The Obama Administration has announced a bold new move on climate change. Not the change that is melting icecaps but the moral meltdown that has dozens of US colleges investigating sexual violence cases under the government’s watchful eye. The rising tide of rape and sexual assault in the nation’s tertiary institutions appears to have put “campus climate” up there with Ukraine, Syria and the contraceptives mandate on the White House agenda.
And it’s not only colleges that have the government worried. The Pentagon reported this week that service members who reported being sexually assaulted (79 percent of them women) surged by 50 percent last year.
“It’s up to all of us to put an end to sexual assault,” President Obama said solemnly in a public service announcement about his college campus initiative.
Well, yes, but is this the way to do it – a White House task force and 20-page report that talks about colleges doing systematic surveys of students (possibly mandatory by 2016) and providing trained victim advocates? A government website that offers support to victims and a school by school enforcement map? It’s not that the issue isn’t serious; it is. The question is whether it is one that Big Brother can contain with red tape.
Who are the young men making life hell for women on campus? How did they come to be such a problem that the federal government has to step in to put a stop to it? The answer to these questions will tell us whether Obama’s grand scheme for improving sexual behaviour has any chance of succeeding.
Here’s a little character sketch.
The college senior who took advantage of a female student after she popped an Ecstacy pill at a drunken party has spent a long time preparing for that assault.
It started at home when his parents failed to instruct him in the virtue of chastity and guide him in its practice. He grew to adolescence without understanding that the sex drive finds its meaning, purpose and joy in marriage, and that he will have the best chance of making a happy marriage if he treats it that way – difficult thought it might be at times, requiring a manly fortitude to resist the multitude of temptations he will face.
From his tender years he encountered sexual images wherever he turned his gaze, from the small screen to the big screen, from the magazine rack to the city billboard, in the words of pop music and scenes of video games. He got the message: sex is something a guy is meant to do just as soon as an opportunity presents itself. He found plenty of tips about what to do on porn websites.
At middle school or junior high he sat through classes about safe sex wondering about the girl across the aisle. When they talked about “negotiating” and “consent” he wasn’t paying much attention. Besides, everything he had seen and heard so far suggested that girls were just as interested in trying out sex as he was. (If he went to a particularly avant garde high school he could have received detailed instructions on how to have “good sex”.)
At college he lives in a mixed dorm, which ups the sexual tension considerably. He attends frat parties where there’s drink, if not drugs. (At Yale he could have enjoyed sex week, at Harvard lived in a dorm whose master expounds the virtues of porn. If he read The Atlantic he could learn that the college hook-up culture has actually been good for women.)
As far as he is concerned, the girl who laid the complaint about him was breaking the rules of the sex game, departing from the script of sexual license they had both learned from society. Why is he now a criminal? he wants to know.
Because, the powers that be now remind him, there is one rule about sex – no, two: it shall be safe, and it shall not be forced. Of the two, the second is the really vital one, because it’s the only one that women can get a hearing for. If they get pregnant or get a disease from sex it’s up to them to take their problem to the abortion clinic or the doctor. No-one cares much about that. But male violence, that’s another story. That brings the President onto the stage with a promise to women that “You are not alone”.
So somehow, at this late stage of their development, adolescent males have to learn to say no to their sexual desires and urges or face punitive measures by colleges that have the government breathing down their necks. The universities for their part have to tie up resources in surveys, reporting systems, counselling and conciliation.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach people (boys in this instance, but also girls) at home, at school and in the media, the basics of chastity? It’s a lot cheaper. Because we don’t, we have to invite Big Brother in as chaperone.
And is it going to work? Does anyone really trust the government to succeed in imposing virtues that should have been internalised at home? It certainly didn’t look after Monica Lewinsky very well.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet