Valenti writes: "Rape victims get called a lot of things. Sometimes it's 'slut.' For the 11-year-old gang rape victim in Texas, it was that she was a 'spider' luring men into her web. It's not all bad, though - thanks to anti-violence activists, those who have been attacked also get called 'survivors' and 'brave.' The last word I ever expected to hear to describe a rape victim is 'privileged.'"
George Will has caused a stir by calling rape victims 'privileged.' (photo: The Chronicle)
The Only 'Privilege' Afforded to Campus Rape Victims Is Actually Surviving
By Jessica Valenti, Guardian UK
10 June 14
Hey, at least we live in a world where victim-blaming misogynist dinosaurs masquerading as important newspaper columnists get the earful they deserve
• Plus: College students speak out on sexual assault reporting
Rape victims get called a lot of things. Sometimes it's "slut". For the 11-year-old gang rape victim in Texas, it was that she was a "spider" luring men into her web. It's not all bad, though - thanks to anti-violence activists, those who have been attacked also get called "survivors" and "brave". The last word I ever expected to hear to describe a rape victim is "privileged".
Yet in the Washington Post late last week, columnist George Will wrote about campus rape, claiming that being a victim in college has become "a coveted status that confers privileges", and that "victims proliferate" because of all these so-called benefits.
Ah, yes, the perks of being a rape victim! Here are just a few of the "privileges" that being raped at college confers onto women:
• For Indiana University freshman Margaux J, it meant dropping out of school because even after her attacker was found guilty, the school refused to expel him.
• Columbia University's Emma Sulkowicz had the great pleasure of enduring questions from a disciplinary panel that didn't believe being anally raped was physically possible without manufactured lubrication.
• Andrea Pino, then a student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was told by an academic advisor that she was "being lazy" for applying for medical leave after her rape.
• And who doesn't look at Lizzy Seeberg – a St. Mary’s College student who killed herself a week after reporting being raped by a a Notre Dame football player – and not think, wow, how lucky!
It takes a particular kind of ignorance to argue that people who come forward to report being raped in college are afforded benefits of any kind. If the last few months of coverage of the rape epidemic on college campuses – including new stories from brave young women today in the Guardian – has shown anything, it's that survivors of sexual violence are treated abysmally by administrators, peers and campus police. But to someone like Will – who calls this a "supposed" scourge of rape and puts the term "sexual assault" in scare quotes – rape is hardly even a real thing.
To demonstrate the "capacious definitions of sexual assault" that Will believes are running rampant on campuses, the conservative columnist cites a case in which a woman said, "No, I don't want to have sex with you" ... only to have her alleged attacker proceed anyway. The only people who could find ambiguity in this are idiots and, well, rapists. (And even the latter, I imagine, would recognize this as an assault.)
In response to Will's column this week, women on Twitter started posting under #SurvivorPrivilege, a hashtag started by writer and anti-rape organizer Wagatwe Wanjuki. "#SurvivorPrivilege of graduating 6 years later than planned bc, yanno, rape. How covetable!," Wanjuki tweeted. Activist Katie Klabusich wrote, "#SurvivorPrivilege is getting to explain to truly would-be allies in your life that yes, your boyfriend could rape you. & it was rape-rape." Washington DC-based Robyn Swirling tweeted, "#SurvivorPrivilege was losing all my friends when they decided it was easier to remain friends with my rapist than stand with me."
The good news from Will's very bad, no-good column is that anti-rape activism is clearly having a profound effect on the culture. The rape-apologist backlash – sadly, Will is hardly alone in his ignorance – is in full effect precisely because feminist language and recommendations around sexual assault are being taken seriously by the White House, the media and (hopefully, soon) schools as well. For people like Will – misogynists who believe rape is about "ambiguities" rather than violence – this shift also represents a win for feminists more generally.
Today, if you argue that women who drink or who dared to have past consensual sexual encounters are somehow un-rapeable, you will get taken to task. There's much work to be, for sure – victim-blaming is still much the norm in some circles – but gone are the days when you could say something stupid and sexist and it would go unnoticed or applauded. I'm sure that this change in what's socially acceptable terrifies Will and his cohort because it upends everything they believe about women, sex and consent – and it reveals them for the dinosaurs that they are.
I'm willing to bet that Will has an inbox full of emails from rape survivors (no, no scare quotes necessary) who are educating him on exactly the kind of perks they got if they came forward. I doubt these people's stories will change his mind, but I do know they're changing the country.
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