It’s On Us
The Obama Administration has launched a campaign to help raise awareness of sexual assault on campus, It’s On Us, that includes taking a pledge:
To Recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault.
To Identify situations in which sexual assault may occur.
To Intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.
To Create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
To help support the effort, It’s On Us produced the following ad, filled with Celeb cool and targeted at people, not at gender:
All such efforts will, of course, come up for criticism both good and bad. Mine is mostly good; this is something I’ve been saying for a long, long time: If we want to diminish rape, we have to talk to the people who rape, not just the victims of rape. I don’t think there’s much to argue with in that context.
So I was rather appalled to find a Reason post by Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Only YOU Can Prevent College Sexual Assaults, Say Obama and Biden. I’m always skeptical of headline critiques, but this one inverts the ad’s “It’s on us,” to “Only YOU.” (h/t to Sully.)
Brown quotes Obama’s economic adviser Jeffrey Zients:
It’s the whole point. Because in a country where one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted—only 12 percent of which are reported—this is a problem that should be important to every single one of us, and it’s on every single one of us to do something to end the problem.
Now I see that as a call to increased awareness. Sorta like, “Don’t beat your kid.”
But Brown? She sees something more insidious – she calls it a manufactured problem — manufactured to help those manufacturing the problem benefit from it:
Reading Zients’ post, I was reminded of author and professor Joel Best speaking on the hallmarks of how media hype (and the attendent bogus statistics) get promulgated: First there is a high-profile tragic event, then the need to define the event as part of an identifiable Problem (“the heroin epidemic”), and then a desire to quantify the problem so as to place it in a larger context. I put “campus rape crisis” in quotes not to diminish the seriousness of sexual assault but because I think the phrase is a prime example of the phenomenon Best describes. Rape is a problem wherever it happens, which is sometimes on campus and more frequently not. The “campus rape crisis” is a thing perpetuated by people interested in profiting from the fear in various ways.
Now, I know what she’s talking about here. I got to witness first hand the domestic-abuse industry, and how it sought to trap people in abusive situations so that it could continue to profit from the misery. There is a very real problem with people seeing any attempt at a solution to a social problem as an opportunity for creating a market, and then abusing people who consume their services. The situation I saw included a court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) who literally filed court documents alleging information from teachers and the principal of the children’s school that was never given, information used to justify the mother having to continue to pay for the father’s visitation at his supervised visitation center. In this case, I realized what had happened because I voilated the mother’s privacy in a conversation with the principal, and she wrote the necessary rebuttals that had the GAL dismissed from the case. There was no court-investigation into his actions, which stuns to this day. I would have yanked his license, had I been that judge.
When you make up a problem—and again, let’s be clear that I’m not saying rape, the underreporting of rape, or the way campuses handle rape is a made-up problem, but rather the idea that college campuses are some sort of rape epicenter—it is much easier to get credit for solving that problem.
So the problem’s not made up, but any attempts to help solve the problem should be disregarded, because problems offer an opportunity for potential problem solvers. Like, let’s not actually talk about the real problem, let’s talk about made-up problems — and then treat this particular effort as if it’s a made-up problem.
This pretty much sucks donkey dung. It’s some of the most stupid, lame logic I’ve ever encountered. The piece continues in this way. It’s like this total suck of any problem government tackles is now a false problem because someone in government will try to attempt taking credit for solving the problem. Brown, in her righteous wrath, thinks it’s wrong for government to be engaged in the conversation, even as she admits her whole post is idiotic:
It’s not a terrible campaign, all around. Some of the tips are sensible. And a sexual-assault prevention initiative aimed equally at men and women that explicitly eschews victim-blaming and highlights the importance of consent is actually pretty radical. If this were a campaign run by MTV or a private foundation or a network of college campus-groups, I might be more applauding of their efforts. But I reject that this is a job for the president and vice president.
She would give free speech to everyone, probably corporations, but insist the government remain mute.
I would just like to remind Nolan of the best work our government does: it’s not when it’s spying on us, arresting us, or incarcerating us; it’s when it’s providing us with useful information that helps us make better decisions. Weather data, census data, disease data, and yes, even crime data and ad campaigns targeted at the people most likely to commit those crimes.
 Brown also claimed regarding what Zients had said, “nothing about this makes any sense.” I suppose she’s wondering about an economic advisor writing on the topic of campus rape; as if rape doesn’t have a huge economic cost.