No, Rules Don’t Cause Rape, Attitudes Do

The other day, Austin Ruse, who is very deeply concerned with protecting schools that refuse to protect women, wrote a post asking “Do Rules Cause Rape?” His point was that Catholic colleges’ critics focus too much on the rules on these campuses, accusing them of causing rape.

My opinion is that the strict rules at Christendom don’t cause rape.  However, they give the mistaken impression that it’s such a Catholic environment that rape could never happen.  Christendom’s promotional material includes slogans like “Breathe the Catholic Air” and “Family-friendly rules that keep your child safe.”  It brings to mind a Truman Show level of perfection–a perfect bubble where no one ever has sex, no one ever drinks, no one ever rapes. After all, that’s all against the rules.

The trouble, of course, is that rules aren’t always followed.  Banning kissing doesn’t mean no one ever has sex, and banning R-rated movies doesn’t mean no one watches porn.  In fact, the administration has no expectation that the rules will be followed at all times. I remember, as an undergraduate, complaining about the ban on kissing and holding hands, and being told, “That’s why you should go off-campus!  Christendom students should stop just ‘hanging out’ all the time and go on dates!” Likewise, I vented to a member of the staff once about a drinking party I’d heard about down at the river. I felt it was really scandalous that a dry campus should have underage drinking taking place just a hundred yards off campus.  But the staff member told me that he thought the party was very wholesome, and that I should try it. “We are Catholics,” he said. “We’re not puritanical about alcohol.”

So why the double standard?  

Why were things banned on campus that everyone thought were perfectly okay to do?  The answer is, it was much better for the college’s reputation to ban those things.  That way my dad could say in confidence, “I didn’t worry about you at college, I knew nothing could happen on a campus where nobody even kisses.”  And anytime something bad did happen, from a student tumbling into the river while intoxicated to rapes on Skyline Drive, the college was free to step aside with the excuse that what happened off campus was none of their business.

Even today, we see Catholic colleges defending themselves from blame by saying they did everything they could — after all, they tell people to flee situations of sin!  The implication is that no one would ever get raped if they weren’t doing anything wrong. The rules are so perfect that they would keep everyone safe at all times, and therefore rape victims are to blame.  Didn’t they go off campus? Didn’t they maybe agree to kiss? Not the college’s problem then. Even though they never told us not to go off campus, or not to kiss off campus, or to treat Christendom men as dangerous.

Should Christendom get rid of its rules?  

I say no, at least not most of them. Single-sex dorms mean that female students can sleep in an environment that’s safe and private.  (It would be better still if the doors had locks. In my day, the dorms had only a combination lock on the doors to the outside, so that male students could and did break in to prank, or to steal our underwear.  Now the outer doors are more secure, but the rooms themselves don’t lock unless you specially request a key.) A ban on alcohol means that there will be less underage drinking than otherwise. They’ve relaxed the PDA policy to allow hand-holding, which I see as a plus — now students can show affection without having to hike out into the woods, where they are less safe.  With that reform already made, I don’t see a lot I would change, rules-wise.

What should change are the attitudes.

The college should stop trying to promote itself as a place that’s so safe this could never happen.  It should stop teaching female students that “safety” consists in fearing outsiders while having any male student walk them home in the dark.  It should be clear with students which rules are only for following on campus, and which are for safety reasons and should be followed everywhere.  And it needs to stop conflating rape and unchastity, suggesting that if people were only chaste, these things wouldn’t happen. You can be as chaste as the driven snow, but if the other person isn’t, that’s not going to protect you.  Rape always needs to be discussed on its own, separate from general chastity rules, because it is an act of violence which you can’t prevent by being committed to purity. But it sometimes can be prevented by knowing it can happen, even at Christendom, and being forearmed with safety tips and on-campus resources.