27 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 13, 2016
This essay, written for the Kansas Law Review Symposium on Campus Sexual Assault, critically analyzes “anti-rape culture” ― a set of empirical claims about rape’s prevalence, causes, and effects and a set of normative ideas about sex, gender, and institutional authority ― which has heralded a new era of discipline, in all senses of the word, on college campuses. In the past few years, publicity about the campus rape crisis has created widespread anxiety, despite the fact that incidents of sexual assault have generally declined and one-in-four-type statistics have been around for decades. The recent surge of interest is due less to an escalation of rape culture than to a new found anti-rape culture ― a distinctly feminist rape intolerance. Feminist political activism is normally ground for progressive rejoicing and, indeed, society should be rape intolerant. However, here, one might wonder whether feminism has reincarnated as a single-issue movement that centers on punishing sex ranging from violent to ambiguous and embraces illiberal positions and institutions. The essay focuses on the costs of anti-rape culture’s construction of the status quo as one in which at least a quarter of college women will be brutalized by a sexual predator and left traumatized, possibly for life. In addition to creating the risk that the sex that college women inevitably have is a minefield of mental distress, the rhetorical strategy has other costs, including punitive over-correction, bureaucratic management of students stripped of their subjectivity, and speech restrictions. In the end, the essay counsels reformers to be cautious lest their commendable concern for safety and equality creates a culture in which drunken sex is ruinous to women, administrative power distributes burdens randomly, or worse, to marginalized men, and silence is the norm in an area desperate for open discussion.
Keywords: Rape, Sexual Assault, Title IX, Campus Sexual Assault, Feminism, Rape Culture, Trauma, Trigger Warnings
JEL Classification: K14, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation