“Rape lite” — Rebranding this crime makes accountability harder to come by

 

The Washington Post

Have you heard? It’s not rape anymore. The newer, more palatable term at colleges across the country is “non-consensual sex.” And it’s become part of the weaseling, whitewashing way we deal with sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape.

The “non-consensual sex” rebranding is courtesy of Brett Sokolow, a lawyer who has been advising colleges and universities about dealing with rape on their campuses for the past 15 years. He told Al Jazeera America that college administrations don’t want to say the word “rape” and don’t want to believe their students could be rapists. But once he changed the term to “non-consensual sex,” the conversations were much easier. Focus groups loved it. Rape lite.

About one in five women and one of every 71 men have been raped, according to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in every 20 men and women said they’ve been sexually assaulted in some way other than rape.

So when are we going to take this huge issue seriously and hold predators accountable? Terms such as “non-consensual sex” make it too easy to minimize the scope of the problem. And not just on college campuses.

Last week, we saw the fall of the mightiest of the Blue Angels, that elite squadron of acrobatic Navy pilots. Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the beloved unit, was relieved of duty for allegedly creating a non-angelic atmosphere of sexual harassment, hazing and porn.

This is the same guy who was also the president of the Tailhook Association. Yes, that Tailhook. The group that had a primal bacchanal in a Las Vegas hotel in 1991, where drunk pilots loudly and publicly sexually assaulted more than 80 women.

McWherter had just graduated from The Citadel when that scandal blew up. But the Navy’s own investigation showed McWherter hadn’t learned much from it. The Navy tried to keep his reassignment hush-hush, refusing to give details about its investigation and the reason for McWherter’s swift reassignment.

It’s all about image instead of about accountability. I’m surprised they didn’t call his booting a “non-consensual reassignment.”

We like to think that a lot the rape culture has to do with alcohol. And true, many rapes are dripping with 80-proof impulses and bad decisions. But even on dry campuses, there are attacks.

The scariest part of America’s sexual misconduct culture? The decisions that are made in the cold, sober light of day.

Remember those Secret Service guys hiring prostitutes in Cartegena? The report on that was cleaned up quite a bit because the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, Charles K. Edwards, was buddy-buddy with the guys who asked him to leave some of the more sordid details out, according to a report issued last week by a Senate oversight panel. Wouldn’t want our pals being pilloried, right?

It’s the women who wind up suffering when men try to protect each other. Take the case of Denise Rucker Krepp, a former Coast Guard officer and lawyer who was the first female general counsel at the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Soon after she took that job, she was horrified by a recent survey at the Merchant Marine Academy — it’s the equivalent of Annapolis or West Point, but for the Merchant Marine — that showed a huge number of sexual assaults were occurring at the New York campus.

One part of the survey had 21 students who reported being harassed, collectively, a total of 358 times. Seven said they were sexually assaulted.

Krepp asked the inspector general of the Transportation Department for an investigation. It didn’t happen. And she said she was asked to resign for her continued whistleblowing on the matter. She showed me the emails she got from bosses asking her for her resignation. And she spoke openly, testifying before federal panels, about the stonewalling and resignation.

Thanks to a request by two members of Congress whom Krepp had talked to after she moved on to another job, an audit was launched last July, two years after she first flagged the rape culture of the academy. The results are expected next month.

“What does this say about doing the right thing?” Krepp said. “Do they really think rape victims are going to come forward when they see this?”

Here’s the part that makes me really despondent. There are the sexual-assault scandals that involve the old-school guys, the ones who entered the military before women were their peers. We hate what they did — but somehow it felt as though that were part of another era, and it would eventually go away.

Then last week, someone at American University leaked a bunch of texts and e-mails that are allegedly between some of the cavemen, I mean brothers, at a secret, not-really-a-fraternity Epsilon Iota, which was kicked off campus 13 years ago for bad behavior.

I can’t even quote them, they’re so bad. But they joke a lot about raping and assaulting. The primary term for women rhymes with “witches.” They’re homophobic and racist enough to make Donald Sterling look reasonable. And the potty-texting young men are supposedly interns with Senate offices and various NGOs around town.

The future looks grim if guys in their 20s are behaving like this.

Last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., pushed for legislation to remove sex-crime investigations, prosecutions and punishment from the chain of command in the military to make it easier to hold predators in the ranks accountable. It failed, but changes may be coming to campuses soon. And not just in terminology.

American University is investigating the bad frat case. And hundreds of students signed a petition to expel the secret frat boys.

On Tuesday, the White House released recommendations from a task force formed to combat sexual assault on campus. Accountability is about to become a lot more non-consensual. And that’s long overdue.

© 2014, The Washington Post

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Ten truths about day jobs

    1. Never look down on somebody who holds a job and rides the bus to the end of the line. These are the people who labor their whole lives but are never rewarded with tangible success. Not every dog has its day; some simply work their tails off. My father was one of those guys: never missed a day, never missed a beat and barely made a dime. But he taught my brother and me how to get a job done. Old Italians would grab their kids and say, “The more you have in there,” pointing to our heads, “the less you have to put on there,” pointing to our backs. My brother and I benefited from my father’s integrity, his stamina and his gratitude for having a job.

  • When the world blows up, blame hip-hop

    It was only a matter of time. A violent convergence of domestic and international events has us all feeling as if the world is falling off its axis. Headlines telling of rioters rocking Ferguson, Mo., are intersected with constant flashes of black-masked Islamic State marauders leaving bloody trails of decapitated heads as they pillage the Middle Eastern desert. And in the inevitable reach to explain the Four Horsemen chaos of assorted colored folk shaking it up, the best dissertation the mainstream media can find is that it must be hip-hop’s fault.

  • I studied engineering, not English. I still can’t find a job.

    When I graduated from Penn State a year ago, I thought I was perfectly prepared to succeed in the business world. I’d worked hard, graduated at the top of my class in computer science and managed to acquire lots of experience with the sorts of industry software that I was sure hiring managers were looking for. I’d even chosen a STEM degree, which — according to just about everyone — is the smartest choice to plan for the future (eight out of the 10 fastest growing job occupations in the United States are STEM jobs).

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category