Sunday, January 04, 2015

The UVA Gang Rape that Wasn’t | National Review Online

The UVA Gang Rape that Wasn’t | National Review Online

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So I am having a hard time getting my head around something. All week people have been calling me a “rape apologist” and “pro-rape.” I’m being constantly informed that I don’t understand “rape culture.” These often hysterical accusations tend to come from people who seem to understand rape culture the same way some people understand the geopolitics of Westeros or Middle Earth: They’ve studied it, they know every detail about it, they just seem to have forgotten it doesn’t exist.

Now, hold on. I certainly believe rape happens. And I definitely believe we have cultural problems that lead to date rape and other drunken barbarisms and sober atrocities. But the term “rape culture” suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America. This simply strikes me as an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists. There’s definitely lots that is wrong with our culture, particularly youth culture and specifically campus culture. Sybaritic, crapulent, hedonistic, decadent, bacchanalian: choose your adjectives.

What is most remarkable about our problems is that they seem to take people by surprise. For instance, it would be commonsense to our grandmothers that some drunk men will do bad things, particularly in a moral vacuum, and that women should take that into account. I constantly hear that instead of lecturing women about their behavior we should teach men not to rape. I totally, completely, 100 percent agree that we should teach men not to rape. The problem is we do that. A lot. Maybe we should do it more. We also teach people not to murder -- another heinous crime. But murders happen too. That’s why we advise our kids to steer clear of certain neighborhoods at certain times and avoid certain behaviors. I’m not “pro-murder” if I tell my kid not to walk through the park at night and flash money around any more than I am pro-rape if I give her similar advice.

Tax Gallantry, Get Less Gallantry

Of course, the problem is that feminists want to expunge any notion that women are gentler and fairer. This requires declaring war on chivalric standards for male conduct, which were once a great bulwark against caddish and rapacious behavior. Take away the notion that men should be protective of women and they will -- surprise! -- be less protective of women.

None of this means we’d all be better off with women in corsets on fainting couches. (I like strong, assertive women so much I married one. I’m also the son of one, and I’m trying to raise another.) But somehow feminists have gotten themselves into the position of adopting the adolescent male’s fantasy of consequence-and-obligation-free sex as an ideal for women. Uncivilized and morally uneducated men have, for millennia, wanted to treat women like sluts. And now feminists have embraced the word as a badge of honor. Call me an old-fogey, but I think that’s weird.

What Rape Epidemic?

But I digress. As Roman Polanski said, let’s get back to the rape stuff. A lot of implausible things have to be true for rape culture to be the problem feminists claim it is. First, the statistics on forcible rape have to be really out of whack. Forcible rapes according to the FBI are heading towards a 40-year low. So there must be a lot of rapes going on that are not captured in those statistics. And there surely are. Some women understandably but lamentably don’t come forward. But for a “rape epidemic” and a “rape crisis,” never mind a “rape culture,” to exist there’d have to be more stigma against coming forward today than there was in the past. Anyone think that’s true? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

Oh, and if that is true, if the stigma against reporting sexual assaults is worse today than it was 40, 50, or 100 years ago, could there be a bigger indictment of the feminist project? The women’s-studies programs, the support groups and crisis centers, the public-education and sensitivity-training programs, movies like The Burning Bed and The Accused, the Lorena Bobbitt apologias and all those nights taken back: and women are now more scared to report being sexually assaulted? If that’s true, pack it up, ladies/womyn, and call it a day. You are complete and total failures. Collect your gold watches (or hemp tote bags) and walk off the public stage as we politely golf-clap your exit.

Jackie’s Tale

I probably should have said earlier why I am being called a “rape apologist.” I mean, if you didn’t know I’d written a column calling shenanigans on the Rolling Stone story about an alleged rape at UVA you might be understandably confused, even a little worried. (“Gosh, Jonah never seemed too rapey to me.”) If you haven’t read it you probably should so I don’t have to recap everything. I’ll wait.

So, basically, I simply don’t believe the Rolling Stone story is true. As I say in my column, I’m sure some of the author’s reporting is true. But I just don’t believe Jackie’s story as it’s told in the piece. I think the dialogue is absurd. I think the sequence of events is wildly implausible. And I think the overall picture the author paints is propagandistic, not reportorial. How often does a reporter set out to find the perfect horror story to advance her agenda and then, with remarkably little effort, have it handed to her? Again, I don’t just mean the rape allegation itself, but all that follows it. I’ll admit if the story was just of the rape itself I might have believed it longer, but the conversations among her “friends” is so convenient it sent the needle on my b.s. detector past the red zone into the fine print that reads “Bull**** Detector By Ronco. Patent Pending.” Here are some examples I couldn’t fit into my column. Remember, these are Jackie’s friends -- who believe she was gang raped and beaten for three hours:
“One of my roommates said, ‘Do you want to be responsible for something that’s gonna paint UVA in a bad light?’ ” says Jackie, poking at a vegan burger at a restaurant on the Corner, UVA’s popular retail strip. “But I said, ‘UVA has flown under the radar for so long, someone has to say something about it, or else it’s gonna be this system that keeps perpetuating!’”  Jackie frowns. “My friend just said, ‘You have to remember where your loyalty lies.’”

She was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. “You’re still upset about that?” Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn’t see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. “Why didn’t you have fun with it?” Cindy asked. “A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?”

I’m sorry, but those conversations didn’t happen. (One hint it didn’t happen is that if it did, a hole in the ground would open up, Satan would pop out in a swirl of sulfuric smoke, and tip his hat to Cindy.)

But don’t tell that to Diana Crandall (or, for that matter, “SluttySlutSlut1”). The LA Times, where an earlier version of my UVA column appeared, has a charming habit of rushing to post rebuttals of my columns as soon as possible. I really don’t mind -- it’s kind of a compliment and it’s actually a good idea in general. But the rebuttals, in my humble opinion, aren’t always that compelling. Enter Ms. Crandall.

I think her entire response to my column is fairly ridiculous, tendentious, and in relentless bad faith. But I’m not going to go point-by-point through her deliberate misreadings and non sequiturs. She works from the assumption that I have no personal experiences to support my view. Never mind that I’ve visited something like 100 campuses in the last decade or so (including UVA more than once). Never mind that, as I noted in the column, I talked to quite a few people in the UVA community before I wrote it. Never mind that I went to, and served on the board of trustees of, a college where feminism was The One True Faith. And never mind that my own experiences -- like hers -- are utterly irrelevant to whether or not the Rolling Stone story is true! Crandall & Co. hate the idea that the veracity of the story itself should be debated. What matters is the cause, not the details. So they shoot the messenger and change the subject.

I will say I loved the appeal to her own experience as a member of a coed fraternity. Apparently this gave her deep insights into rape culture. Um, ok. One question: If you learned so much about rape culture at this fraternity, why on earth did you stay a member?

But here’s the key point. Crandall writes:
Goldberg further shows his lack of familiarity with the problem of college rape when he calls the victim’s friends the “worst . . . imaginable” for not immediately reporting her brutal assault. Here, Goldberg fails to appreciate the very real fear of being chastised for reporting a rape. I’m not saying that the friends were right in not reporting it, and I’m not making a judgment on whether or not the assault happened. But it’s clear that Goldberg’s cultural distance from modern campus life and disregard of the social consequences of reporting an assault render him inadequate to judge the veracity of a rape allegation.

First of all, we aren’t talking about “a rape allegation” we are talking about this rape allegation. Crandall is simply wrong to say I can’t “appreciate the very real fear of being chastised for reporting a rape.” Her mind-reading skills notwithstanding, I can testify here and now that I can. What Crandall and countless others, including Sabrina Erdely, her editors, and their defenders can’t appreciate is that as onerous as the stigma on rape victims may or may not be, the stigma against rapists is worse.

No, really, it’s true. There’s a well-documented tendency for known or suspected -- and especially convicted -- rapists to be stigmatized. They’re shunned by polite society. They have trouble finding work. They often have to register as sex offenders and -- oh yeah -- they very often are sent to jail for very long periods of time. And this is as it should be.

But this fact is also why I am deeply skeptical of the story. Most of the UVA students I’ve met -- and I’ve met a lot -- are the sorts of kids who worry a lot about their permanent records. That makes sense; UVA is a truly great school with an impressive academic culture. And so while I can certainly believe sexual assaults and rapes happen there -- drunk and sober -- I simply cannot believe that nine men sat around soberly and plotted a brutal gang rape that would land them all in jail for decades -- never mind hinder their chances of working at Goldman Sachs! At least not as presented in Erdely’s story. Indeed, it wouldn’t just be nine men, because you can’t keep such plans a secret in a fraternity when the rape is an initiation ritual. You need to make sure all of the kids are down with committing a heinous felony. You need to make sure they all know where to wait to commit the deed. And you need to make sure no one blabs to that one guy who isn’t totally and completely down with “rape culture.” That requires conversations, lots of conversations. And lots of conversations make secrets hard to keep.

What baffles and infuriates me is that I am supposed to be pro-rape and a rape apologist because I want to get to the truth. If this story is true, these men (and, frankly, the dean) should go to jail. The whole fraternity should be prosecuted for running a criminal enterprise. Honestly, as a matter of justice I’d have no problem seeing Drew hang. Meanwhile the heroic enemies of rape and rape culture are outraged that anyone would want these men exposed and brought to justice. That’s bananas.

I understand why most of the debate in the press about the Rolling Stone piece is about journalistic ethics. That’s fine. But my complaint isn’t that she didn’t talk to the alleged rapists. My complaint -- or at least my claim -- is that the story isn’t true. The fact she didn’t get quotes from the alleged rapists isn’t Erdely’s crime, it’s evidence of it.

When I wrote the “news”letter below, the news had not broken yet that Rolling Stone — and really the Washington Post — had confirmed what I believed all along: This story was bogus. My only regret is that I didn’t write the column a week earlier like I wanted. My immediate reaction to the story was “this is bull****.” But I didn’t want to write that without at least making some phone calls. Anyway, congrats to Richard Bradley and Robert Soave for beating me to the punch. And congratulations to Phi Kappa Psi; usually it takes a little longer to be vindicated, when it happens at all. I very much hope you sue Rolling Stone the way the Mongol Hordes attacked their enemies.

You see, I’m not a huge fan of fraternities, but I have the quaint view that when a major national publication falsely accuses an institution of being an organized criminal organization that specializes in ritual gang rape, they should be held accountable. It isn’t like Rolling Stone criticized a statistical hockey stick — if you know what I’m saying — they reported (and defended their reporting) to the whole world that this fraternity is an institutional rape gang.

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