As higher education promotes the idea of a “rape culture” where society excuses and even encourages sexual violence, female students are paying the psychological price.
In an op-ed for The Stanford Daily, a student describes how she and her friends are suffering from “rape anxiety.”
“It’s the anxiety, the mundane, common anxiety—when you’re walking, when you’re going somewhere new, whatever—that there is a danger you could get raped,” writes Rhea Karuturi.
She describes how she and her friends live in a state of perpetual fear—a thought “as common as what assignments I have due”—on their campus, in their dorm, in their homes, walking after dusk.
“It’s not fair,” Karuturi writes. “It’s not fair that we need to be afraid, that we have to always be so anxious. That this is just another thing that is a part of being a woman or someone who can see themselves as the target of sexual assault.”
That last statement should chill feminists—that young women are being encouraged to see themselves always as potential victims, adjusting their behavior accordingly.
Laura Kipnis takes on this problem in her new book Unwanted Advances. She points out that this same “rape anxiety” mindset leads to more policies aimed at protecting women. That could be counterproductive for women’s progress.
“What I’m saying,” Kipnis writes, “is that policies and codes that bolster traditional femininity—which has always favored stories about female endangerment over stories about female agency—are the last thing in the world that’s going to reduce sexual assault.”
Karturi’s description of fear is even sadder, considering the misleading statistics so many universities commonly use to talk about sexual assault. A much-hyped 2015 study by the Association of American Universities claimed that roughly one in four female college undergraduates had suffered sexual assault or misconduct.
But the survey’s definitions are broad. For example, an unwanted butt slap is factored into that one-in-four number just like rape, even though there’s a world of difference between the two.
As the Daily Beast noted at the time, the U.S. Department of Justice reached totally different conclusions about sexual assault on campus. A 2014 report suggested that actually, about one in 53 women on campus experience rape or sexual assault.
Critics of the Justice Department statistics say sex crimes are underreported, and to some extent that’s true. And of course, any act of sexual violence that occurs on campus is one too many.
Even so, it’s tragic that slanted evidence is inducing “rape anxiety” among female college students. We’d agree with Karuturi: That’s not fair.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.