Karin Mitchell's books on Goodreads
Between Families Between Families
reviews: 5
ratings: 8 (avg rating 4.75)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I was listening to a story on NPR this morning. They were talking about rape on college campuses and talking about how it came about that it became the college's responsibility to deal with the issue.

Essentially what happened was that this 19 year old girl was raped and killed her in dorm room around 20-25 years ago. Her parents lobbyed for and got a law passed that requires college campuses to disclose to parents and prospective students all reports of crime that occurs on campus. The thought is that no one will go to school at the violent schools and it puts it on the schools to make their college safe.

When I first turned it on, they were talking about this young woman who had been drunk at a party and had 2 guys walk her home who then raped her. She passed in and out of consciousness throughout the act. Prior to this incident, she had been a virgin in a 4 year relationship.

The girl talked about how she hadn't intially thought of it as rape. Until, she was in a lecture one day where the professor was talking about rape as a method of terror used in war times. The professor sharply turned the discussion to campus rapes and talked to the students about how they could and should report the rape to the dean.

This young woman went straight from class to the dean. The boys said it was consensual, and the case went no where.

My freshman year of college, a good, good friend of mine was involved in a similar situation. Probably one of you was too. The odds are good/bad. They say 1/5 college girls is raped.

So my friend didn't tell anyone at first. It was a guy she was friends with. She slept with quite a few boys that year, regardless of the very attractive and attentive boyfriend she'd left back on the farm. But later she told me, and another friend of ours. Outwardly I was supportive. But inside, I wasn't sure if I believed her.

She was stupid enough to get that drunk. She probably just had sex with him and then regretted it. One part of me seemed to say. But the other side knew she was a friend and that it was likely that she was right. She'd been honest about the other atrocious sexual mistakes she'd made. Why would she lie about this one?

So while I struggled with whether I fully believed her or not, he kept at it. Rumors began floating my way that this guy had done it to other girls. Many other girls.

And my doubts faded out as the rumors grew and took up residence. The last night before we all packed it up and left for the summer, I went out with my girlfriends. We got piss ass drunk and played drink or dare poker. It involved finding a strange guy off the street to wear a tail we made for him, someone wearing longerie to smoke a cigarette and I may have peed on a fire hydrant. (which as a side bar is a bad idea. Not like peeing on a snowy carhood is a bad idea, that's a sliding problem. This is more of a spraying problem. Yuck. I have terrible ideas sometimes.)

We went out to some parties and on our way home we found the little rapist himself. We yelled at him. We taunted him. We started slowly and cornered him. Knocked him down. Punched and kicked him. Tormented him. He denied everything, made disparaging comments and I lost it. I don't remember all this real clearly, but I do remember that we beat him up. Maybe pretty badly. I remember kicking him while he was on the ground and screaming something like "Do you like being taken advantage of when you're too drunk to defend yourself?" He was drunk.

I should feel bad about this but I don't. I feel like we supported her. She cried afterwards and smiled and thanked us. She got to confront him. Which was more important than the beating. But the beating felt good. Righteous.

But our violence likely did not stop Barry from doing this to other girls. Younger girls. He'd certainly spent his freshman year learning how to take advantage of freshman girls and I wouldn't guess this made him stop. But who knows. I transferred.

Anyway, as I was listening to the NPR story, I thought of what college campuses could do to lower than number of rapes on college campuses. I don't think it has a thing to do with the girls. Yeah, we shouldn't get hammered around boys we don't know, or put ourselves in bad situations, blahblahblamethevictim, nothelpfulblahblah.

Ever notice when there's a moral to these college rape stories that its always about what the woman should have done differently?

Unless I'm mistaken, its rarely the woman who did the raping, why are we always talking to women then?

When my brother and I were teenagers, my mom had conversations with us about rape. My brother had a friend in high school who was raped. I never knew the details but I think her rape sparked some discussion about the boundaries of where consent stops and rape begins.

My mom didn't just talk to me. Didn't just warn me to be aware of my surroundings and careful of who I trusted and how much I drank. She talked to my brother too. She talked about how its a man's responsibility to be sure that the woman he has sex with is able to consent. If she's really, really drunk, he should say no. Because it could come back to bite him later. Even if it seems like she's consenting. She's in no position to consent.

Why aren't the colleges having these discussions with men?

I can imagine if this were any other kind of crime, we wouldn't be focused on the victims. We'd be focused on how to stop it by stopping the people committing the crime.

What if this had been a very different news story? A story where Barry got up and told how he'd had sex with my friend and thought it was ok because she was drunk but who cares, right? Because his big brother at his fraternity had said it was no big deal and he's older and done it a hundred times so why make such a deal about it?

And maybe that would spark another boy talking about how he'd been acused because this girl one time didn't want to but he convinced her. And then some other guy might pipe in about how that happened to his sister and she got pregnant and it ruined her soccer scholarship or whatever. Or there might be a professor there to guide the discussion and say what men really should do in these situations. Try and explain what is and isn't ok. Call them out, let them know where the moral compass needle points.

But that's too radical for a college campus, right? Maybe we should stick to our 1/5 success rate of blaming the victims and telling girls what to do to keep themselves safe and then verbally lashing them when what they do doesn't work. But 1/5 doesn't seem like a very high success rate. I slipped through, barely. But some others didn't. And I'm not really in the habit of leaving my girls behind.


Lucy said...

I think young men should be talked to but unfortunately I do believe that rape is about something else other than sex, so in all honesty a rapist needs serious therapy. Therefore, talking to women is not necessarily blaming the victim it is more empowering women and giving them tools in order to not be a target for a rapist. Rapist look for the perfect victim to satisfy their need and if women have the tools then they can avoid being the target. At least that is my thinking.
But, I do believe that young men should get the boundary speech, it just prepares them better for life too.

Kristina said...

Maybe there is something inherently and seriously wrong with all rapists. On the other hand, society has an influence. If we suggest that rape is women's fault, men think they are justified in raping, and the fact that so many do it makes it seem more like a societal problem than an individual problem. If even women believe that other women deserve to be raped, then how can we expect men not to?

Matthew said...

I check your page hoping for some light hearted friday quotes and read something far more powerful. I remember these things well and mom's advice has proved invaluably useful. I did have to use it once. I could have slept with a really amazing, but drunk girl with a boyfriend. I have never regretted saying no to her. I think you might have told me about the study about child molesters being able to identify their best potential victims by photos alone. I bet the same holds true for rapists. I agree with Lucy that there needs to be more done to give women the tools to not be targets.

Silly Swedish Skier Says So said...

I reread my post and realize that it makes it sound like I'm saying don't tell women what to do to protect themselves. That's not what I mean. I've learned all kinds of useful tidbits about how to avoid becoming a victim: about how wearing a ponytail can make you a target, about putting your keys in your hand in a way that allows you to immediately use them as a weapon, about not running the same route at the same time every day. And I use these tips. In college, I didn't drink much the first term because I wasn't sure who I was drinking with. Were these girls who would forget and leave me to walk home alone? Were these men who would trap me in some room? I was very careful. But I also know I was lucky.

I think Matthew's comment highlights the usefulness of talking to men as well as women. But yes, I do think we need to talk to women. Both to tell them how to try to protect themselves and to tell them how to support each other.

ruthlittle said...

There are colleges that talk about this with their students, male and female. I go to a small liberal arts college on the west coast, and during orientation freshman year, there are several lectures dealing with consent and sexuality, as well as discussion groups (one for men and one for women) to talk about how rape can be prevented on campus.

I'm afraid I don't have the data to tell you whether or not it is successful, but it certainly seems like a step forward.