Rape is a 1970’s mood ring

Paul Elam and I recently wrote a piece called Colleges push anti-male sex policies to the edge,” about how colleges are bending, stretching, twisting, and pounding the definition of sexual misconduct to include all manner of things that, by any rational measure, are not sexual misconduct.   We explained that this stems from an extremist feminist tradition of rape advocacy that encourages purported victims to engorge the definition of “rape” and “sexual assault” to include all manner of alleged violations that are neither “rape” nor “sexual assault.”

The past few days have given us stellar examples of how that extremist tradition has become the norm.

He raped me. He raped me not...

First up is Lauren R. Taylor of the Washington Post, who defends the sexual violence study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That study, in the words of Christina Hoff Sommers, “suggests that rates of sexual violence in the United States are comparable to those in the war-stricken Congo.” How does the new study arrive at the conclusion that sexual violence is rampant? By “careless advocacy research,” Ms. Sommers explains, and by asking respondents if they had sex while inebriated or if someone pressured them by by repeatedly asking, showing they were unhappy, telling them lies, or making false promises.  In short, the study defines sexual violence “in impossibly elastic ways,” as Ms. Sommers puts it.

Well, impossibly elastic is just fine by Lauren R. Taylor, thank you very much!  She proclaims: “The questions [in the study] are vague and broad, because the reality of sexual violence is vague and broad.”

The statement is as inane as it is dangerous. The sine qua non of sexual violence is the absence of consent. Either there is consent or there isn’t, and there’s nothing “vague” or “broad” about that. While some manifested assertions of assent are so tainted by impropriety that our law does not consider them legally operative (an example is a promise obtained by duress), nagging for sex and the other things asked typically aren’t among them.

Next up, a Harvard student named Emma Wood, who pooh-poohs the prevalence of false rape claims. Emma is in a class by herself.  Aside from slinking into the easily-mouthed clichés of radical feminism, Emma lobs the following bomb, presumably with a straight face: “I am convinced that no umbrella definition of sexual assault can exist. Just as each person defines his or her sexuality for him or herself, each person defines sexual assault on a similarly personal level.”

There you have it. Rape is in the eye of the beholder. In Ms. Taylor’s and Ms. Wood’s world, sexual assault isn’t a crime that needs to be defined with sufficient due process specificity to put the accused on notice of the conduct it proscribes. It is a free-floating clearinghouse to redress any sexual encounter deemed unsatisfactory at the caprice and whim of a self-anointed victim.

For eons, rape had a widely accepted, horrific meaning. Now, according to the people who dominate the public discourse on it, it means nothing — because it means everything. Carefully crafted criminal laws, honed by centuries of thoughtfully constructed judicial decisions, have been scrapped in favor of a 1970’s mood ring.

That tells us all we need to know about the people who dominate the public discourse on rape.

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