Surprised again

When convicted sex offender and former radio personality Adam Ritz was brought to speak at the University of Minnesota in October 2011, the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils apologized to their community.

When he visited Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, in that same month, the school newspaper criticized him for equating his rape of a college student he had hired to babysit his children with “poor decision making.”

When he visited the University of Southern Indiana in October 2011, the student newspaper took the Activities Programming Board (APB) and Phi Delta Theta fraternity to task for “paying a convicted lifetime sex offender $1,800 to speak on campus.”

But when Ritz was paid $4,000 in May 2013 to provide “alcohol awareness and sexual awareness training” to University of Oregon football players, we didn’t even know he was here.

Athletics at UO, as elsewhere, is pretty much a closed system. Efforts by people who know a thing or two about sexual assault prevention and sexual violence to provide educational efforts have long been met with a defensive wall of silence. Athletics departments provide training to athletes, advocates around the country have been told, and they know better than anyone else how to reach student-athletes.

I think we all know better than to believe that at this point, especially in light of investigative reporting on sexual assault in college football in particular, like the New York TimesWalt Bogdanich‘s coverage of sexual assault at Florida State University.

Athletics departments and Greeks around the country made poor decisions in bringing a sex offender and media personality to campus whose only credential (aside from his ability to work the media) was his crime (there are plenty of testimonials from football players on his website, but it’s not clear how that translates into effective educational content).

We need to start demanding more information about how education about sexual violence is being conducted within campus subcultures that are most at risk like football, basketball, Greek systems, band, and debate, to just name a few.

We’re universities, for heaven’s sake, where we have some of the brightest minds in the country working on and researching these very issues. Why not bring some of them in to talk to students in at risk subcultures rather than a sex offender turned campus lecture circuit speaker whose main argument is that raping a baby sitter can happen to anyone?

World War II Consent Form

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My partner was going through his family archives (he does this periodically — I’m still surprised that he finds anything new, but he tells me he does and this kind of proves it) and he came across this form. It was paper clipped to a bunch of jokes, so from the context it would seem that this was meant to be a joke.

Still, it speaks to considerable anxiety during a period in which many women were enjoying freedoms that would be shut down in the Cold War that followed.

And joke or not, I found myself wondering, wouldn’t it be a huge improvement if we all very clear about what we wanted and where we stood vis a vis sexual encounters? What’s wrong with getting enthusiastic consent, written or otherwise?

Banning Fraternities

Amherst College has banned fraternities — never thought I’d see the day. But see the New York Times’ article on fraternities: “Numerous studies show that members of Greek organizations drink more heavily than other students, and alcohol abuse is strongly tied to other forms of misconduct.”

One student at Northwestern was quoted as saying, “I got very jaded because of the way certain frats handled rush, focusing on alcohol and girls too much.” That’s the equivalence that I find disturbing — one that’s so prevalent these days — that somehow there’s an equivalence between objects of consumption like alcohol and “girls.” 

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Eugene Weekly Cover Story on UO and Sexual Assault

Eugene Weekly Cover Story on UO and Sexual Assault

When Women Refuse

This makes me so incredibly angry. If any other group was singled out for this kind of violence, wouldn’t there be some outcry? This is an overwhelming sea of violence and sorrow: http://whenwomenrefuse.tumblr.com/page/3.

Sorrow

In the wake of the violence in Santa Barbara this past weekend, media are doing that thing where they rush to figure out causes and prevention methods. How do mentally ill people predisposed to violence continue to get guns? How can we prevent suicide/mass shootings or at least reduce the risk of their taking place? How do we recognize elevated risk factors and intervene?

Getting weapons out of the hands of violent people seems to be the way to go, but it’s also worth discussing the role that misogyny plays in these forms of mass violence. The vast majority of men who suffer from mental illness don’t commit suicide/mass shootings. Most men who drink don’t rape women. These behaviors don’t come out of nowhere — they aren’t invented out of thin air, but are expressions of cultural practices and moments.

College, Elliott Rodgers said in his video, should be a time for men to have “sex, fun, and pleasure.” When, I wonder, did college become a kind of rumspringa for privileged mainly white men, who believe that they are entitled to unlimited sex, fun, and pleasure and that these things, moreover, are somehow their right?

These kinds of ideas drive the party culture on college campuses — a culture facilitated by sports, the Greek system and college administrations.  This culture creates “party pathways” whose cost is high in terms of alcoholism, sexual assault, street harassment, and debt, as Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton illustrate in Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. These party pathways are also grounded in misogyny — in silencing women who have been injured by this culture (and sororities play a very powerful role in doing this) and fostering conditions in which hatred of, and violence against, women can flourish. 

 

Rape Drugs and Hair Tests

I haven’t written about what’s been going on at UO, partly because I’m too close to it, partly because I’m still thinking things through. Long story short, a group of feminist faculty have been meeting on and off for over five months — prior to that groups of us as well as individuals had been expressing concerns about campus climate for at least three years. But then a gang rape was reported here in the beginning of May and between the media attention and the dismal, arrogant response from UO administrators, it’s been a very disheartening and heartbreaking month.

Before all this happened, though, I was corresponding with some folks about the availability of and prevalence of rape drugs on campus. Being empirically minded, I don’t know if it’s true that there have been dramatic increases in the use of these drugs. There’s also a danger in overlooking the ways in which alcohol is used to render potential victims compliant (think those nasty punches served at parties that those throwing the party don’t drink — those punches are intended for inexperienced drinkers, mostly young women, and there’s nothing hospitable about providing those beverages). And then there’s also the problem of suggesting that women who are not drugged are somehow less worth victims than those who were drugged. After all, sexual assault can’t be “a problem in communication” if one person isn’t conscious.

So those are important caveats. But having said that, why aren’t universities encouraging survivors to test their hair if they believe they were drugged? Hair tests don’t test for marijuana, but they do test for illicit drugs (including those considered “rape drugs”). Plus, they aren’t invasive and you can test for up to six months after the assault, providing hair hasn’t been cut. Check out this interesting thesis about hair testing for illicit drugs: http://www.usna.edu/IR/htmls/lead/database/cohort6/c06_hatala.pdf. And ask your campus police department if they use these in their investigations. See also this bibliography, which was provided to me by an attorney who works extensively with survivors of sexual violence: http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/journal/mcbaybib3.pdf.