She Was Asking For It

By Paul Gaita 10/02/14

Campus rape and the media's "Blame The Victim" movement.


It would have been almost reassuring to think that Bill Frezza’s column, “Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threats to Fraternities,” which earned him a dismissal from Forbes for placing the blame on female partygoers for sexual assault allegations on college campuses, was an aberration, a one-time and totally wrong-headed opinion on a grave and consistent threat against women college students across America. Unfortunately, Frezza’s jaw-dropping thesis was just one of several such articles and statements made in recent months by seemingly intelligent individuals – writers, media figures and even college administrators – which attempted to place blame for college sexual assaults on the women who endured them. 

Let’s begin by dismissing the immediate assumption that all of these statements were made by conservative white males. One of the most galling essays that adhered to the blame-the-victim argument came from a woman, Emily Yoffe, who writes the “Dear Prudence” advice column for Slate. Her 2013 article, “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” admonished women for inviting sexual assault by consuming too much alcohol and earned her a tidal wave of reproach from the online community. Conversely, one of the most heartfelt testimonies about the dangers faced by female college students came from Gregg Jarrett of Fox News, who cited some of the starkest facts in regard to sexual assaults against women in college: nearly 20% of female college students have been the victim of sexual assault, while 41% of schools followed up complaints of such crimes with no actual investigation. 

Regardless of politics or gender, the daily news and opinion feed has shown that comments like these are not standalone statements or the work of crackpots. Case in point: Dr. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, former president of George Washington University, told National Public Radio that parents “need to educate [their] daughters and children” not to drink in excess because “you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much.” George Will’s column in the Washington Post took a similar tack while also attempting to lay the blame for the campus assault epidemic at the feet of a host of guilty parties, from intoxicated women and skewed research to the Obama administration and “progressivism.” And when the White House announced in April and May a series of strong measures aimed at both combating sexual assault and holding colleges accountable for the way they handle allegations, the National Review Online responded by suggesting that the “campus-rape epidemic could be stopped overnight if women’s advocates sent a simple message to girls: Don’t get drunk and get into bed with a guy whom you barely know. Keep your clothes on and go home to your own bed at night. And most controversially: Demand that any boy court you long enough to reveal his character and his respect for yours before you even think about having sex with him.”

These and other individuals who have made similar suggestions are not stupid people. Nor are they morally bereft, zealous prudes or just plain heartless. But it is difficult to comprehend such a stance when one considers the array of basic facts about sexual aggression and assault against women in college. These include:

▶ for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, it’s estimated that there are 35 incidents of rape each year;

▶ among college women, 9 in 10 victims of rape or sexual assault knew their offender;

▶ 33.7% of rapes occurred on campus grounds;

▶ and most alarmingly, less than 5% of rapes or attempted rapes of college women were reported to law enforcement or school officials. 

Whose fault is it? The argument is broader, more complex than pointing a finger at a single culprit. It is a systemic issue, rather than a cause-and-effect condition. But placing the blame on women’s presence in college and social situations only emboldens the concept of impending victimization that must be broken in order to affect serious change.

Paul Gaita is a Los Angeles-based writer. He has contributed to The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Amazon and The Los Angeles Beat, among other publications and sites. He last wrote about buying drugs online.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.