Flaws in Rape-Prevention Dialogue on the 5Cs

By Rosemary McClure’13Staff Writer

About a month ago, The Student Life published an article called “Date Rape Drug Experiences Go Unnoticed on Claremont Campuses.” The article, written by Pitzer student Leslie Canter, recounted the experiences of several 5C students who believed they had been drugged without their consent at parties on campus. In one case, the victim even took the case to court. The defendants, three boys from CMC, were acquitted.

Backlash against Canter’s article was both vicious and incredulous. CMC students felt that their student body was under attack. They accused Canter’s article of being biased, poorly researched and generally inaccurate. One commenter chastised Canter for implying that ecstasy would ever be surreptitiously administered to party attendees because “I can’t for the life of me figure out how ecstasy could be used as a date-rape drug.” As though because ecstasy is “fun” there is nothing morally questionable about slipping it into a someone’s drink (you’re welcome!). One comment cited the higher number of reported sexual assaults at Pomona than at CMC as proof that Canter’s alleged bias was unfounded.

But Canter was not trying to allege whether these specific instances were true or false. Rather, she raised questions about how campus culture discourages students from making such reports in the first place. Factors cited as discouraging reporting included: fear of disciplinary action, lack of peer support and avenues to talk about date rape and sexual assault, the fact that these subjects are treated as jokes, the default assumption that victims of date rape and drugging in fact just drank too much and the widespread belief that “that stuff doesn’t happen here.”

Canter’s concerns, it seems, were right on target. I am amazed at how many students managed to overlook the point of her article. “Their [sic] is … [no] proof that anything untoward (other than perhaps excessive drinking) has occurred,” reads one defensive comment left by a CMC student. Another asks, “Why don’t CMC girls report such incidents if it’s happening?” And the sarcastic, “Of COURSE it was roofies that caused these freshmen to black out, no doubt about it.”

I am not here to prove that this stuff happens on campus. I already know it does. I hear about these stories one by one—“which is also how they happen,” as Andrea Dworkin would say. It is clear that campus culture does not foster an environment in which victims feel comfortable reporting incidents involving date rape or drugging. It is also clear that men on campus are ignorant to the extensive precautions against sexual assault women must take every time they go out.

Women are expected to tone down their style of dress, to go to the bathroom in pairs and to leave the party together so that they can walk back to their dorms in a group. But when they fail to wholly conform to this unrealistic standard of personal safety (e.g., by dressing immodestly, flirting or drinking), they are blamed for attracting assault. In such cases, women are not only thought to be lying, but they are humiliated and publicly shamed for being opportunistic man-saboteurs. This is not a burden the men on campus are forced to bear.

I want to know one thing: why is it that we teach “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape”? While Scripps freshmen sit in Garrison Theater learning how to SLAPGRABTWISTPULL, are CMC students learning how to NOTRAPEWOMEN? When are we going to teach “ask first”—“yes means yes” rather than “no means no”? Do students on the 5Cs even have a decent understanding of what constitutes sexual assault? When are we going to start seeing sexist comments as “bias-related incidents”? When are we going to start teaching our students to identify comments and actions that perpetuate a sexist environment? Why is sexism such a joke here?

If the antics this weekend at Mr. Stag are any indication of the 5C student body’s attitude toward women, I fear we have a long way to go before we will see these questions answered. The fact is, a turtleneck is not going to keep me from getting raped. Only a rapist can prevent rape. And to suggest that a man can’t tell when a woman doesn’t want to sleep with him (“How was he supposed to know? Did you see how she was dressed?”) is to assert that men have neither a moral compass nor authority over their own behavior.

So I will end with a call to all men on campus: start asking first. And not just in the bedroom. Ask if I want to dance! Ask if you can kiss me! Ask if you can walk me home! High heels do not imply consent! We know that the vast majority of y’all are not rapists. A lot of you are pretty nice guys. Why don’t we get rid of the ambiguity? A little “May I?” goes a long way.