Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. Robbins is the founder of Inspire52.com, a positive news website and author of “Stop Saying You’re Fine,” about managing change. She speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Mel Robbins: George Will's views about sexual assault on campuses are wrong
Robbins: He's out of touch with reality, trivializes the problem, and blames women
Colleges tried to sweep assault cases under the rug, but students complained
Robbins: Women who are assaulted are victims, not people with "coveted status"
By now you’ve either heard about or read George Will’s controversial column on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Will’s take is that the numbers are “preposterous” and using “simple arithmetic” he can prove the “supposed campus epidemic of rape” just ain’t so. Worse, Will believes that progressivism, the Obama administration, a college hook-up culture and shady math are turning survivors of sexual assault into a “coveted status that confers privilege.” He goes on to claim that efforts to address the issue on campuses is “making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations.”
I’d no more want to have a conversation with George Will about sexual assault on college campuses than I wish to discuss racism with Donald Sterling. Both men are shockingly out of touch with reality. The fact is, George Will is so wrong.
1. George Will argues that “Washington” and “progressivism” are to blame for creating a “supposed” epidemic of campus rape.
Wrong. Colleges prefer to sweep sexual assault cases under the rug, but students have brought the issue to light. In 2011, 16 Yale students and alumni filed a Title IX sexual assault complaint against the university. Other similar lawsuits emerged across the nation. As of this moment, there are 55 universities and colleges under investigation by the federal government.
When Dartmouth (my alma mater) was confronted with the problem, the university experienced an astounding 14% drop in college applications. Unlike George Will, the president of Dartmouth College, Philip Hanlon, hit it head on:
“From sexual assaults on campus … to a culture where dangerous drinking has become the rule and not the exception … to a general disregard for human dignity as exemplified by hazing, parties with racist and sexist undertones, disgusting and sometimes threatening insults hurled on the Internet … to a social scene that is too often at odds with the practices of inclusion that students are right to expect on a college campus in 2014. The actions I have detailed are antithetical to everything that we stand for and hope for our students to be. There is a grave disconnect between our culture in the classroom and the behaviors outside of it—behaviors which too often seek not to elevate the human spirit, but debase it.”
2. George Will suggests that women, hook-up culture, alcohol, anything but men, are to blame.
He cites an example of a student from Swarthmore College in 2013 and condenses her report into two paragraphs – as if it’s representative of most sexual assault cases. Is he trying to find a way to blame women? Women who drink. Women who say no and fall asleep. Are they giving up their right to say no if they pass out or fall asleep?
What about the morality of the man’s actions? What respectable young man rolls himself on top of a drunk, sleepy corpse of a woman and forces her to have sex, after she had said no?
Take 25 seconds and watch this brilliant PSA on what a guy should do if he finds himself with a woman passed out, asleep on his couch, or in his bed. It’s really simple and there’s no gray area or ambiguity: Good guys respect women. Creeps and criminals take advantage of women.
3. By addressing the problems, colleges are turning sexual assault victims into a “coveted status.”
Ask any woman who’s been the victim of a sexual assault, unwanted groping, or date rape and you’ll learn there’s nothing to covet. And most definitely it’s not a privilege. Dr. Jen Gunter, who wrote an open letter to George Will, offers a powerful first-hand perspective that will tell you what goes through the mind of a rape survivor.
Victims often feel shame, guilt and fear. When they try to report it, they’ll be questioned about their conduct, whether there’s any drinking involved, what they were wearing, whether they’ve had sex with the man before. If it’s serious enough and not a “micro-aggression” the attacker might be quietly punished, in a way that makes sure that no parents find out. But the victim has to deal with whispers and rumors.
4. The simple arithmetic doesn’t make George Will’s point powerful.
George Will makes a big stink about whether it’s true that “one in five women” could possibly be sexually assaulted during college. I could make arguments to counter his math. But let’s do this: What if we say there are “only” one in 20 women who are sexually assaulted, rather than one in five? Does that make this problem less of a problem? Are those women who are raped less deserving of help?
If armed robberies on campus happened to one in 20, or one in 20 students got the measles or food poisoning, we would call it an epidemic. Simply focusing on the validity of the numbers is not a way to invalidate the obligation and importance of universities taking this problem seriously.
5. “I take sexual assault more seriously than you do.”
In his response to the backlash, George Will pulled out the Donald Sterling “I’m not a racist and I’ve never been a racist” defense. He says, “I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you do. Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of crime that might, by their breadth, tend to trivialize it.”
Actually, it’s George Will who’s trivializing the problem. When he summarizes a single story of sexual assault with a giant incredulous eye roll and suggests that a woman’s conduct should be scrutinized more than a man’s in assessing whether a sexual assault even occurred – he is trivializing a creepy and criminal act.
The reason why so many women haven’t come forward until now is because victims assumed nothing would happen, or even worse, they’d face someone like George Will who’d put the blame right back on the victim.