When my sons went to college, they worried about all sorts of things — would they make friends, would they meet girls, would they be homesick, would they like their classes and would they do okay in them. They wondered about dorm food, having enough money and figuring
out when they’d get sleep.
They never worried about being accused of rape.
I’d like to think that’s because they had learned from me and their dad about respect for women. But I suspect they never thought about it.
You probably haven’t thought about it either.
When I say “rape,” I’m not talking about putting on a ski mask and jumping someone in a dark alley. I’m talking about going on a date, thinking about “getting some,” hoping the female is interested and maybe she seems to be but isn’t quite ready, or isn’t into it that night, or is too wasted to decide. But, the guy finds a way to have sex with her anyway, even though she never says yes.
Most of you would never do this. Still, this kind of rape happens, a lot, explained away with “hey, I paid for dinner,” or “of course she wanted it.” Usually the perpetrators are serial offenders. Consider this study of a random sample of 1,882 male students at U-Mass Boston in the 1990s. All participated voluntarily; the researchers never used the word “rape.” Instead they asked behavioral questions such as: “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated . . . to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?” The subjects were asked whether they used any physical force, such as holding the person down.
Researchers identified 120, or 6.4% of the subjects as “undetected rapists.” Nearly two-thirds were repeat offenders; together they were responsible for at least 439 rapes. None of those rapes was ever reported.
Sometimes members of a fraternity develop a pattern and teach it to others. They target first year females who seem naive and would be flattered to be invited to a party. They make a potent punch and doctor it with lots of fruit juice and systematically get the woman drunk as fast as possible. Then they maneuver her to a room and get busy, holding her down if necessary. You can actually watch a tape describing the technique.
The person represented in that tape regarded himself as a nice guy.
You’ll run into guys like this. And you can help stop it. You can refuse to laugh or go along with sexist put-downs of women. You can question men whose definition of manhood includes “scoring” and boasting about it. In matters of rape, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander.
You can also become aware of how many songs, ads, films reduce women to body parts and define sex as something men are entitled to – and dig deep to see how that culture has impacted your own thinking.
If your college does not offer a program to prevent sexual assault, find others who want to get one started. Colleges that receive federal funds, and almost all do except for private religious colleges, have a responsibility under Title IX to be proactive against campus date rape. If the college offers a program but focuses on teaching female students ways to avoid getting raped, you can help change the focus to the responsibilities of male students.
Here’s an important yet easy thing: It’s almost inevitable that one or more young women you know have already experienced some form of sexual assault. They’ve been taught that no one will believe them, that they invited it or wanted it or didn’t do enough to make it stop. They need to know there are friends like you who will believe and support them.
College can be awesome. Have fun, love learning, embrace the opportunity to get to know people different from you. And as you grow into manhood, be that guy who doesn’t just reject violence against women, but works to stop it.
*Note: I’m writing this specifically for heterosexual men. Some of the advice may be useful for same-sex relationships as well.
This op ed appeared August 31 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/a-open-letter-to-young-men-headed-off-to-college-b99566165z1-323275591.html