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How Our "Rape Culture" Came About

A lesson in unintended consequences.

By Guest Editorial  |  April 14, 2015

As my granddaughter got serious about saving for college, I read about "rape culture" with more interest.  The Rolling Stone story of rape at UVA was untrue, but the police officer who reported that the rape hadn't occurred said it was obvious that the alleged victim had suffered "severe trauma."  If my granddaughter suffers severe trauma, it won't matter to me whether it's illegal, immoral, or what, I'd rather it didn't happen.

Non-Consensual Severe Trauma

It's hard to see clearly through all the ideological smoke, but it seems that young ladies' well-being is more at risk than when I entered MIT in 1963.  It's clear, however, that many incidents of "severe trauma" are alcohol related.

Collegians' instincts haven't changed, any more than human nature has.  If you put college-age kids in a bag and shake it, you get couples just as in ancient times.

Alcohol hasn't changed either.  As always, "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker."  Take couples and add alcohol, you get coupling, even if the outcome might be traumatic for some.

If neither booze, boys, nor girls have changed, what has?  Our drinking laws.

My freshman year, the drinking age was 18 which let just about all students drink legally.  The administration always had at least one faculty couple at dorm or frat parties.  One professor and his wife couldn't proctor hundreds of kids, so MIT also had a Judicial Committee of elected seniors and grad students who took turns being non-drinking "designated adults."  The DAs intervened before trauma could occur.

Was this a perfect system?  No, not any more than chaperons had been perfect when I was in high school.  Was there sex?  Of course.  Was some of it less consensual than would be ideal?  Yep.  Were there incidents of "severe trauma?"  Sure, but not nearly as many as we have now.

What changed?  The drinking age was boosted to 21.  Faculty and judcomm members faced severe legal liability for letting under-age students drink, so they stopped having official parties.

Students away from home for the first time were just as interested in booze as before; the law didn't stop kids drinking any more than prohibition stopped Al Capone from brewing.  The law forced drinking underground where the administration couldn't influence outcomes.  There wasn't any less "underage" drinking than before.  In fact, it seems like there's more drinking because there's nobody around to inject a voice of sanity and good sense into an alcohol-sozzled young mind.

Set free of adult restraint, sophomoric libidos rage and the end result is "severe trauma."  Kids haven't changed at all - the same thing would have happened in my day without adult supervision.

I remember reading that the Mothers Against Drunk Driving felt filled with satisfied virtue when they finally got the drinking age raised all across America.  My European friends were aghast - how could it be illegal for parents and teachers to instruct youngsters how to handle alcohol and watch out for them as they learned what it did to their minds and bodies?

With the very best of intentions, I doubt that the Mothers realized that outlawing adult supervision of college drinking parties could lead to our current "rape culture."  "Severe trauma" of a sexual nature is probably better than being killed in an auto accident, but the goal wasn't to keep college kids from drinking all, per se; the goal was to keep them from killing themselves through drunken driving.  The blunt instrument of outlawing all youthful drinking regardless of circumstances or chaperonage has had unintended consequences.

Consensual Severe Trauma

Lack of consent isn't required for "severe trauma" to result from inter-gender interaction.  Miriam Grossman's book "Unprotected" discusses her experiences as a mental-health counselor at a girls' college.  In spite of all the feminist rhetoric about "the pill" making it possible for women to have recreational sex as men do, it seems that sexual interaction leads an appreciable fraction of college girls get emotionally involved with their boyfriends to the point of being badly hurt when the relationship falls apart.  It wasn't politically correct for Ms. Grossman to say so, but adding sex, even desired consensual sex, to the mix often makes the breakup harder for the girls.

This isn't news.  Centuries ago, King Solomon wrote, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." If a girl gives her heart to a boy before he's committed to taking care of her, she's in for a world of hurt.

I can tell my granddaughter to stay away from parties where alcohol is served, but there are non-alcoholic ingredients that will cloud her judgment and make her vulnerable.  She should avoid gatherings which lack adult chaperons.  If that means staying away from most parties, so be it.

I wish our colleges hadn't abandoned their longstanding role of protecting students from immature instincts.  The results we see today are in no way an improvement.  If my granddaughter's careful where she goes, she can probably avoid non-consensual trauma, but she'll also have to guard her heart.