‘Active consent’ is a solution to an exaggerated problem By Naomi Schaefer Riley
In his order Thursday to the SUNY trustees that they overhaul the school’s sexual-assault policy, Gov. Cuomo explained that sexual consent “is active, not passive . . . Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent.” If you thought dorms were loud before, just wait til everyone is shouting “Yes, Yes, YES!”
Just to be sure everyone’s on the same page, there’s even a new “sexual consent app” available on the iPhone that asks both partners if they are sober, exactly what they are consenting to and with whom.
The new SUNY rules, just like the ones passed last month for state schools in California, seem to imply that most of the sexual encounters that have taken place in human history were, well, rapes.
Our lawmakers seem to have decided that they can make sexual assault seem like a more urgent problem if they put as many people into the category of victims as possible. The “one in five” figure so often heard in referring to campus sexual assaults is absurd on its face. If our neighborhoods had those kind of rape statistics, we wouldn’t let our daughters leave the house. Why would we send them to college?
But Cuomo buys it: “There has been an epidemic of sexual violence in this country that is truly disturbing and is inarguable,” he said. Cuomo does not cite much evidence for his statement and far be it from me to argue with anything the governor says is “inarguable,” but in 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported 188,380 rapes and sexual assaults on females and males in the entire country.
That’s a rate of 0.05%.
You could say that one sexual assault is one too many, but it’s hard to call it an epidemic. Indeed, the number has declined from 248,250 in 2001.
What Cuomo means is that there is a lot of sexual contact on college campuses that wouldn’t happen if people were fully in control of their senses.
Just ask Lena Dunham. Or don’t, she’ll tell you anyway.
In a recent interview with Howard Stern, Dunham recounts an experience in which she “had been drunk and taken a Xanax” and then went from voluntarily kissing a guy to having other sexual contact with him she didn’t want.
Did she say she didn’t want to have sex with him? No. In fact, Dunham says she talked dirty to him at one point, to convince herself she was making a choice. The somewhat fuzzy story, the basis of an essay in Dunham’s new book, ends when she goes to a doctor and “implies” that she was raped.
Commentators have suggested this tale is an example of why we need affirmative consent. Yet Dunham, talking dirty to him, gave it. She suggests she was too drunk for consent, yet she recalls making conscious decisions. The point of the story seems to be that she wished she had said no. Is regret now rape?
Strikingly, Dunham tells Stern, “What’s missing from the sexual assault conversation is that every guy that crosses the line isn’t a ‘straight villain.’ ” Well, no. It doesn’t sound like this man is some kind of serial rapist. Dunham is correct that the men who — let’s face it — are often drunk themselves during these encounters, don’t rank very high on the list of the world’s evildoers.
But perhaps that is a distinction that the media and politicians need to make just a bit more often. Because out there in the real world where not every experience is fodder for a book of essays, there are men who do actually commit serious crimes against women.
Authorities in Virginia are now entering their third week of a search for Hannah Graham, the University of Virginia student who was last seen at a bar near her apartment complex in Charlottesville. A suspect in custody has been linked with DNA evidence to the death of another woman whose body was found in a nearby field. At least four other women have gone missing there since 2009. It’s not an epidemic, but if you are a woman in Charlottesville or the parent of one, it is cause for grave concern. The men who are sexually assaulting women, abducting them and murdering them actually are “villains.”
It’s not clear that there is anything more that our political leaders could do to ensure the capture and prosecution of men like this. But by pretending that our campus sex problem is part of some kind of serious crime wave in which women are the victims is inexcusable.
When everyone’s a rapist, no one is.