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Paranoia Strikes Deep: Ross Douthat, College Rape & Blaming Anyone But Rapists

Paranoia strikes deep. So does male patriarchy.

Almost dreamily, Ross Douthat in yesterday’s New York Times bemoans a typical scene in American college life. Alcohol-fueled parties, he says, are a “twilit (or strobe-lit) scene in which many alleged sexual assaults take place.”

Fair enough, but he then goes on to say the party environment is “also a zone in which it is very hard for anyone — including the young women and young men involved — to figure out what distinguishes a real assault from a bad or gross or swiftly regretted consensual encounter.”

This, he then tells us, is why reasonable efforts, like the 2011 Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter providing guidance to colleges on the adjudication of sexual assault claims within the campus disciplinary system, must be rolled back. The issue, he tells us, isn’t really about rapists, or a culture that continues to support rape, from a president who has bragged about committing sexual assault on down. No, according to Ross, it’s more one of abandoned morality and the nurturing of some new victim class. In short, it’s about “liberalism.”


Douthat is a talented writer who often takes reasonable and compelling stances on issues. But what he’s offering on this topic is nothing but a new twist on a very old and baseless argument. And I’m tired of hearing centuries old, male-inspired drivel being trotted out as cutting-edge, heretofore unconstructed wisdom.

Apparently emboldened by Emily Yoffe, a sometimes iconoclast rape apologist, Douthat has embraced a truly stupid ideology that utterly mischaracterizes the nature of sexual violence, and then foolishly enables predators, demonizes victims, and makes halting an ancient scourge that much more difficult.

Like millions of conservatives, Douthat is appalled by changing sexual norms, which he appears to view as a direct cause of both actual rape and his imagined false cries of rape after “swiftly regretted” sexual encounters. He laments the “libertine” but ultimately dystopian hell-scape of American college life where red-blooded young men are ruined by legions of vindictive, or just plain gullible, feminist-twisted, victims in waiting.

Never mind that this almost never happens. Never mind that women and men who emerge from situations where they’ve been clearly sexually assaulted– let alone from some half-remembered or even deeply regretted encounter– almost always blame themselves and tell no one. Never mind that rape is still dramatically under-reported, that there is almost never an incentive to report rape at all, let alone falsely, and that most women feel zero pressure to experience the brutal, humiliating and traumatizing experience of reporting sexual assault.

In fact, never mind reality or common experience at all. Because what Douthat and his ilk feel more threatened by (than the plague of immorality or runaway liberalism) are serious challenges to male-dominated culture. This isn’t to say Douthat or those like him are misogynists; most are not. But they are undeniably patriarchal. They are convinced, not only that unhealthy or immoral college behavior is toxic, but more broadly that women are better off and more in harmony with their God-ordained roles when they avoid giving in to lust or drunkenness. They believe attempts to unbind women from imposed states of chastity and sobriety is unhealthy; that relaxing societal constraints on them leads to the inevitable “confusion,” resentment and regret that fuels false or “misguided” reports of rape.

Again, garbage. Women have been raped in the company of men at college since they were allowed to join them. A generation ago, to the extent rape was discussed at all, blame was placed mostly on women themselves for invading a theretofore male-dominated space and upsetting the natural order of things. Now it’s hook-up culture and binge drinking? Please. Predatory and deviant men rape, period. They use whatever tools are in their midst, period. Sixty years ago, they used as an excuse the audacity of women, invading male enclaves and poisoning the developing, maturing male mind with temptation and folly.

Now—because it must be blamed on women somehow—we’ll blame it on a leftist, godless culture of sex and gratification, the same one that’s created dangerous false victims out of damsels in moral distress.

We will, in short, blame it on anything but rapists themselves.