American University Erupts Over Date Rape

Photo: American University Erupts Over Date Rape: Girls Who Drink and Go to Frat Parties Deserve Date Rape, Says Student Newspaper Columnist

Today begins Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention month -- and American University is in an uproar over an anti-feminist diatribe in the student newspaper charging that some women who survive date rape invited it.

"Let's get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI [fraternity] party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy's room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK?" columnist Alex Knepper, 20, wrote in the Eagle, the school paper.

"To cry 'date rape' after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone's head and then later claiming that you didn't ever actually intend to pull the trigger," he said.

The column -- "Dealing With AU's Anti-Sex Brigade" -- sparked a backlash and nearly 300 online comments on the newspaper's Web site, chastising the Eagle for being "open-facedly offensive" and publishing a "slap in the face to so many women, and men, in our generation."

Students bombarded the Eagle's office, gathering the March 28 issue from dispensaries and stacking them outside the door. More protests were planned today as letters to the editor poured in to the newspaper.

Others from American's Community Action for Social Justice Coalition (CASJC) hung a sign: "No room for rape apologists."

Knepper, an openly gay political science major and a two-year columnist with the Eagle, is known as a provocateur, according to CASJC member Drew Franklin.

"It's not typical of what you see at American, a very liberal school, but it is typical of Alex," he said. "This sparked a lot of outrage. It's a pretty big deal on campus."

Franklin, 22, and an audio production major, said he wasn't protesting Knepper's ideas, but rather the platform the newspaper gave the writer for "hate speech."

The Eagle has since apologized.

"They crossed the line when they marginalized survivors of sexual assault," he said.

One in six women will survive sexual assault in her lifetime, and college-age women are four times more likely to be victims than others, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Only about a third of all rape victims report these crimes and about 73 percent know their assailants.

About 90 percent of college women who are victims know their assailants -- usually a classmate, friend, boyfriend, ex-boyfrend, or other acquaintance, according to 2006 statistics from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Department of Justice.

Most acquaintance rape victims do not label their assault as rape, perhaps because they know the assailant, and often initially blame themselves.

Advocates worry about rhetoric like Knepper's because when women blame themselves they are less apt to report these crimes. Survivors are also more susceptible to eating disorders, drug abuse and post traumatic stress disorder, according to RAINN.

The issue of consent is at the heart of the crime.

"It's not your fault," said Katherine Hull, spokesman for RAINN. "Even if you drink and wear short skirts -- that is not consent."

Provocative Dress Is Not Consent

"Even if a woman gave consent previously, it does not mean consent for right now," she said. "Dressing provocatively is not an invitation for sex or rape, even with alcohol."

Though laws vary from state to state, a person's consent can be compromised because of age, mental disability and lack of consciousness (under drugs or alcohol) or even a state of duress, according to Hull.

"If someone doesn't have the capacity to consent, they can't," she said.

Leanna Swain, a 19-year-old student at the University of Texas, has a close friend who was a victim of date rape, and says the consequences were "disastrous."

"It's horrific," she said. "It doesn't matter if she is drunk or sober, if she doesn't want to have sex and makes that known in some way, then it doesn't matter if they are in a frat room, a hotel room or an apartment. It's rape."

"Anyone who has ever made out on a bed with any alcohol in their system and not been raped should be grateful that that the opinions held by this columnist were not held by their partner," said Swain.

But Knepper said women give "implied consent" when they put themselves in the "sexual arena" at a party where there is an expectation that there will be drinking and sex.

"If she cannot summon up the strength to say 'no,' she shouldn't be engaging in anonymous sex," said Knepper. "In that situation, men can only know the information that is given to them."

He defends his position that men need clarity and not mixed signals.

"If you say unequivocally no, then it's a real rape," said Knepper, who is adamant that rape is a heinous crime that should be severely punished.

According to Department of Justice statistics, in more than three-quarters of all college rapes, the offender, the victim or both had been drinking, which impairs good judgment.

Which was precisely Knepper's point.

"The EI frat on campus is notorious for its hardcore parties and which do end up with manipulating and drugging," he said. "If you do not accept the risk, things go awry."

EI is short for Epsilon Iota, an underground fraternity at American University. Its charter was pulled by the national organization, and its recognition was withdrawn at American because of "misconduct," according to school officials.

"While it's not a woman's fault, it's incredibly stupid behavior to go to that party," he said. "Knowing what you are getting yourself into is what being an adult is, knowing the risks and the signals beforehand."

Student: 'Hook-Up Isn't A Rape'

A surprising number of American University students agreed with Knepper, according to campus reports. So did some at other colleges.

Princeton University ran a similar column on the topic in Februrary.

"If you put yourself in certain situations, there are always consequences," said Becca Forsythe, a 20-year-old student from Texas A&M. "A random hookup is not rape. In my eyes, that is just her trying to cover up for her own irresponsibility.

"What about riding in a car without a seatbelt on?" she asked. "If you get in a wreck and become severely injured, there is definitely some blame [because] you did not have a seatbelt on.

"Rape is always a touchy subject, but in this case, where you are drinking and letting your guard down, you cannot say you were taken advantage of unless someone drugged your drinks," she said.

Luke Turner, a 21-year-old from Sam Houston State University, said girls who make mistakes are often "looking for a scapegoat" and blame fraternities.

"This has actually gotten to be such a hot topic that there are a lot of sororities that will not allow their girls to be at a fraternity house if there is any alcohol present," he said.

American University officials have now weighed in on the firestorm, writing a letter to the editor of the Eagle. .

"We emphasized our support for students on all levels and for free speech even if we find it offensive," said university spokeswoman Camille Lepre.

"We want to create a safe environment for all, and we do not tolerate rape in any form," she said. "We have been stunned and mobilized by the [newspaper] opinion on date rape."

The school has a policy for handling date rape cases, but promised an "enhanced statement on rights, responsibilities and resources" concerning date rape, which is currently under active review for approval.

But some students say the date rape policy is long overdue and the university has dragged its heels for two years.

"The campus is really tense and so volatile right now," said Kerrigan Scrimshire, a 24-year-old graduate student. "The administration has been hands off on this issue. Date rape is very real and services are lacking."

Meanwhile, Knepper has offered to have a "public conversation" with the university's Women's Initiative, whose director, Sarah Brown, wrote a letter to the editor, calling his column "irresponsible and shameful."

Knepper said Brown refused.

"Of course men have to behave themselves," he said. "These are freedoms women have fought for -- the same opportunities and ability to go into these sexual realms. But they have the same risk and responsibilities.

"There is a pattern of infantilizing women," he said. "If they have too much to drink and do something stupid, they still have to be responsible for their actions."

If you are a survivor of date rape, you can find help at RAINN's anonymous online hotline.

ABC's Loren Grush from the University of Texas contributed to the report.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10254150. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10254150. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10254150. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10254150. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10254150. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 10254150.
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...