Charlotte Hays

In response to the notion that there is a “rape culture” on campus, the California state legislature is on the verge of passing a bill that drastically redefines our notion of what constitutes rape. It moves the ill-advised into the category of a serious criminal act.

Consider this scene: Sally says “yes” to Steve, albeit with misgivings. Despite her reluctance, she allows the act to proceed to its conclusion, without making it clear that she would prefer to be anywhere else. Steve may be an insensitive cad. But is he a rapist? If the bill passes, as is likely, and becomes law in California—yes.

Just to be clear: We have nothing good to say about Steve, and we don’t take this situation lightly. We would give Sally a stern talking to about letting herself get into such a compromising situation, but we're in her corner. We’d tell everybody we know to avoid Steve. Still, designating Steve a rapist or assailant is simply not a true interpretation of what actually happened.

Not only is it unfair to Steve, who is, to say the least, in need of a wake-up call, but it is unfair to Sally. She becomes in the view of the college authorities essentially a doormat who is not responsible for her own behavior. This, my feminist friends, is not female empowerment.

But it may be the logical response to the Obama administration’s promotion of the idea that there is a “rape culture” on campus. The administration is pushing a widely-debunked statistic that one-in-five women on campus—20 percent—is the victim of sexual assault. “We’ve got your back. I’ve got your back,” President Obama tells American college girls on a federal website devoted to curbing sexual assault.

I’d like to believe all of us care deeply about female students who are victims of sexual assault, but unfortunately the administration is setting up a system that actually encourages colleges and universities, at the risk of losing public money, to report a higher number of sexual assaults on campus. It behooves a college to report a high number because, otherwise, it does not appear to be looking out for female students. Colleges are thus inclined to lump together ambiguous situations, including many variations of young women and men coupling while under the influence of alcohol, with forcible rape conducted under the threat of harm.


Charlotte Hays

Director of Cultural Programs at the Independent Women's Forum.