Will has a long record of revealing his own, shall we say, personal particularities, under the guise of political analysis. He's not simply an anti-science climate change-denying ignoramous, he compares climate scientists to Nazis. He's not just a Confederacy whitewasher, he's obsessed with race to the point of projection. Will doesn't just attempt to sneer down at the growing national consensus on marriage equality, he bends over backward while attempting to rationalize his support for institutional bigotry. What's most astonishing about Will isn't the shamelessness of his shamefulness, it's that he not only is allowed and indulged but is actually encouraged to exhibit it in public.
Last week, Will was in what to almost anyone else would be considered rare form:
Washington Post columnist George Will doesn’t believe the statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Instead he believes that liberals, feminists and other nefarious forces have conspired to turn being a rape survivor into a “coveted status that confers privileges.” As a result of this plot, “victims proliferate,” Will wrote in a weekend editorial that ran in the Washington Post and New York Post.Seriously? People are reporting being raped because having been subjected to one of the most horrific forms of violence is coveted? We're talking about rape! We're talking about devastating trauma, and Will somehow comes up with coveted status? Has Will's entire humanity been voided?
Further compounding the crisis of people coming forward about sexual assault to stay de rigueur is the fact that “capacious” definitions of sexual assault include forcible sexual penetration and nonconsensual sexual touching. Which is really very outrageous, according to Will. It is really very hard to understand why having your breasts or other parts of your body touched against your will should be frowned upon.
It’s not very surprising that George Will does not think that sexual assault on campus is a big deal. It’s also not very surprising that he thinks that definitions of sexual violence are somehow overly broad because they factor in forms of sexual contact other than penetration. But what is puzzling — about this editorial and the army of nearly identical pieces of rape apologia that find a way into national newspapers with some regularity — is how much one has to ignore in order to argue these points.
More over the fold.
The exact quote is this:
They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.You can take my word, or use a search engine, because I'm not sullying this site with a link.
To her credit, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) addresses what, for Will, passes as content:
Will’s characterization of victimhood as a “coveted status that confers privileges” demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the repercussions that victims can face in reporting attacks. Did he speak to any survivors? If he had, he would have learned that the “privilege” of being a survivor can mean having been assaulted by a classmate you trusted, ostracized for reporting or blamed by friends and family for what happened. At Amherst College, survivors have been given the preposterous advice to take time off from school until the rapist graduates. At the University of California at Berkeley, the perks of being a survivor have included having a stay-away order issued by the university lifted and then allowingthe assailant assigned to your dorm.More on those 60 colleges and universities in just a moment, but first let's go to Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel, who flags this quote from Will:
Will also perpetuated disturbing myths about false reporting and consent. In truth, false reporting rates are extremely low — between 2 percent and 8 percent — and obtaining consent from an individual at one point does not give you access to her body in perpetuity.
From reading Will’s column, you would think that universities are aggressively expelling students found guilty of assault. But colleges routinely shirk their responsibilities to victims. As of this writing, 60 colleges and universities are under investigation for possible Title IX violations related to sexual violence on campus.
The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of assaults are reported. Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20 percent.And then notes:
Rape is underreported, here is how many women reported being raped, therefore rape is overreported. These reports are flawed! Can't you tell by these flawed reports? Your honor, I rest my case.Which brings us back to Speier's point about 60 colleges and universities being under investigation for possible Title IX violations related to sexual violence on campus. Which brings us to the possibility that women at Ohio State for some reason are particularly hesitant to report having been raped:
With that, it's not clear what, exactly, Will is arguing, besides what Salon's Katie McDonaugh calls "I Am Mad That We Are Now Talking About Sexual Assault And Sexual Entitlement. These Conversations Make Me Uncomfortable And Threaten Me. Please Make Them Stop." He begins his piece claiming that namby pamby wimpy pants liberals are turning colleges into victim factories because being a rape victim is kind of like being prom queen in Obama's America (TM), but then goes on to acknowledge that rape is underreported because REASONS. If victimhood is so coveted, wouldn't it stand to reason that rape would overreported? And where are the male victims of sexual assault in all of this? Where is the stigma they face, the fear and humiliation they must confront if they come forward to people with antique social attitudes like Will's?
Maybe inside of derisive quotation marks, firmly outside of George Will's ability to comprehend.
The federal government is investigating three Ohio universities for their handling of sexual-assault and harassment cases.But even if Will's bizarre argument were accurate and Ohio State did somehow have a lower-than-reported rate of sexual violence, despite the underreporting of its rate of sexual violence, that would be one school in one city in one state. By cherry-picking (and even at that egregiously misunderstanding) the data from one school in one city in one state, Will seems to doubt the actual research:
Ohio State University, Denison University and Wittenberg University are among 55 schools nationally that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is questioning, according to a list that officials revealed yesterday. Investigators are determining whether the schools comply with federal Title IX rules.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) measures the rates at which Americans are victims of crimes, including rape and sexual assault, but there is concern that rape and sexual assault are undercounted on this survey. BJS asked the National Research Council to investigate this issue and recommend best practices for measuring rape and sexual assault on their household surveys. Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault concludes that it is likely that the NCVS is undercounting rape and sexual assault. The most accurate counts of rape and sexual assault cannot be achieved without measuring them separately from other victimizations, the report says. It recommends that BJS develop a separate survey for measuring rape and sexual assault. The new survey should more precisely define ambiguous words such as "rape," give more privacy to respondents, and take other steps that would improve the accuracy of responses. Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault takes a fresh look at the problem of measuring incidents of rape and sexual assault from the criminal justice perspective. This report examines issues such as the legal definitions in use by the states for these crimes, best methods for representing the definitions in survey instruments so that their meaning is clear to respondents, and best methods for obtaining as complete reporting as possible of these crimes in surveys, including methods whereby respondents may report anonymously.Well, there's the problem, right there. The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Research Council buy into the idea that rape and sexual assault are bad things:
Rape and sexual assault are among the most injurious crimes a person can inflict on another. The effects are devastating, extending beyond the initial victimization to consequences such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sleep and eating disorders, and other emotional and physical problems. Understanding the frequency and context under which rape and sexual assault are committed is vital in directing resources for law enforcement and support for victims. These data can influence public health and mental health policies and help identify interventions that will reduce the risk of future attacks. Sadly, accurate information about the extent of sexual assault and rape is difficult to obtain because most of these crimes go unreported to police. Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault focuses on methodology and vehicles used to measure rape and sexual assaults, reviews potential sources of error within the NCVS survey, and assesses the training and monitoring of interviewers in an effort to improve reporting of these crimes.
Rape and sexual assault are among the most injurious crimes a person can inflict on another. The effects are devastating, extending beyond the initial victimization to consequences such as unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sleep and eating disorders, and other emotional and physical problems.Because in Will's warped world, that's all a coveted status that confers privileges.
As for the numbers, Emily Bazelon breaks it down:
There is, in fact, an existing survey that has many of the attributes the NCVS currently lacks. It’s administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. (NISVS is the acronym. Apologies for the alphabet soup.) NISVS “represents the public health perspective,” as Tuesday’s report puts it, and it asks questions about specific behavior, including whether the survey-taker was unable to consent to sex because he or she had been drinking or taking drugs. NISVS was first conducted in 2010, so it doesn’t go back in time the way the NCVS numbers do. But here’s the startling direct comparison between the two measures: NISVS counted 1.27 million total sexual acts of forced penetration for women over the past year (including completed, attempted, and alcohol or drug facilitated). NCVS counted only 188,380 for rape and sexual assault. And the FBI, which collects its data from local law enforcement, and so only counts rapes and attempted rapes that have been reported as crimes, totaled only 85,593 for 2010.But there's that bias against rape, again: a real cause for alarm that rape is underreported, as if rape is a bad thing, and the underreporting of rape is a bad thing. Because in Will's warped world, reporting one has been raped grants one a coveted status that confers privileges. Which would seem to be a good thing, a status people would eagerly seek. This brings us back to Ryan's point: If victimhood is so coveted, wouldn't it stand to reason that rape would be overreported?
It’s a real cause for alarm that there is such a huge discrepancy between the national survey that most closely follows the approach recommended by the experts and the ones that don’t, yet are more often cited. The bottom line is that women are still experiencing date rape or acquaintance rape or gray rape—whatever you want to call it—in dismayingly large numbers. As Christopher Krebs, a sexual violence researcher at RTI International, puts it, “We all know that rape and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes in the world, and it’s very hard to say that the problem is declining. The NCVS data could be missing a lot.” And especially critical: The NCVS doesn’t directly capture the instances in which drugs or alcohol leave women less able to defend themselves. Let me say that again: The national data about rape that gets cited over and over again doesn’t ask a single question about whether a victim was unable to consent because of drugs or alcohol, even though that is a major risk factor. The NCVS fails to see the full range of nonconsensual sex that should concern us. It also doesn’t accurately reflect the circumstances in which this kind of rape occurs—another important function that a tool like this should serve.
But that's all addressing the content, and the problem is much more than the content. With George Will, the problem so often is about context. The statistics are clear, and the logic is clear, and only someone who is stupid or someone who harbors a deep, ugly and very particular bias could be so willfully ignorant. George Will is not stupid. He also is not alone. Media Matters quotes Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt:
George Will's column was well within the bounds of legitimate debate. I welcomed his contribution, as I welcome the discussion it sparked and the responses, some of which we will be publishing on our pages and website. This is what a good opinion site should do. Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate, and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column.Legitimate debate? Accusing those who report having been subjected to one of the most horrific forms of violence of doing so because they're seeking coveted status is legitimate debate? We're talking about rape! We're talking about devastating trauma. Coveted status as legitimate debate? Has Fred Hiatt's entire humanity been voided? That's a question for legitimate debate.
George Will has the right to be the ugly little person he is. He has the right to expose his ugliness to the public. And the public has the right to cringe and look away. But when a leading national newspaper allows Will to use its mass influence to disseminate his ugliness into the public dialogue, it is no longer about Will. It is about that newspaper. George Will is whatever George Will is, but by continuing to publish him, the Washington Post owns him.