We've reached the point where simply disagreeing with someone is not enough. One must both disagree and name-call to really get the point across.
One of the best examples of this kind of reaction comes from those who really, really want to believe that American colleges are the worst places for women on earth, despite evidence that not only are rapes and sexual assaults not the norm on college campuses, but also that they are more likely to occur off-campus.
Some students at Oberlin College have taken to their school's newspaper to write their opposition to American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, who will be speaking at the college Monday night at the invitation of the school's College Republicans. Because the students (and some local groups) disagree with Hoff Sommers' viewpoint about the prevalence of campus sexual assault, they have called her a "rape denialist."
"A rape denialist is someone who denies the prevalence of rape and denies known causes of it," the students wrote. "Christina Hoff Sommers believes that rape occurs less often than statistics (those which actually leave out a plethora of unreported rapes) suggest. She also believes that false rape accusations are a rampant issue and that intoxication and coercion cannot rightly be considered barriers to consent."
The studies purportedly showing a "prevalence of rape" for which the students are most likely referring have come under serious scrutiny in the past year, at long last — not just from Hoff Sommers but from one of the study's own authors who said it wasn't a representative sample. That's because sampling a small number of students at two universities is far from accurately portraying the American college experience.
Beyond that, the studies in question lump everything from "forced kissing" to rape into the same category to claim women were being sexually assaulted at an alarming rate. Even then, a forced kiss might be something as innocent as a stolen kiss from a misread signal to actively holding someone against their will to kiss them.
But because Hoff Sommers has looked into the information behind the scary headlines, she's a "rape denialist." She also hasn't shied away from the causes of rape: Mostly alcohol. It's just that the Oberlin students think the causes are misogyny.
As for false rapes being rampant, one can read any one of the nearly 70 lawsuits against universities by students accused of sexual assault to see the issue isn't one of cut-and-dried violent rape, but more of a he said/she said, alcohol-infused event for which the truth is often subjective. (By contrast, over 100 schools are being investigated by the Department of Education for failing to address the concerns of the accuser. Both lists are growing rapidly.)
The Oberlin students claim that because Hoff Sommers doesn't agree with them, she's harmful.
"By denying rape culture, she's creating exactly the cycle of victim/survivor blame, where victims are responsible for the violence that was forced upon them and the subsequent shame that occurs when survivors share their stories, whose existence she denies," the students wrote. "This is how rape culture flourishes. By bringing her to a college campus laden with trauma and sexualized violence and full of victims/survivors, [Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians] is choosing to reinforce this climate of denial/blame/shame that ultimately has real life consequences on the well-being of people who have experienced sexualized violence."
Oberlin's student population of nearly 3,000 students is not "laden with trauma and sexualized violence," as the students suggest. The Department of Education's crime statistics for the school show that in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, there was just one report of a forcible sexual offense. The definition of a "Sex offense — forcible," according to the Department is: "Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person's will; or not forcibly or against the person's will where the victim is incapable of giving consent."
And reports of forcible sexual acts have been declining on Oberlin in recent years. In 2011 there were 10 reports, in 2012 there were eight. Now, the students writing this letter against Hoff Sommers could say that the drop is due to students not wanting to report (despite the decades-long awareness campaign and advocacy groups). Another view is that sexual assault is not as prevalent at Oberlin as activists would have you believe. It's a difference of opinion.
I'm all for these students holding an alternate event to dispute something on which they disagree. I find their suggestion that "a decision not to support survivors/victims is a decision to permit the actions of the perpetrators" to be a bit odd.
Everyone supports survivors and victims. What Hoff Sommers and others like myself don't support is the idea that every accuser is a victim because they claim to be one. We've seen time and time again that the cases on college campuses are usually (not always, but usually) not violent rapes but drunken hookups between two college kids who both have a case for sexual assault (if the accuser is too drunk to consent then the accused would have a counterclaim in an unbiased system).
Campus sexual assault needs a serious discussion. To solve the problem, we can't rely on name-calling or false but frightening statistics any more than we can rely on a student's account that "she wanted it." The current system isn't doing justice to either side and that must be recognized.