After sophomore Alex Knepper claimed that "'date rape' is an incoherent concept" in the American University Eagle, many AU students wrote us to voice their anger. And Knepper himself wrote in to explain his "call for personal responsibility."
As Amanda Hess of the Washington City Paper noted, some AU students unhappy with Knepper's claim "any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy's room with him is indicating that she wants sex" responded by replacing newspapers around campus with the sign "NO ROOM FOR RAPE APOLOGISTS." Other students wrote directly to the Eagle. One, Carmen Rios, provided her own version of the most inflammatory part of the Knepper's column:
Let's get this straight: any person who heads to a party and drinks five cups of the jungle juice is unable to provide consent. To justify manipulating someone who is inebriated, taking advantage of someone with physical threats, date-rape drugs, and coercion, and/or disregarding someone's ability to enjoy or consent to sex is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone's back and shooting it in the dark. When you fuck someone who cannot soberly and comprehensively inform you of their comfort in a sexual situation, you're fucking alone.
Some students and alums contacted us directly following our coverage of Knepper's column. One alum opined,
Clearly Mr. Knepper is also engaged in the kind of sexual activity that our ancestors, Primates, have mastered. Maybe he should be throwing fecal matter around to attract mates as it seems as he hasn't yet evolved.
Another reader voiced (qualified) support of Knepper's argument:
People need to be more clear about their intentions from the beginning and not let it be an issue. [...] This is a problem with the way sexuality is structured in our society and it seems to me, at times, that men get an undue share of the burden for the problems that it causes. Men are of course responsible to a point, they should be sensitive to the fact that a girl in his bed might change her mind. He should be sensitive to the fact that maybe the girl doesn't realize that the last 9 times you've gotten a woman to this point she ended up thanking you in the morning for such a great night. Yet I still think that some responsibility does fall on the shoulders of women. It's not acceptable to blame men exclusively for misinterpreting signals that almost always mean one thing, yet on that one night just happened to mean something else. Women need to share some of this responsibility or else this broken system of sexuality in our culture will never improve.
And Knepper contacted us to offer his point of view on the fallout from his column. He wrote, "Judging by the reactions, approximately five people have actually read the article in full." By way of clarifying his point of view, he said,
The call for personal responsibility is characterized as "victim-blaming." Camille Paglia's classic example is that the situation is akin to leaving your open purse on a bench for thirty minutes in a crowded urban area. If you walk away, you will lose it. Of course, it is not "your fault" that the purse is gone, and the police should pursue the criminal. But I also have the right to look at you and say "What on Earth were you thinking?" This is not 'victim-blaming.' It is a call for personal responsibility. If you don't want to have sex with someone, stop sending them the signals. Returning to someone's room with them is such a signal. And if you want to end the encounter, say no. Don't equivocate, don't fumble with your words and expect him to "get it," don't think-it-but-not-say-it: say no. Otherwise, there is a fully justified assumption that implicit consent has been given. You cannot expect men to be mind-readers, and women have to be tough enough to summon the strength to say 'No' if they want to end the encounter. These are the rules of anonymous sex. If you don't like those rules, then don't have anonymous sex.
He added, "A lot of your commenters have been referring to me as some frat boy who is looking for an excuse to fuck women against their will. For the record: I am gay (I'm affiliated with the Independent Gay Forum), and I am a teetotaler..." Indeed, Knepper's work has been published on the Independent Gay Forum's website — a piece republished from Eagle opens, "I am a gay Republican. I am not 'self-hating.' I am not confused." He was also quoted at length on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, capably arguing against a young conservative who claimed homosexuality was "reversible" and "conservatives should not be upholding groups who support homosexual marriage and sodomy." (An amusing tidbit: Knepper also wrote a rather lukewarm review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, in which he largely accepts her claims that she was mishandled during the campaign, but notes, "she's hardly shown much intellectual mettle during her book tour.")
Ultimately, though, neither Knepper's political affiliation nor his sexual orientation really matter. Those who accused him of being a "heterosexual frat boy" or wanting to get girls drunk are wrong in their ad hominem attacks, but his view that "implicit consent" is one of the "rules of anonymous sex" is deeply flawed. Just for starters, a woman who goes to a frat party — even if she goes back to someone's room — doesn't necessarily want to "have anonymous sex." A rape victim hasn't "jumped into the sexual arena," as Knepper implies in his initial column — she's been pushed into it. And irrespective of all of this, why does so much discussion of college sexual assault focus on women's drinking and partying habits, as though these were the primary cause of rape? What about the many scenarios where women weren't drunk, or were in their own rooms? Do we not talk about these rapes because they don't come with a convenient excuse? Memo to Knepper and his supporters: stopping girls from going to parties won't stop rape, but stopping rapists will.
Fighting back against rape apology is one step towards this goal. The Eagle will hold a discussion on the column this Thursday, and one student wrote to me directly, saying, "If you or your colleagues have any suggested courses of action for how to protest this, I would greatly appreciate them." We look forward to your ideas.
Note: Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), which describes itself as "an organization devoted to training college students in grassroots organizing skills to help them improve campus sexual assault prevention and response procedures," reached out to us offering organizing help to anyone at AU wishing to respond Knepper's column. If that describes you, feel free to contact them through their website.
Campus Community Responds To Recent Column [American University Eagle]
American University Student Newspapers Vandalized Over "Rape Apology" [Washington City Paper]
Related: "Well, I Don't Really Want To Shake Your Hand, You're Intrinsically Evil." [Daily Dish]
Gay. And Republican. And Not Confused. [Independent Gay Forum]