Everything Wrong With How We Talk About College Rape, in 9 Awful Quotes

ByMaureen Shaw

College officials are supposed to support and safeguard students, not foster a culture of sexual assault on campus. But sometimes, that's exactly what they do.  

This happened last week after Lincoln University President Robert R. Jennings made headlines when his speech to the university's All-Women's Convocation was posted to YouTube. In his remarks, Jennings claimed that women lied about rape and put the onus of sexual assault on women.

America's college rape epidemic has long been a problem, but better awareness has started to reveal just how much it has spiraled out of control: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 female university students report being the victims of rape or attempted rape. The fact that despite this information officials like Jennings continue to stereotype victims and downplay allegations is extremely problematic. What's more, universities notoriously mishandle these cases, relying on faculty-led disciplinary hearings that have been criticized for delaying or stymieing justice for survivors.

Recent examples of colleges' inability to properly investigate and report campus rapes — including those at Columbia University, James Madison University and Occidental College — have prompted much-needed attention from the White House and student activists. But it's clear too many college officials still haven't gotten the message. Here are nine times college officials have proven we still have a long way to go when it comes to sexual assault prevention in America:

1. "Men treat you — treat women — the way women allow us to treat them."

"Men treat you — treat women — the way women allow us to treat them," Jennings said in the now-viral speech. "I'm right about it because we had on this campus last semester, three cases of young women who, after having done whatever they did with the young men, and then it didn't turn out the way they wanted it to turn out, guess what they did? They then went to Public Safety and said, 'He raped me.'" 

He went on to say, "First and foremost, don't put yourself in a situation that would cause you to be trying to explain something that really needs no explanation had you not put yourself in that situation."

We've said it before, but apparently it bears repeating: Rapists cause rape, not victims. As for the incidence of women lying about rape, false accusations account for only 2-6% of reported cases.

Jennings did not respond to Mic's request for comment.

2. It's not rape if he didn't orgasm.

That's what one University of Southern California student was told by the university's campus police when she reported her rape. According to the Huffington Post, an officer from the school's Department of Public Safety claimed that, "Because he stopped, it was not rape. Even though his penis penetrated your vagina, because he stopped, it was not a crime." 

This incident, among several others, led the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to launch an investigation into USC's (mis)handling of sexual assault cases in 2013.

3. Women have "to be trained not to drink in excess."


Stephen Trachtenberg, the former president of George Washington University, recently appeared on The Diane Rehm Show to discuss Greek life and said that women have to "be trained not to drink in excess" so that they can defend themselves against men who "misbehave." 

Not surprisingly, Trachtenberg quickly came under fire for these remarks, specifically for placing the onus on women to avoid being raped and mischaracterizing sexual assault as simple misbehavior. An alum even began a petition demanding an apology from Trachtenberg and requesting the current administration put long-term support services in place for survivors of sexual assault on campus.  

Trachtenberg has since had time to reflect on the incident, telling Mic, "It's an important matter about which I tried in the moment I had to make a constructive contribution. Perhaps in the end I did. I hope so. In any case, it's largely in the rearview mirror now. I leave further reflection on that agenda to my betters."

4. An admission of guilt "is punishment enough."


In 2013, Swarthmore College student Hope Brinn joined a federal complaint against the school for its mismanagement of sexual assault cases. As the Huffington Post reports, Brinn reported sexual harassment by a male student to campus administration and was repeatedly asked what she had done to provoke it. An unnamed official then remarked that her harasser's admission "was punishment enough." 

Swarthmore is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

5. "He's a nice boy. Are you sure you want to report this?"

In an exposé on Patrick Henry College from February, the New Republic detailed the private school's long history of mismanagement of rape cases. The article focused primarily on Sandra Corbitt, now the dean of student affairs, who on multiple occasions reportedly told assault victims that their actions had provoked the attacks. 

One student told New Republic that Corbitt said, "The choices you make and the people you choose to associate with, the way you try to portray yourself, will affect how people treat you," and told her to consider "the kinds of ideas [her clothing] puts in men's minds."

Another student who reported her rape to Corbitt remembers her saying, "He's a nice boy. Are you sure you want to report this?" and, later, "If you were telling the truth about this, God would have kept you conscious to bear witness to the abuse against you."

Corbitt did not respond to Mic's request for comment.

6. Female students should practice anti-rape faces.

Students at Ramapo College of New Jersey were told in a presentation on sexual assault to watch their facial expressions in an effort to avoid being raped.

As Mic reported in October, "The presentation included tips from the school's substance abuse and violence prevention coordinator Cory Rosenkranz, who advised students on how to dress, how much to drink and how to use body language that would lessen the chances of assault."

The Internet promptly responded with the hashtag #MyAntiRapeFace to highlight the absurdity of suggesting a woman's facial expressions have any bearing on whether she is sexually assaulted.

Rosenkranz did not respond to Mic's request for comment.

7. "Rape is like football, and you're the quarterback."

In 2013, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill alum Annie Clark joined other students, all sexual assault survivors, in a federal complaint against the school for its alleged misconduct in handing rape cases. 

In Clark's case, she went to a school counselor for help and was told, "Rape is like football, and you're the quarterback; when you look back on a game, Annie, how would you have done things differently?"

Unsurprisingly, UNC is among 76 colleges under federal investigation for mishandling rape.

8. "Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep on happening till the cows come home."

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That's what a campus police officer reportedly told University of Connecticut student Kylie Angell when she reported her rape. Unsurprisingly, that insensitive — not to mention inaccurate — remark has stuck with her. She told Huffington Post, "That was a quote I've never forgotten."

Angell joined a complaint against UConn for failing to properly investigate sexual assault. Like many of the schools cited above, the university is under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

9. "It's in your culture that men are gropey." 

When one survivor of sexual assault — a woman of color — reported her sexual assault to Harvard College, a campus official told her, "It's in your culture that men are gropey." 

This comment, which is not only dismissive of a sexually violent act but is also dripping with racism, is sadly indicative of the rape culture promulgated by Harvard. Several other incidents, including denying victims protections from their alleged assailants and blaming victims, have brought the prestigious school under fire and federal investigation.

What now? The above examples illustrate a deeply misguided understanding of rape as well as an inability to talk about it in a productive, accurate way. Blaming victims and putting the onus on women to prevent their own rapes will not help solve the college rape crisis; it only encourages deeply entrenched cultural attitudes that prevent sexual assault from being taken seriously.