Cynthia M. Allen

It’s time to rethink ‘rape culture’ and address sex and alcohol on campus

Students hold up a sign about rape at White Plaza during New Student Orientation on the Stanford University campus in Stanford, Calif.
Students hold up a sign about rape at White Plaza during New Student Orientation on the Stanford University campus in Stanford, Calif. AP

Some things are black and white.

That Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer recently found guilty of brutally assaulting an unconscious woman in an alley, is a callous rapist and the woman he so thoughtlessly abused is a victim are facts not in dispute.

Regardless of the insufficient prison sentence he will serve, Turner will forever be branded a criminal — a sex offender — and there is a satisfying justice in that.

But most cases of campus rape are not so cut-and-dried.

Most accused perpetrators are not so malicious.

Most alleged victims are not unconscious.

And most circumstances surrounding the incident in question lie somewhere in the sex-crazed, alcohol-soaked gray area that makes the campus “rape culture” narrative circumspect and problematic.

To wit, American Conservative writer Rod Dreher recently published the response of a reader, a veteran police detective who spent the early years of his career working in the department’s sexual assault division in a college town.

“In the course of my career, I have responded to the hospital to investigate a report of sexual assault hundreds of times,” he wrote.

“Here is the down and dirty bottom line regarding 90 percent-plus of reported adult sexual assaults: It’s the alcohol. Period. Full stop.”

He goes on to describe how the typical case involves a series of horrendous decisions by young men and women, usually involving alcohol and maybe prescription or illegal drugs, that usually ends in confusion and regret.

“At the bottom of them all are ‘Demon Rum’ and Hook-up culture,” he concludes. “In some cases, the suspect’s behavior is more egregious, but not usually … It still almost always comes down to ‘he said-she said’… [And] you end up with a mess that you can’t prosecute. And, in all fairness, I shouldn’t want to see it prosecuted.”

That’s because our criminal justice system is designed to prosecute criminal behavior, not irresponsible behavior.

But today, largely driven by the “rape culture” phenomenon, many universities are eager to adjudicate cases of alleged sexual assaults, even when the “facts” are little more than the vague recollections of two intoxicated students.

The current orthodoxy is to presume the guilt of the accused — usually the man — in a misguided attempt to rectify the practice of victim-blaming.

But the overcorrection may be creating a new set of unexpected victims in its wake: men.

Indeed, if it is wrong to assume that every tipsy, provocatively dressed coed is “asking for it,” isn’t it also wrong to assume that every frat boy, football player or individual with certain anatomy is a potential attacker just searching for the next woman to assault?

There are numerous stories of young men who innocently, albeit foolishly, believed they were engaged in a consensual sex act, only to find a day, a week or a month later, that they have been accused of rape, often by a young woman who is confused or racked by guilt and regret over her own behavior.

Such a sentiment was described to me by a reader who relayed a story of her college-aged son.

As a freshman at a prestigious university, he and his friends traveled to and from parties in packs for “protection” — a tactic typically associated with female party-goers.

Moreover, these young men were reluctant to help young women in distress, i.e., those too drunk to safely find their way home.

The reasoning behind this strategy was disturbing.

“We all know that if we take a girl back to her dorm, we’ll be the last person seen with her on the security video. Once she is in the door, she could have sex with anyone … The next morning she wakes up and is upset about it. They then find the last guy seen with her on the security tape and he’ll get charged with rape and expelled without even a hearing.”

Without a doubt, there is something very wrong with our campus culture today.

But it’s not as black and white as it seems from the stories that drive most of the media attention.

The solutions will require us to re-examine our attitudes about sex and alcohol, not force universities to adjudicate criminal charges.

Cynthia M. Allen: 817-390-7166, cmallen@

star-telegram.com, @cjmallen12

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