A parent who read the front page of the New York Times last Sunday, July 13th, describing, in cringe-inducing, excruciating detail, the events leading up to, and following, the rape of a female college freshman, would be reluctant to put their son or daughter in the care of any college or university. The leap of faith required by this right of passage (leaving for college, not being raped) is being questioned daily.
I have worked as a psychotherapist in a college counseling center for twelve years; I also see both teen aged and college aged clients in my private practice. I have been impacted by rape personally: two close family members are survivors.
But the boundaries are blurring, and the line between consensual and non-consensual sex is being ignored. Based on what I am hearing, this is also the case for mutually agreed upon sex that takes a violent, physically dangerous turn. When your partner begins to strangle you, pressing his forearm across your throat, it is impossible to say “no,” let alone have the physical strength to disengage. Subsequent bruises on the throat, chest, and thighs are testimony to an intimate encounter gone very wrong. And, I emphasize, this episode began as consensual.
Rough sex-play was at the center of a well-publicized court case in Italy, involving an American student and, ultimately, the death of another. There are many scenarios such as this that don’t end tragically, so they go unreported. The shame and guilt and stigma associated with these interactions allow the perpetrators to continue wielding their power, to continue to demean and abuse their partners. Will these “bullies” later find themselves at the center of a domestic violence case, assuming their partner presses charges? Will their unborn children suffer at their hands, victims in a cycle that began long before the parent became a parent?
When and how did things escalate? Or are we hearing more about it because the victims are speaking up and out, and they have a larger forum in which to do so? And yet the federal government has only recently weighed in, as if this is all new information. If one out of four women are raped, usually by someone they know, why has it taken so long for the ruling class in DC to wake up? Do they not have daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers? Although we know the highest number of rapes occur in prison, male on male. So this crime is not gender-specific (as many Catholic school boys found out, decades ago).
Is it the easy access to pornography that helps fuel this sense of “entitlement”? It’s been documented (front page story, Sunday New York Times Magazine, years ago), that many young males would prefer to watch porn, rather than have a real encounter with their long-time girlfriend in the next room. What they fail to realize is that the scenes depicted in the world of “Boogie Nights” lack love. And they are also reluctant to acknowledge the price the actors must pay to perform, both psychologically and physically.
Which brings me back to the freshman, raped fourteen days after her arrival on campus.