As we had noted in a previous post five years ago, rape and sexual assault is a persistent epidemic in the USA, including (but not limited to) college campuses nationwide. Lately, the chattering classes have been endlessly wringing their hands about it for years, but little real progress has been made in recent years, and since the Trump administration began we seem to have even regressed a bit in that regard, the #MeToo movement notwithstanding.
Most rapes and sexual assaults, especially those involving college students on or near campus, are committed by people known to the victim, and many if not most of those involve alcohol to one degree or another, whether by the perpetrator, the victim, or both. We should first and foremost note that the only thing that actually causes rape is the rapists themselves, period. While alcohol (among other substances) can indeed fuel it and is often used as a weapon to incapacitate victims, rape would simply not happen without rapists, period. And the onus should always fall on men not to rape in the first place, instead of falling on women not to "get themselves raped". The fact that so many people still deny such an obvious truth in 2018 shows just how far we have yet to go towards eliminating or even reducing this epidemic, and those who blame or otherwise put the onus on potential or actual victims are in fact part of the problem.
We seriously need to drain the proverbial swamp of rape culture, yesterday, and thus revoke the rapists' social license to operate. Culturally, we need to tackle the root causes of sexual violence by rejecting the highly toxic "commodity model" of sexuality and replacing it with the "performance model" (while also avoiding the negative connotations and pitfalls of the word "performance"), and more generally rejecting the "dominator model" of society and replacing it with the "partnership model". And for alcohol, we need to recognize that while adopting a "Prohibition-Lite" approach of any sort is most likely to backfire and would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, its link with sexual violence still needs to be dealt with in the meantime as cultural changes can take much time to occur.
So what measures can be taken in the very near term to quickly reduce or at least take the dangerous edge off of this seemingly intractable epidemic? The reader may or may not like the answer, but here goes:
- Lower the legal drinking age to 18, yesterday, full stop. The 21 drinking age makes drinking that much more dangerous than it has to be by forcing it underground, which can put young drinkers in more dangerous situations that increase the risk of sexual assault, and the law itself can be used as a cudgel to silence victims.
- Raise the tax on alcoholic beverages, both federally as well as at the state and local level (especially in college towns), with extra levies on bulk alcohol such as kegs, cases, and handles. Studies have shown a significant inverse correlation between alcohol prices and rape in general.
- Legalize cannabis for everyone 18 and older, yesterday. Cannabis is clearly the safer choice in that regard, as it is highly unlikely to fuel violence or be used as a date-rape drug the way that alcohol all too often is.
- Pass "Yes Means Yes" laws (aka affirmative consent laws) similar to California's. If properly written, these laws will essentially eliminate the concept of so-called "gray area rape" by putting the onus on the initiator of sexual activity to be sure that they actually have consent before proceeding further.
- Last but not least, hold the perpetrators accountable for a change, no matter how powerful or privileged they happen to be. That includes enforcing both criminal laws as well as campus conduct policies to the fullest extent of the law. No more Brock Turners.
As for "Yes Means Yes" laws, there has been quite a bit of confusion, contention, and obfuscation among the chattering classes as to what such laws really are. To reiterate the difference between different types of rape laws, the following is a good summary:
Force standard (archaic): No Means Yes
Consent standard (current): No Means No
Affirmative consent standard: Yes Means Yes
MacDworkinist standard: Yes Means No
The third item on the list, the affirmative consent standard, is the one that we support. The archaic force standard is problematic for obvious reasons, while "No Means No" is necessary and important but NOT sufficient. The essential difference between the "No Means No" and "Yes Means Yes" is that in the former, the default answer is "yes", and in the latter, the default answer is "no". That's it. And the MacDworkinist standard is, to put it mildly, a logistical nightmare at best and a dystopian kettle of fish at worst, not to mention infantilizing and agency-denying to women. We would never support that.
Doing these things will go a long way towards reducing the rape and sexual assault epidemic in the near term. Anything less would be uncivilized. So what are we waiting for?