So… unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware that my graduate institution, the University of Virginia, has been rocked by an article appearing in Rolling Stone magazine that revealed a horrendous gang-rape that took place two years ago, and the extent to which this crime is a common occurrence in the UVA party scene. After my first time reading it, I was horrified and angry. Since then, my anger and disgust has grown exponentially. One of my students, a brave and inspiring woman named Alex, has publicly identified herself as a victim of rape and is leading the charge to make real, substantial changes to the culture at UVA. She and another student of mine this semester have made the statistic that 1 in 4 women is sexually assaulted far less of an abstraction to me, and far more of a reality.
It truly breaks my heart to think that, statistically speaking, one quarter of my roughly 50 female students this semester has been violated in a brutal, dehumanizing manner I could never even imagine. It is equally disturbing to think that one or more of my male students may be the perpetrator of such a horrendous crime, apparently justified as a “rite of passage” to be hazed into a fraternity, or perhaps not even justified at all in his mind (because he may think that no justification is necessary). When rape happens, no one wins. The victim is violated in the worst way possible and the rapist has committed a crime he will never be able to “make right.”
I have called this piece “A Non-Political Post” because I do not believe politics offers any solution to this. The problem ultimately boils down to something that politics cannot fix: how you are instructed to interact with others. Anyone who thinks it is okay to gang-rape a woman as part of a fraternity initiation has been failed by their parents, teachers, and society. I do not consider myself a “feminist” in the modern sense of the word (mostly due to my pro-life principles), but you do not have to be a feminist to love and respect everybody as your equal. The simple notion of treating others as you would want to be treated (which is probably the bare minimum standard, truth be told) ought to be drilled into the hearts and minds of everyone from the earliest days of their childhood. My parents always taught me that. They drilled into me the chivalrous principle of never hitting a woman and always respecting her. The core problem in this matter is a matter of the heart, something that the political process cannot fix.
Now, the university has taken some steps to respond to the story. First, they have launched some investigations at all levels of government. This is a good step, and I hope it results in justice. Second, they have shut down all frats for the time being. I think this is more of a symbolic step, but a necessary one. The fraternities MUST realize that they are not immune to justice. Third, they have outlined plans for dialogues, conferences, etc… to address this topic in the future. I think these are good starting ideas, but will ultimately be insufficient. Concepts like “loyalty to the frat” or keeping the “university’s reputation intact” must be quashed for good. Rapists and any enablers of rape must be subject to the harshest penalties the university can dish out, if not the local PD. Rape, in short, must be treated as the crime it is and we must wipe out the rotten core that perpetuates an environment friendly to rape at UVA. Some of these solutions are “political” in the strictest sense, but there really should be no partisan cleavage here. Rape is rape and must be destroyed from every angle.
Are there any other solutions the university should adopt? Or even the larger political system? Here are my practical proposals for the university: 1.) Arm every woman on grounds with AT LEAST pepper spray, if not a gun. 2.) Provide free self-defense courses and give common-sense party education to all incoming undergraduates. 3.) Provide for free, when the product is available, the anti-rape nail polish that some guys recently developed. 4.) Terminate the Greek system, for at least two or three years (preferably permanently). 5.) Hire a free attorney for anyone who wishes to press charges. 6.) Make rape an “honor offense” that carries mandatory expulsion upon conviction- and investigate these claims more vigorously than plagiarism offenses. 7.) Automatically inform the Charlottesville PD of any such cases. 8.) Upon reinstatement, mandate that all frats be dry. 9.) Hire more University PD and assign them to Rugby Road to keep a closer eye on the frats.
As for the larger political system, I do not know what can be done, other than to lower the drinking age to 18. Doing so would break the monopoly that frats have on alcohol availability and make drinking less taboo. As a result, I think fewer students would binge drink, more students would seek medical attention when they have had too much, and more students would drink in restaurants or bars where they are probably safer than in a frat house. Moreover, parents would be able to take them out drinking before they leave for college and educate them about common sense measures involving alcohol. By having the drinking age at 21, we are restricting alcohol access (to those who are going to drink, anyway) to frat houses and parties, which is just a recipe for disaster. This will not, of course, stop all alcohol-related rapes, BUT I think if we take away one of the key factors that lures people to frat houses, it will be a safer overall environment.
Ending this series of atrocities at UVA will be like attacking a Hydra. It will be a long, painstaking process that attacks many heads. It will require us to examine ourselves and think long and hard about how we treat our fellow human beings. It will require us to impose some radical new policies empowering women to better defend themselves (because no matter what we do, there will always be rapists out there, just as there will always be murderers and thieves). It will require us to uncover more painful stories that show how much we have failed our students. But will it not be worth it if we can make rape a rare occurrence? Will it not be worth it if we save even one woman from the pain and degradation of this atrocious crime?
At the end of the day, a cultural shift is the medicine that will end these atrocities. Parents must drill into their children the principles of respecting and loving others as you wish to be respected and loved. We, as parents or future parents, must ensure that the idea of harming a fellow human being is unthinkable (wartime, notwithstanding). Parents, raise your children to value the worth and dignity of everyone. Until then, there is not much I can do beyond praying for the victims and being there for my students if I can help them in any way.
I pray that the grace and peace of the Lord follows you all this week. Only Christ’s love can heal and bring peace. Below is a song that I have been meditating on these past few days that has brought me peace, I hope it brings you some, as well. I think it is a beautiful depiction of His love and peace.