Sexual violence is not exclusive to college campuses. It is not the sole provenance of prisons, boarding schools, and barracks. It is not just an issue in backward countries embroiled in grotesque civil wars. Crucially, it is not unique to our time. There is no more an epidemic of rape now than there was twenty, thirty, or a hundred years ago. Expanding definitions and social consciousness of sexual assault and rape have created a hysteria over the view that there is an epidemic of sexual assault on American college campuses. Such a view distorts what should be an uncomfortable truth: sexual assault has always been a problem, and it will always be our problem. We cannot delegate it to an elusive class of miscreants or a backward mentality. Instead of blindly hurling resources at the issue or treating it as a political question, we should approach it in a rational manner and treat all of its manifestations with equal attention.
We cannot stop sexual assault and rape from occurring entirely; no matter what we do, there will always be those who find a way to do evil. What we can do is work to curtail exacerbating factors and address the issues with how colleges handle instances of these crimes. Colleges have effectively broken down this approach into educating about prevention and intervention, providing victim resources, and enacting punitive measures. This breakdown makes logical sense, but the way many institutions execute these tasks is ineffective and even counter-productive.
Educational programs are often condescending and generally follow progressive agendas, thereby alienating many students. Even newer programs that reflect these concerns do little to reach students whose views do not already align with their stated doctrines. Efforts to help sexual assault victims are noble, but the “shotgun” approach of providing as many options as possible often does more to confuse victims and waste resources than it does to actually provide support to those who need it. Punitive measures for sexual assault in higher education have a host of problems: victims are often forced into unintended circumstances, guilty parties often get off with relatively minor punishments, and accused students go without essential tenants of due processes. The way institutions of higher education handle sexual assault is in dire need of improvement, and conservative students should spearhead the needed reforms.
The simplest area to reform is the provision of resources for victims. It is important that we offer a wide array of services and for there to be a diverse group of venues for such services, but this should not be taken to the extreme. Venues for services to should be centralized into three categories based on the identity of service providers: college staff, community professionals, and students. Within these centralized programs, providers can orchestrate a plethora of resources, but such resources should remain subordinate and avoid redundancy. This approach would prevent waste, ensure quality, and simplify access for victims.
Reforming the legal issues surrounding sexual assault on college campuses involves competing moral, legal, and practical requirements. The first step in restructuring the system should be assigning cases to legal prosecution, college prosecution, or college arbitration based on their level of violence, amount of evidence, degree of ambiguity, and the wishes of the victim. In those instances where the victim desires criminal prosecution and there is sufficient evidence to support such a path, colleges should not interfere. When there is either not sufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case or the victim does not wish to pursue one, colleges should have a system in place to handle matters in a just manner. When no crime has been committed but one or both parties feel uncomfortable with what happened, colleges should also provide a platform for arbitration and redressing grievances. While a college prosecution exists partially for the express purpose of dealing with a case that does not meet criminal standards of evidence, it is essential that such processes meet strict standards of due process. It is irrelevant that Constitutional requirements do not apply to private institutions. The reason we prosecute people is that we have societal values that are worth upholding. Due process is integral to those societal values, rendering prosecution without due process hypocritical.
Prevention, the fight to reduce instances of sexual assault by dissuading offenders and encouraging intervention, is far more complex. It is important to recognize that by the time students enter college, their values and societal mores are generally settled. The fundamental social concept that prevents sexual violence is the idea that you simply cannot touch a person unless they indicate consent. This needs to be ingrained in children from an early age, and our education efforts should focus on teaching students to teach their children this concept.
Understanding sexual violence is the most efficient topic to focus on when educating current students, as it promotes effective bystander intervention. We must first dispel the myth of a typical offender: not just image of the creepy man with a trench coat in an alley, but the stereotype of the predatory fraternity man. Anyone can be a thief. Anyone can commit a murder. Anyone can be a rapist. It’s a crime, it’s not a type of person.
We should also examine factors that facilitate sexual violence, which manifests in different ways in varying contexts. Understanding how alcohol and our sexually permissive culture relate to sexual violence is not “victim blaming.” It is a necessary step in determining effective intervention. Moderate consumption of alcohol is a learned virtue. It is not evil to indulge in drink, and it is clearly a rite of passage in our societal microcosm. That said, students should learn over time to drink in moderation. Most importantly, regardless of their level of alcohol consumption, all students who drink need to be aware that they are engaging in a behavior that puts them at risk and need to act accordingly. Drinking does not mean that an individual is to blame when another person sexually assaults him, but we have a fundamental obligation to ensure our own physical safety. Fulfilling this obligation can be as simple as having a “battle buddy” when drinking. Risqué clothing, another commonly cited factor in sexual violence, is only a symptom of sexually permissive culture. Sexually permissive culture is not responsible for sexual violence. Individuals who want to assault are the only ones responsible. That said, sexually permissive culture makes those individuals feel more confident in breaching social prohibitions against sexual violence. Fighting against sexually permissive culture may by a conservative tendency, but it is also an important societal current that prevents many universally defined evils.
Sexual violence is not new and it is not unique to college campuses, but it is a universal evil and we should be united in our efforts to combat it. No one group has a monopoly on the solutions to this problem, just as no one group is solely responsible for it. We must completely reject the politicization of this fight and embark on a course defined by rational debate and guided by our values.