Bloomberg's Campus Sexual Assault Article Inadvertently Showcases Rape Culture

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If you want to hear rape culture summed up in a single quote look no further than the recent article in Bloomberg about the ways in which sexual assault affects hook-up culture on college campuses. While talking about the way in which male college students have reacted to the national conversation about sexual assault on campus, the article quotes Stanford senior Chris Herries's opinion on women engaging in risky behavior: “Do I deserve to have my bike stolen if I leave it unlocked on the quad?" Herries asks. "We have to encourage people not to take on undue risk.”

I really shouldn't have to explain why comparing a human person to a bicycle, especially in this context, is insulting, or that women's right to enjoy our college experience in whatever way we please should not ever be considered "undue risk." But apparently I do. For the record, no one deserves to have crimes committed against them, no matter how many bikes they leave unlocked or how short their skirt may be. And if avoiding "undue risks" like alcohol and revealing clothes was all it took to stop sexual assault, Saudi Arabia would have the lowest rate of sexual assault in the world. Spoiler alert: they don't.

Gee, I wonder if maybe it's because the rate of sexual assault has more to do with a society's respect (or lack thereof) for women as human people than it does with what a girl happens to be wearing on any given day. Just a thought.

However, even beyond the outrageous nature of the quote itself, it's mere presence in the piece is even more telling. The article overall demonstrates ways that college men's attitudes are changing when it comes to sexual assault, mostly for the better. Yet even in such a relatively positive piece, there are still numerous bits of evidence of rape culture still present.

Herries's quote is perhaps the most egregious, but even in the article as a whole, it's clear that most of the men included in the piece are changing their behavior because they're afraid of disciplinary action, rather than because they're afraid of hurting a fellow human being. In one anecdote, for instance, a student abruptly stopped making out with a girl at a party because he had a sudden flash of the school's disciplinary policy and he was worried about his future. Not because he was worried he might hurt the girl in question, but because he was worried he might get in trouble for it. Can anyone say rape culture?

And because this is rape culture, even the modest gains described in this piece rub some people the wrong way. Rather than being happy that male students are starting to change their behavior in ways that will probably result in fewer sexual assaults on female students, Harvard's Medical School Psychologist William Pollak says, “Most males would never do anything to harm a young woman,” and that insists that instead of stopping predators, all the anti-sexual assault crackdowns are “starting to scare the heck out of the wrong people.”

Because apparently we live in a world where drawing attention to the fact that alcohol can make consent a tricky thing — or how reminding people that sex without consent is a crime — is a bad thing.

Personally, I don't see why it's bad if young men are a little afraid of scenarios where consent isn't clear — after all, women are afraid of those scenarios all the time. It would be nice if guys started to share that concern, even if it is out of fear of getting in trouble. Especially since some guys still apparently think that inflicting on someone the deep psychological damage that frequently comes with sexual assault is comparable to having a bike stolen.

It's good that some men are changing their behavior, and it's even better that many of them are starting to think seriously about what consent means and what it looks like, no matter what their motivation may be. Still, when a piece about things changing for the better still includes so many clear examples of rape culture, it's clear we have a long way to go.