This is a guest blog article from Cathleen Wilson, MA, executive director at H.O.P.E. Works.
Earlier this summer, the Washington Post online published an editorial by George Will titled “Colleges become the victims of progressivism.” In it, Will claims that the progressivism that some colleges and universities have long lauded has backfired on them in the wake of recent efforts by the Obama administration to address sexual assault on college campuses. In his editorial, Will paints a picture of “sexual assault” (his emphasis) as a by-product of “hookup culture” and that victims “proliferate” because of the “coveted status” that colleges and universities place upon them. Basically, Will is stating that women lie about rape in order to gain certain rewards and the government is, in part, culpable. The real victims, in Will’s opinion, are colleges and universities.
Will’s claims are, in a word, erroneous. Only a very small percentage of reports of sexual assault are deemed false. FBI statistics have long supported what we have known for decades in the victim services sector and that is approximately only 3 percent of reports turn out to be false.
Further, his claims of victims holding “coveted status” is also false. In the wake of Will’s editorial, survivors and their supporters have blogged and tweeted en mass, including the hashtag #survivorprivilege. Many share their experiences of rape and the often hurtful aftermath that so many face after a sexual assault. The message is clear, there isn’t a survivor out there who agrees that being raped gave them a “coveted status” and, in fact, the majority of them faced intimidation, fear, and humiliation as a result of their rape.
At H.O.P.E. Works, this is a story that we have heard, all too often, in our 40 years of work with sexual violence survivors in Chittenden County. Last year alone, H.O.P.E. Works served 745 survivors of sexual violence. I can say without a doubt that there isn’t a single one of them who conferred a “coveted status.”
Since the 1990s, sexual and domestic violence have been issues that have garnered broad political support, and yet, over time, even that has shifted. Last year, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization was hotly debated and quickly became politically divisive. Will is not the first, nor will he be the last, to focus debates about sexual violence solely on victims and to perpetuate myths about rape in order to advance his own viewpoint.
Attitudes about gender, relationships, and sex are evolving rapidly and our ability to dialogue about those changes via social media has shifted radically over the past decade. Whereas in the past only a small portion of the population would be subjected to the misinformation of writers like Will, we now have the ability to spread misinformation worldwide.
But while the media and the political players throw around words like Representative Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape,” sexual violence continues to plague our communities and many perpetrators continue to avoid accountability. When writers like Will and publications like the Washington Post cast the government as the perpetrator, they help to create a climate in which sexual predators “proliferate.” The focus needs to remain on the culture in which sexual violence is normalized and continuing to create systems in which victims are supported and perpetrators are held accountable. Will’s editorial does nothing toward that end.
Cathleen H. Wilson, MA, is executive director at H.O.P.E. Works.