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University News

Forum sparks tense sexual assault debate

Forum veers from dealing with sexual assault on campuses, focuses on rape culture in United States

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wendy McElroy, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, argued in a debate Tuesday that rape culture does not exist. Jessica Valenti, founder of, put the onus on society to counter rape culture.

“How many of you came tonight knowing exactly who I am and thinking you know exactly what I’m going to say?” asked Wendy McElroy, research fellow at the Independent Institute, kicking off her 20-minute talk and setting a tense tone for a highly anticipated Janus Forum debate on sexual assault that filled around three-quarters of Salomon 101.

McElroy’s impending arrival on College Hill spawned controversy across campus. President Christina Paxson sent out a community-wide email Friday publicizing her personal disagreement with McElroy’s widely reported assertion that rape culture does not exist in the United States and cannot be used to explain individual incidents of sexual assault.

The talk, titled “How Should Colleges Handle Sexual Assault?” largely deviated from the Janus Forum’s stated purpose for the event, centering instead on the question of whether rape culture exists, and then on the implications of the phenomenon for victims and perpetrators of sexual assault. The speakers also touched on how the debate over rape culture affects the disciplinary process for accused students.

Some students protested the event or attended alternatives, such as a University-organized presentation by Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Lindsay Orchowski, titled “Research on Rape Culture.” But others came to challenge McElroy’s views. “I don’t think that you can just shy away with something you disagree with —you need to understand it better so you can refute it better,” said Kate Ferguson ’18, who is involved with Feminists at Brown.

McElroy used personal experience to lay the groundwork for an argument that places more emphasis on individual, rather than cultural, explanations of rape.

“I was raped and brutally so … I did not blame society. I did not blame the culture. I blamed the man who raped me,” McElroy said.

But Jessica Valenti, who offered her opposing perspective in a 20-minute presentation after McElroy’s, expressed frustration that some continue to question rape culture’s existence, adding that the debate leaves her “exhausted.”

The contrast between the tones of the two speakers was striking. McElroy was defensive from the outset, commencing her talk by explaining that she has personally experienced sexual violence, identifies as a feminist and would not tolerate any claims that she belittles survivors. But Valenti seemed calmer, with her first statement affirmed by light applause from the crowd.

Valenti highlighted several recent cases as evidence that American culture “gives rapists a social license to operate.” In one case, a lawyer described an 11-year-old victim of gang rape as a “spider” who lured men into raping her.

McElroy said rape culture exists in places like parts of Afghanistan where “women are married against their will” and “murdered for men’s honor” but not in North America, where “rape is a crime that’s severely punished.”

What’s more, those who politicize rape and assert the existence of rape culture imply that all men are guilty or that the accused do not deserve due process, McElroy said.

It is unacceptable that men can now be disciplined for rape through college hearings based on a preponderance of evidence rather than the traditional criminal justice standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “Let’s not build justice for women on injustice for men,” McElroy said, closing her talk.

Valenti never tackled the question of whether a preponderance of evidence or guilt beyond a reasonable doubt should be the standard for conviction of men in college hearings, but she did talk about other aspects of sexual assault as it relates to college campuses, such as the fact that alcohol plays a role in most sexual assault incidents.

“Alcohol is not the problem,” Valenti said, chuckling at the notion. “What we need to discuss is the way rapists use alcohol as a weapon to attack and then discredit their victims.” Rapists benefit from others’ insistence that a victim’s inebriation is to blame for his or her assault, she added.

Both speakers addressed how students might move forward in eliminating rape and sexual assault on campus.

“Stopping someone from telling a rape joke or saying they got ‘raped’ by a test” would be a start, Valenti said, but she also urged students to hold university administrators responsible for addressing rape on campus.

Noting that Columbia and Barnard College students have recently written the names of accused student rapists on the walls of their schools’ buildings, Valenti said, “While I can’t officially suggest that you vandalize school property, I’m not against radical action.”

Valenti expressed optimism for students and activists’ ability to combat rape culture and eliminate sexual assault on college campuses. She cited one encouraging sign as students helping Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz carry a mattress around as a symbol of the burden she bears while Columbia allows her rapist to remain on campus, Valenti added.

Having already voiced concerns about the way male students are treated in the hearing process at universities, McElroy said “Rape is a criminal offense; go to the police,” adding, “It’s not an infraction of college policy; maybe the police do a piss-poor job but they do a better job than bureaucrats, academics, many of whom are ideologically biased.”

“If students want to make a difference in the justice with which rape victims are treated, then you should be protesting at police departments and outside courtrooms,” McElroy said, adding that in doing so, “students …wouldn’t just be helping (themselves), (they) would be helping every woman in America.”

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  1. It suits Chris Paxson to have publicity about big debate on campus. She can appear to be doing something, while she does nothing and intends to do nothing. Brown rape victims will rot.

    • Okay okay, I just don’t get it. Why all this hostility and disrespect towards Paxson? As an alum, I just don’t understand why all this negativity towards Paxson… “Brown rape victims will rot.” This is opinion, not fact… Plenty of comments in other sections have brought some questions about rape… is it really rape or regretted intercourse?

      Even so, why does the president of the university deserve this treatment? Even if your opinion is different, that doesn’t entitle you to deride anyone like this…

      • Reality Check says:

        They’re still butthurt about not divesting from coal. Paxon can do nothing right for the rest of her tenure after that.

      • she publicly denounces the student protesters at the ray kelly thing, and now goes and creates another event because she doesn’t agree with what the speaker has to say. paxson is a clown.

  2. “I was raped and brutally so … I did not blame society. I did not blame the culture. I blamed the man who raped me,” McElroy said….What’s more, those who politicize rape and assert the existence of rape culture imply that all men are guilty or that the accused do not deserve due process, McElroy said.
    This understanding of rape culture is severely limited. Rape culture is not meant to explain what CAUSES assaults, but rather to explain how and why they can happen again and again and again. McElroy is entirely correct that individuals perpetrate assault and that they should be individually blamed for their actions; I do not know a SINGLE feminist who thinks otherwise, whether they agree more with McElroy or Valenti in other issues.
    Furthermore, research by psychologists like David Lisak in fact indicates a very small number of men (~6%) commit the vast number of assaults on women, on average 4 to 5 before being caught. The vast majority of us will never commit sexual assault, and rape culture operates on that understanding.

    • So what exactly constitutes “rape culture” then? Making crass remarks about being “raped by a test”? I fail to see how rape culture is the reason that rape occurs repeatedly and how addressing this rape culture is the best way to combat campus rape. I think it’s telling that Ms. Valenti never addressed how the legal and university adjudication systems should respond to allegations of campus sexual assault/rape. Even RAINN admits that “rape is not caused by cultural factors, but by a small number of predatory individuals.” The existence of rape culture is a moot point because rape culture simply does not explain why sexual assaults happen.

      I truly do not understand how rape culture affects the rate of re-incidence of rape. If anything, the fact that these cases aren’t tried in the criminal justice system is the real reason. The worst punishment a university can hand out is expulsion, at which point the (presumably) predatory individual simply goes to another school and commits the same crime. The largest injustice to sexual assault victims comes from the policy that allows the university to handle the incident and doesn’t expressly direct all proceedings to the criminal justice system.

      • “Rape culture” is a social/cultural billy-club invented by women’s studies “scholars” and acolytes of Andrea Dworkin to decree all penis-in-vagina sex (PIV) as rape. Rape culture does not really exist outside the boundaries of liberal arts colleges with overbearing and bossy women’s studies professors.

  3. Lorrainemcdonnell says:

    Women fear rape. More than any other offense (including murder, assault, and robbery).
    It is overwhelmingly a fear of stranger rape. Although acquaintance rape is much more prevalent. Stranger rape is instilled in women when they are girls.
    Some believe this fear is a form of social control. Keeping women in check and restricting
    their movements.
    Rape Culture myths only perpetuate rape fear and reinforces these social controls.
    Above all else.
    Women must be free from the Fear of Rape.

    • the same way all black men fear getting shot by the cops for no reason? that kind of fear?

      • It is not a statistically reasonable inference in the same way.

        If you look at any study of rape, it is overwhelmingly committed between people that know each other and behind closed doors (80%+). This is contrast to police violently harming black in a disproportionate number, which is verifiable by almost every single study on policing.

        Pretty much it is a narrative backed up by the abundance of acts of violence against women without providing any context for their violence.

      • Butter Balls says:

        Yes, just like that. Only a tiny number of black men are shot by cops and the majority of those are armed criminals. So, living a life curtailed by a fear of something very unlikely to happen is damaging, no matter how egregious certain cases are. Any person, white or black, male or female, is far more likely to die in a car accident or at the hands of their own social group, not from an outsider or government official.

    • female alum says:

      That is absurd. Women fear rape BECAUSE they fear death. Talk to any woman who has been violently raped and her biggest fear was that she would be murdered.

  4. MikeyArmstrong says:

    I love how the right turns any mention of a rape culture into an attack on all men. Guilty conscience much?

    • Janet Wilkinson says:

      Or could it be that the very definition of rape culture by retarded feminists contains essentially rhetoric saying all men are rapists. You only have to look at the posters constantly published by feminists and the obviously sexist man hating nature of them to understand why people quite rightly associate feminists as man hating scum that should be just ignored. There is no guilt, just shock at how ignorant and brainwashed feminists are.

    • Robert Riversong says:

      This is what is meant by “rape culture”:

      “Rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire.” – Robin Morgan, editor of Ms Magazine, whose book Sisterhood Is Powerful (1970) was been widely credited with helping to start the second wave feminist movement in the US and was cited by the New York Public Library as one of the 100 most influential books of the 20th Century. Morgan is also famous for stating “I feel that man-hating is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist (1978)

      “The social requirements of heterosexuality… institutionalizes male sexual dominance and female sexual submission… For women it is difficult to distinguish [sex and rape] under conditions of male dominance.” – Catherine MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: Toward Feminist Jurisprudence (1983)

      “Feminism is built on believing women’s accounts of sexual use and abuse by men … Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated.” – Dr. Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified (1987)

      “Sexual violence includes any physical, visual, verbal or sexual act that is experienced by the woman or girl, at the time or later, as a threat, invasion or assault that has the effect of hurting her or degrading her and/or taken away her ability to control intimate contact.” – Dr. Liz Kelly, Surviving Sexual Violence (1991)

      “The American dating system, which constitutes a primary source of heterosexual contacts, legitimizes the consensual ‘purchase’ of women as sexual objects and obliterates the crucial distinction between consent and nonconsent.” – Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger, The Female Fear (1989)

  5. Was McElroy’s rapist prosecuted? Did she even press charges?

  6. Earl of Sandwich says:

    “”ome students protested the event or attended alternatives, such as a
    University-organized presentation by Professor of Psychiatry and Human
    Behavior Lindsay Orchowski, titled “Research on Rape Culture.”””

    The intellectual equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going “nyah nyah nyah nyah not listening not listening nyah nyah nyah nyah”

  7. Janet Wilkinson says:

    Rape culture doesnt exist, just as the patriarchy doesnt exist. When are feminists going to learn adults don’t listen to their childish little names they keep making up….

  8. Robert Riversong says:

    Describing the very reasonable McElroy as “defensive” and the self-declared radical Valenti as “calm” seems to indicate the bias or this reporter.

    But, if McElroy was somewhat defensive, that would be perfectly understandable in the context of the college president stating before hand her opposition to McElroy’s position and the school organizing an “alternative” presentation on rape culture for those who can’t stomach real debate, as well as a “safe space” for those who are too infantilized and emotionally fragile to deal with the real world of intellectual differences.

    Velanti has been one of the worst propagandists of the “rape culture” myth, while McElroy is one of the most consistently rational voices on the issue.

    For the backstory on the way the meme of “rape culture” was created from misandric feminist ideology and eventually insinuated into almost every facet of US society, including nearly every media story on the “epidemic” of campus sexual assault, see: All Sex is Rape – All Men are Rapists: Patriarchy = Rape Culture

  9. Robert Riversong says:

    No surprise that Jessica “rape culture” Valenti would see the popularity of Emma Sulkowicz’s school-sanctioned act of sexual harassment (aka her senior art thesis) as an “encouraging sign”.

    For the full story on Emma “The Mattress” Sulkowicz’s unwarranted national celebrity status, see A Model of Campus Gender-Based Harassment: The Columbia University “Mattress” Story

  10. Given the pro-Valenti tone of the article, I’m assuming the author and the Brown Daily Herald will be delighted to let us hear Valenti’s musings for ourselves by releasing the video footage that Valenti has demanded be stripped from the internet.

  11. Chris Robotham says:

    “She cited one encouraging sign as students helping Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz carry a mattress around as a symbol of the burden she bears while Columbia allows her rapist to remain on campus, Valenti added.”

    Either note that “her rapist” was a quote from Valenti, or comment that it is an *alleged rape* (and a publicly disputed one, I might add, and rightfully so). But then again, the BDH has a penchant for complying with the demands of cultural Marxists at the expense of upholding the principles of responsible journalism, so I’m not optimistic here.

  12. Butter Balls says:

    The bias in this article is horrendous.

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