Do Rules Cause Rape?

I argue that a large part of the motivation for the recent attacks on Franciscan University of Steubenville and Christendom College is an intense dislike of anything that smacks of theological or political conservatism.

Recall that Simcha Fisher and Jenn Morson recently published articles setting out complaints by various former students that their claims of sexual harassment and assault were not taken seriously by the administration of these two schools. Included in these complaints, which should be taken seriously but none of which we are competent to judge, were complaints about conservative professors and the conservative rules on each campus.

In her lede, Fisher paraphrases students who say, “[Christendom’s] sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault.” She points out that the college utilizes single-sex dormitories, visitation policies to promote chastity, planned weekly events as a way to proactively promote sobriety.

Fisher features a former student, Adele Smith, who alleges a fellow student raped her and the only punishment he received was a slap on the wrist, and not for rape but for harassing her after the rape. As a new student, Smith was “bemused by the strict segregation of males and females.” She said organized visits by the boys to the girls’ dorm were like “visiting a museum,” that it was like a “human zoo.” Fisher writes, “The school’s rigid rules governing male and female interaction weren’t just awkward, though. Smith claims they are dangerous.”

Besides single-sex dorms, Christendom has a rule against public displays of affection. There used to be a rule against hand-holding. Smith says such rules drive people off campus where couples could “potentially isolate themselves.” It was this scenario that led to Smith’s alleged rape up on Skyline Drive many miles from campus.

The overt hostility to the rules is demonstrated by exchanges I had on Twitter with some of those protesting what they say happened at Christendom College. One interlocutor referred to such conservative rules as neo-Pelagianism. Another said they were Puritan. Many others said such rules do not reflect authentic Catholic moral teaching.

Jenn Morson, writing in the dissenting National Catholic Reporter, also had a bone to pick with conservative rules. She begins her story pointing out that Steubenville bills itself as “passionately Catholic” and that the Cardinal Newman Society lists the school as one of just 22 “faithfully Catholic universities” in the United States. She quotes a local rape crisis counselor who complains that, “Everything at [Franciscan University] is talked about with a religious lens. Even the way they discuss sexual assault and harassment focuses on what the church teaches on premarital sex, modesty, and avoiding situations that lead to sexual assault…”

Morson also goes after two professors she considers too conservative. She complains about Professor Stephen Krason’s in-class dress code that “focuses heavily on female dress.” Krason says students may not wear apparel that exposes “bare midriffs or short cut tops which expose midriffs or lower backs … plunging or low necklines or necklines that expose cleavage, cut-off or mesh or muscle shirts, tube tops, halter tops…,” you get the idea.

It is clear the rules apply to both sexes but also recognize there are more chances for immodesty in women’s dress than men’s. Moreover, Krason’s rules recognize something that toxic feminism rejects, which is that men and women are different and respond to different stimuli. Men are visual. Though Krason would not let him, a guy could sit in class without a shirt and the women would likely not think much of it. Women are not as easily aroused by the male form as men are of the female form. On the other hand, toxic feminists will say men have to learn to control themselves and their desires, and presumably women should feel utterly free to sit topless in Krason’s class.

Morson also has a beef with Professor Anne Hendershott because Hendershott has been a critic of Title IX rules handed down by President Obama just a few years ago that have led to chaos on some college campuses. Lawsuits are popping up all over the country brought by young men who have been falsely accused and punished. Hendershott points out that universities are not equipped to adjudicate such serious charges as sexual assault and rape. Hendershott says campus procedures have led to “kangaroo courts” and she is absolutely right.

Morson believes the following sentence published by Hendershott is prima facie evidence that Hendershott and the school do not take sexual assault seriously: “At Franciscan, there is an effort to help students avoid the kinds of situations that can lead to accusation of sexual assault but helping them to live lives of holiness.” This is very much the thought behind the rules at Christendom, too.

Such ideas, though, are red flags to toxic feminists and #Metoo-ists. They think such ideas are neo-Pelagian, Puritanical and, worst of all, conservative. They believe such rules lead to rape, and that what college kids need is consent even more than chastity. Catholic sexual morality only gets you so far. In the clutches, more than chastity, you need consent.

You have to wonder if Fisher and Morson and their echo chamber really believe sexual assault wouldn’t happen if only Christendom had coed dorms and Steubenville didn’t see everything through the lens of Catholicism? Do they understand that sexual assault happens on secular campuses that are drenched in consent ideology, behind closed doors isolated in coed dorm rooms, and at exponentially higher rates than occur at such religious schools?

Maybe they hold one of the main tenets of the Sexual Revolution that any kind of repression can only lead to pathologies including sexual assault: that strict rules regulating interaction between the sexes can only lead to rape. It is very nearly impossible not to imbibe at least some of the central dogmas of the age, no matter how screwy.

I believe that Fisher and Morson genuinely care about women who have been mistreated and I have no doubt that some women have been mistreated. But, neither Fisher nor Morson have even remotely shown that Christendom or Steubenville are experiencing an epidemic of sexual assault. It is entirely possible that the schools have fumbled in caring for the few women who have complained. But, both Morson’s and Fisher’s stories are as much about strict rules and conservative professors as they are about assault. So, it seems to me that this has become a story because Fisher and Morson and their echo chamber have a special enmity for Christendom and Steubenville because they are too conservatively Catholic and too aligned with political conservatism. Yes, rape is a sin but to them so is conservatism.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Austin Ruse

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Austin Ruse is president of C-FAM (Center for Family & Human Rights), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute. He is the author of Fake Science: Exposing the Left’s Skewed Statistics, Fuzzy Facts, and Dodgy Data published by Regnery and Little Suffering Souls: Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ published by Tan Books. His forthcoming book from Tan Books will be co-authored by His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke. The views expressed here are solely his own.

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