DEAR READER: It's ludicrous to say sexual assault victims are part of privileged class

Friday, June 20, 2014 | 7:42 p.m. CDT; updated 1:11 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2014

Dear Reader,

Tom WarhoverThis is not another George Will bashing column. Really.

That would be too easy.

The nationally syndicated columnist made headlines two weeks ago when he proclaimed the issue of sexual violence on campus to be overwrought, overstated and soon-to-be over-legislated by the boogeyman known as progressivism.

He wrote that universities “are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (‘micro-aggressions,’ often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

He made headlines again Thursday when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his column. The newspaper said a change had been long considered, but Will’s recent attack “made the decision easier. The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it.”

It’s not a trend — the Post-Dispatch was the only news organization to drop Will. Another 475, so far, have decided to keep him around.

To suggest that anyone is making sexual assault victims some sort of privileged class is incendiary and ludicrous. The column gets worse when Will plucks an example that I guess is supposed to produce outrage in the reader because the woman decided to report the rape six weeks after the incident. Or because the two had an intimate relationship before that night. Or because … well, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to take away, other than she said no and the man continued.

Underlying Will’s warped sense of the world are some questions that people right here in Our Fair City have taken up.

Questions like: What constitutes sexual violence? How do you define it, and what are the responsibilities of faculty, staff and students when it happens?

On Thursday, by clarifying terms in its student conduct rules, the UM System Board of Curators effectively broadened the definition of sexual violence on campus.

According to the Missourian’s Rachel Brooks, “rape” was changed in the rulebook to “nonconsensual sexual intercourse,” and the definition of “nonconsensual” now includes situations in which the victim is “incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, or other circumstances and therefore incapable of consenting.” The board also made changes to the process for investigating sexual assault.

Earlier this spring, UM System President Tim Wolfe issued an order that said almost every employee was responsible for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct affecting students.

Wolfe and the university keep moving after years of study and inaction. Look for more in the coming months.

Will’s column implies a “supposed epidemic of rape” is, in part, a result of making the definition mean just about anything. It appears the curators are more discerning. It’s true there are more scenarios under the big tent of sexual misconduct; but harassment isn’t the same as exploitation or rape.

And the rules of a university aren’t the same as the legal definitions in a criminal court. Too often we confuse the two.

Will also questioned the most cited and damning statistic: that one in five women are victims of sexual assault during their college years.

I couldn’t really figure out Will’s logic, so I went searching elsewhere. There’s general agreement the statistic comes from a study done in 2007 and based on a survey of more than 5,000 women at two public universities.

So can we really say this happens everywhere or here at MU or Stephens or Columbia College? No. That’s where complementing figures and arguments come into play. Two well-reasoned pieces I read were from the American Thinker, which defended Will, and Talking Points Memo, which didn't.

I see the points and am still appalled — even with conservative estimates, there are still way too many cases of women assaulted by men on college campuses.

Civil people can debate degrees and definitions while we all move forward, just as the university has done. It’s the hyperbole and name-calling that get in the way. Will’s rhetoric doesn’t add to understanding, even though it could have.

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