A story of rape is a story of power, degradation, and disrespect. It’s the kind of story that makes you want—no, need—to shower with a lye bar and Brillo pad after you’ve heard it.
A story that ends with, “and it was pretty much rape” has the same effect on me, but for a completely different reason.
We have another he-said-she-said nightmare hitting the news out of Virginia. A John Doe and former Washington & Lee student has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the university expelled and discriminated against him in order to avoid negative attention, and that W&L Title IX officer Lauren Kozak routinely counsels female students that “regret equals rape.”
Here we go again. Same song, different verse:
John Doe claims that twice, he had consensual sex with a student identified in the lawsuit as Jane Doe. The first encounter occurred in his room at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house where they went after an off-campus party on Feb. 8. Both had been drinking, he said.
He claims they sat on chairs in his room and talked for about an hour. He said Jane Doe then said that while she doesn’t usually have sex with a man when she first meets him, she found him very interesting. He said she moved toward him, initiated kissing, took off her clothes except for her underwear and got into bed with him. He said at no point did she say she did not want to have sex.
He claims she spent the night, that he contacted her later through Facebook and that they had sex again in early March. He said she told her friends she had a good time. But at a Pi Kappa Phi St. Patrick’s Day party a few weeks later, Jane Doe left when she saw him kissing another woman, who is now his girlfriend.
Well, haven’t we all been there.
It wasn’t until July that Jane Doe told a friend that she was sexually assaulted, the lawsuit claims. Then in October, Jane Doe, as a member of a student organization against sexual assault called SPEAK, attended a presentation by W&L Title IX officer Lauren Kozak. According to the lawsuit, Kozak shared an article, “Is it possible that there is something in between consensual sex and rape … and that it happens to almost every girl out there?”
Ah. Shot and chaser.
Here’s a snippet from the article Kozak allegedly shared, from the indefatigably bro “Total Sorority Move”:
I woke up with an “oh shit” feeling that quickly turned into an “oh well.” I didn’t really feel I’d been violated, though part of me knew I had. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t hurt. I didn’t want vengeance. I didn’t even feel weird around him soon after. I didn’t feel much of anything. I certainly didn’t feel like I’d been raped. But what had happened the night prior was not consensual sex, and I didn’t like it. I wanted the flirting. I wanted the kissing. I wanted the sleepover. But I didn’t want to go all the way. And that’s very hard to explain to a man who is just as drunk as you are.
There is not a word for my experience. The fact that there’s not a word for it makes us feel like it doesn’t exist. Or maybe there’s not a word for it because we’re pretending it doesn’t exist. But this weird place in between consensual sex and rape? It’s there. It does exist. And it’s happening all the time. As it turns out, almost every woman I spoke to had been there at some point or another…
“Oh shit”? Sure enough. “Oh well”? That comes later, followed closely by the return of self-respect. Rape? Not even close. There’s not a single word that indicates that the writer even gave a hint that she didn’t want to have sex with this man, and now he’s the subject of a popular article allegedly being used as an example of what a near-rapist looks like.
Rapist. Monster. Criminal.
The W&L President’s Office released a blog post soon after the UVA Rolling Stone article first broke. In part (emphasis mine):
Here at Washington and Lee, we have spoken in the past about rape and sexual misconduct. We have carefully and continually examined and refined our processes and procedures for dealing with cases and for educating students to prevent such intolerable behavior from occurring. We have asserted our community’s values and stressed how disrespect for others for any reason is simply not acceptable.
These most recent discussions serve to remind us that we must always be willing to ask the hard questions and continually examine our approaches.
But we can never say this enough: Mistreatment of others is wrong by any standard of our society, by any standard of right or wrong. It is especially wrong in this community, where we — rightly — insist on developing within our students the moral obligation to treat others with respect at all times and under all conditions; where we demand that members of our community never stand idly by when we see others violate those values. It is wrong anywhere. It is especially wrong at this university.
The problem is that we’ve misplaced our standard of right and wrong. It’s wrong to hold other people responsible ex post facto for the choices we make. It’s wrong to paint them as rapists when there has been no rape. And most importantly, it’s wrong to attempt to manipulate women into believing they have no power over their own sexuality.
Rape is a serious accusation that deserves serious attention, not navel-gazing articles about how grossed out you need to be about last night’s mistake to be able to blame him for your poor choices:
We don’t feel entirely violated. It doesn’t affect us forever. We just feel like we got the short end of the stick, and that sometimes, we have to do something we don’t want to do, out of politeness or social obligation. So why bring it up? Why risk wrongfully tagging a guy with a serious, heavy label he doesn’t deserve? And more importantly, why risk being wrongfully tagged as “the girl who cried rape,” when we’re not trying to say it was rape at all? We’re saying we don’t know what it was. We just didn’t like it. But by refusing to acknowledge the existence of these rape-ish situations, we’re continuing to subject ourselves to them indefinitely.
The words we use to describe things like rape, or uncomfortable touching, or even regrettable sex have the power to shape the lives and futures of other human beings, and it’s time for a little more precision.
Like I said, rape is a serious accusation, and I hope that the people at Washington & Lee give both John and Jane Doe the time and attention that the situation deserves; but if more information comes out about official resources being used to blur the line between consent and criminal sexual assault, I can’t say I’ll be shocked.
This is a serious allegation, and if it’s true, W&L will have more to answer for than yet another flawed student misconduct hearing system.DONATE
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