] Bandas said.
After hearing a description of Vanderbilt’s efforts, Jeff Bucholtz, co-founder of We End Violence, an educational consulting firm, said the university appears to be more proactive than many other universities. The challenge, he said, is getting students to “rethink 18 years of socialization.”
So Bandas is floating the idea that rape is the result of confused men who just don't understand what rape is. Bucholtz thinks along similar lines, but seems willing to blame society for men's confusion.
Here's the thing — this idea that rapists are somehow not like us or our friends, or that they're confused or just don't understand how healthy sex works, those are all excuses rapists know bystanders will buy. If you remember the thread over at Reddit in which rapists talked about their rapes, you remember the guy who straight-up said that he knew his university would believe him over any girl and that he'd figured out how best to rape his victims so that they would struggle and fight him — the part he liked — and still leave doubt that they'd been raped, so that he could continue to rape people. (It looks like his comment has been deleted, but you can get a sense of it here.)
Rapists aren't confused about what rape is. Bystanders, who want to believe that the awesome, fun people they like aren't terrible, are confused. Bystanders are the ones who think there must be some reason the rapist thought his or her victim wanted it. Bystanders are the ones who think rapists are somehow being misguided by society — see the Bandas and Bucholtz quotes above — and thus accidentally hurting people without meaning to.
Well, bystanders need to get the fuck over this line of thinking. Because bystanders are making it easier for rapists to continue to rape.
The research has already been done. The rapists have already been interviewed. People of Nashville, bigwigs at Vanderbilt, and police officers in the alleged perpetrators' last cities of residence, turn your attention to psychologist David Lisak. Here he is back in 2010 talking about his research into campus rapists on NPR's Morning Edition.
He found them by, over a 20-year period, asking some 2,000 men in college questions like this: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?"
Or: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn't want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn't cooperate?"
About 1 in 16 men answered "yes" to these or similar questions.
In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he adds another piece to the puzzle, saying "The starkest data from my study and the Navy study is that in both, over 90 percent of all sex assaults are perpetrated by serial offenders."
That interview was part of a series the Star-Telegram ran last year. This story, by Tim Madigan really gets to the heart of what's going on with these rapists:
Meet the typical perpetrator of acquaintance rape.
He is not who you think, experts say, not the drunken college boy who somehow misunderstood when she said no. Instead, more often than not, the acquaintance rapist is a serial hunter like Thomas — charming on the outside, hateful and manipulative within. He puts as much thought and planning into his crimes as a bank robber. And for him, women (or sometimes men) are little more than "tail."
"When they talk in front of juries, they can convince them that they are just the little misunderstood college boy or workingman or whatever," said Fort Worth police Sgt. Cheryl Johnson, a veteran sex-crimes detective. "But they are predators. They are a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Some detectives and victim advocates have long been aware of that sinister portrait, one that has been confirmed by two major studies in the last decade. That portrait also punctures many stubborn myths about what is by far the most common form of sexual assault. Acquaintance rape is not just "drunk sex" or "date rape." The perpetrator is not less guilty or destructive than the proverbial stranger who jumps out of the bushes.
In fact, stranger rapists and acquaintance rapists often share much, experts say, including a profound lack of empathy and a hatred of women. That's why detectives, prosecutors and researchers nationwide are developing new strategies to bring acquaintance rapists to justice, something that rarely happens now.
"It's essential, absolutely essential that we figure this out," said Russell Strand, a sex-crimes expert who trains military investigators and civilian detectives nationwide. "We can't get stuck on the old rape myths, continue to believe that this is just date rape. A date is nothing more than a tool for a sex offender. It might seem like a date, but they are being set up."
This is exactly why efforts to teach college men "what sex is" are doomed to fail to stop rapists from raping. Rapists know what they're doing. They're not confused or misunderstood. That's just the line of bullshit they feed authority figures to stay out of trouble.
What we need to be doing is teaching bystanders that the guy claiming that he just didn't know she didn't want it or that he just didn't know what he was doing was wrong isn't telling the bystanders the truth — he's trying to stay out of trouble and he wants the bystanders' help.
If we really want to lessen the incidents of rape on campus, then we need to start by understanding that rapists rape because they think they can get away with it and because, usually, they've gotten away with it before.
We have to stop helping rapists get away with it.