Gerber: Two columns, two views of rape

Gerber: Two columns, two views of rape

June 15th, 2014 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Some stories resonate with readers.

Times Free Press columnist David Cook's June 1 column, "Calhoun prom assault was never about beer," has been read many times over -- more than 225,000 times, our website analytics show. It "blew away Google," one of my colleagues observed, and it has been shared over and over on social media, as well as picked up by websites such as Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post.

Cook's message is that the sexual assault that took place May 10 in Gilmer County, Ga., should not be excused or minimized because there was alcohol involved. He writes: "She wasn't a victim of too-much beer. She was a victim of sexual assault."

Three 18-year-old males who attended Calhoun High School are charged with sexually battering the woman, also 18 and a fellow student. Law enforcement officials have said she was so badly injured from a foreign object inserted into her, she had to receive treatment at a hospital. A lawyer for one of the accused has said any acts were consensual.

Writers and bloggers scattered around America picked up on Cook's column and mentioned it in their own opinion pieces about the Calhoun rape. The column prompted debate on the so-called rape culture. It also provoked discussion about how our social media-frenzied culture treats victim of rape.

"One of the biggest problems with the rape culture phenomenon continues to be the way that it minimizes the experience of the victim, in some cases actually rallying support for the perpetrators," PolicyMic stated.

Many writers praised the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office for taking the attack seriously.

"What's surprisingly disturbing about this is that people are praising the quick response from local law enforcement. Also known as doing their job," one reader commented on the Buzzfeed piece. "The bar is set so low that, by not delaying the investigation of a brutal rape, you get a ... cookie."

Some praised the #StandForHer social media campaign that supported the victim and demanded justice. A piece on the website Bustle asked: "Are the people in Calhoun extraordinarily progressive? Isn't it sad that I have to use words like 'progressive' just because half the town didn't jump to blame an assault victim rather than her aggressors?"

Myths and mistruths about rape persist; many rape victims nationwide still live with a stigma and shame.

Just this month, Washington Post columnist George Will came under attack for his column that suggests that, when colleges address campus sexual assault, it makes "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." He refers to "the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault.'"

That's right, "sexual assault" in quotation marks. As if it's not real. Will frets that academics pushing programs designed to prevent campus rape are "making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations." He suggests that innocent men are being accused of rape when, really, they're just hooking up with women on college campuses.

"The consent of a female who has been drinking might not protect a male from being found guilty of rape," Will wrote.

His comments are exactly why the reaction to Cook's column is uplifting. Because rape is sometimes dismissed. Because victims are too often blamed.

We need less of George Will and more of David Cook.

Alison Gerber is editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Contact her at agerber@timesfreepress.com.