Rape Culture Is Real—-Let’s Lose the Scare Quotes

As a university administrator, I deal regularly with two serious problems. At first glance, they seem similar, but they are actually quite different. The first of these problems is rape culture. The second is “rape culture.” The scare quotes make all the difference.

Rape culture (no quotes) is one of the most pervasive problems in the world of higher education today. Put simply, a rape culture is made up of those elements in the college experience that 1) increase the risk that women, and men, will be forced or coerced to have sex without their consent and 2) decrease the likelihood that such activity will be reported so that it can be stopped. So persistent is rape culture in our universities that one in every five women who attend college will be a victim of sexual assault.

“Rape culture” (with quotes) is the written equivalent of an eye-roll and a loud sigh that greets anybody who tries to have a serious conversation about rape culture. It is a rhetorical device designed to deprecate the notion that rape is a problem on college campuses and to delegitimize those who are trying to address it. “Rape culture” supports rape culture by pretending that it doesn’t exist.

If the scare quotes could be put into words, they might sound something like: “There you feminist social justice warriors go again turning everything you see into an attack on men and blowing isolated events into huge cultural problems whose only solution is the eradication of the Y chromosome from the human genome.” Often, “rape culture” becomes “rape” (with the quotes intact), which encourages university officials to disbelieve the experiences of victims who come forward to report something that, in the mind of the officials themselves, is inherently surrounded by delegitimizing scare quotes.

Rape culture does not always look the same. In a lot of universities, rape culture includes the excessive consumption of alcohol and the expectation that casual encounters will lead to sex. Alcohol can impair judgment, and sexual expectations can create a sense of entitlement that will cause men to pursue by force what they think they deserve. These are disastrous combinations in any human population, but especially one featuring young people whose bodies have matured faster than their judgement.

This is one area in which, I believe, the various BYUs (-P, -H, and -I) are well ahead of the rest of us. At the BYUs, alcohol and sexual expectation are much less a part of the culture than they are at most other universities. Without question, this creates a lot of safe spaces for young people to learn and develop. I spent six years at BYU-Provo, and went to lots of parties, without ever experiencing pressure to drink or to have sex. This would not have been the case at any of the schools that I have attended or worked at since.

It does not follow, however, that there is no such thing as a rape culture at LDS universities. Even very religious schools, with very religious rules, have some cultural elements that enable sexual predators to pursue their victims. Largely this is because sexual predators everywhere know how to use whatever tools that their culture gives them to accomplish their objectives. As we are now learning through the investigative reporting of the Salt Lake Tribune, “everywhere” includes BYU.

Let me very clear here in restating that Church schools do a very good job in some of the areas that are the most challenging for other universities. I would also emphasize that no college is a monoculture. To say that the BYUs have a rape culture does not mean that they do not also have other cultures—some of them remarkably nurturing and supportive–that shape the experiences of many students. But, as there are everywhere else, there are some cultural elements at the LDS universities that, if not carefully monitored, can become powerful tools in the hands of sexual predators. As examples, we might consider:

  • The culture of chastity at Church schools makes it difficult to talk about the difference between consensual sexual activity and sexual assault. As a result, many students at Church schools do not have a good understanding of affirmative consent or acquaintance rape. When a community does not have a good collective understanding of the difference between sex and rape, predators can operate more freely, knowing that what they do will often not be recognized.
  • The culture of modesty in the Church often implicitly puts women in the position of being expected to control male sexuality. When a culture tells women that they need to help men control their thoughts by being modest in word and deed–or that their choices in clothing, makeup, and appearance can turn them into “walking pornography”—it becomes easy to blame women when men lose control of their actions. This, for example, is why the first question asked of a rape victim during an investigation is often, “what were you wearing?” In this kind of culture, women also often blame themselves. And the guilt and shame that this produces can themselves become powerful tools in the hands of predators.
  • The culture of male authority in the Church often leads to sexual assault policies that have not had sufficient input from women. This is a problem because men and women experience these issues differently and often evaluate the same facts in different ways. When most of the important decision makers in a university are men, along with all of the ecclesiastical leaders in the sponsoring organization, the organization itself will often favor the male perspective in subtle ways that can be devastating to the victims of sexual assault.
  • The culture of honor code enforcement at Church schools can discourage survivors from reporting, which, in turn, allows predators to continue their predatory behavior undeterred. Safe reporting is the lynchpin of the current Title IX enforcement guidelines. The only way to stop rape on college campuses is to stop rapists, and this requires reporting. Full stop. And as we are now learning, rigid enforcement of an honor code can dramatically effect this environment for the worse.

I was extremely encouraged last week to read that BYU has created a task force to formulate recommendations to change the honor code policy–and that they are seeking feedback from a broad group of constituents. And I was even more encouraged to see that women’s voices are amply represented in the effort. This group has important work before them. They are not just tinkering around the margins of a policy—as important as that may be. They are addressing elements of a university’s culture that make sexual assault more likely.

The Lord’s University must now struggle with many of the same issues that every other college and university in the country has been struggling with for years. Changing cultures is hard work, but it is the only way that human beings can make progress on some of our oldest and most tragic problems. But we cannot solve problems that we refuse to acknowledge. Rape happens all too often on college campuses, even BYU. Rape culture is real, so let’s lose the scare quotes and make change happen.


  1. Mary Bradford says:

    As usual Mike I right!!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Well stated, thank you.

  3. I would be more impressed with the makeup of the committee if it included 20 of those rape victims somehow, rather than a Dean of Student Life and three tenured professors. Here’s hoping the listening is significant, close, and critical.

  4. Rather than just those four administrators, that is.

  5. I agree down the line, but caution about the scare quotes themselves. “Scare quotes” is a great rhetorical device and picks up on recent efforts to deflect attention. However, as I read around I find that actual usage is more varied. One complication is that there are really three concepts being talked about, not just two. There’s the “elements in the college experience [and I would say in society] that . . . increase the risk . . . and decrease the likelihood.” That’s what we should be talking about. There’s the “feminist social justice warriors . . . attack” dismissive version that I don’t have time for. But there’s also the encouraging/promoting/permitting rape version, in current discourse usually associated with Daesh but having many historical references (see “rape and pillage”). In some hands, the quotes are used to distinguish the college experience (which is largely unintended consequence kinds of issues–real, serious, important, damaging, but usually not intentional as to rape itself) from the rape and pillage kind of rape culture which is both real and intentional.

  6. Well, let’s just hope that they do a good job of attending to complainants while maintaining due process for the accused. After all, per last available statistics, more than 50% of Title VII sexual harassment cases (a category which, outside of education, would be encompass most of the the sexual assaults the 1 in 5 numbers refer to) are found by the EEOC to have “no reasonable cause.” https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/sexual_harassment.cfm

  7. Mark B. says:

    Your statement that sexual predators use whatever tools are available in their culture suggests that there is no culture on earth in which rape is not facilitated by some element of that culture. How then is there any culture that is not rape culture?

  8. If rape culture is real, how come so many of these high-profile campus rape cases have been hoaxes?

  9. “is there any culture that is not rape culture?” — maybe, maybe not. But so what? There’s always better and worse and we ought to be anxiously engaged in fixing what we can. Whether or not the results are perfect is beside the point.

  10. Rob P, it helps to know who those 4 committee members are. One of them is Julie Valentine. I recommend looking into the work she has done, specifically with rape kits and getting the funding to start processing the enormous back log.

  11. Pelagius, how many have been hoaxes? I know of two. False reporting of rape makes up about 2% of reported rapes, and the number of rapes that are reported is just a percentage of rapes that actually occur. So, I guess thanks for supporting the premise of the OP?

  12. Mark B. says:

    “But so what?” Maybe we quit using an inflammatory term like “rape culture” and focus on fixing things that should be fixed.

  13. Mark, sometimes fixing things requires drawing attention to an historically overlooked phenomenon. Rape is one of those phenomena. Inflammation is a healing response in physiology; perhaps a little inflammation cam bring some changes here, too. Might not be a bad thing. Unless you disagree, of course.

  14. BYUaffiliate says:

    Julie Valentine’s work on sexual assault is top notch. I also want to add that the one man on the committee, Ben Ogles, is fantastic. He deeply values listening and transparency (he came to BYU from a public university in Ohio and has expressed some frustration with the culture of secrecy and deference at the university). Every single interaction I have had with him has convinced me that he is a humble and trustworthy person who takes feedback very seriously. Seeing him and Julie on the committee (along with asking for public feedback–I have never seen BYU do that before) gave me hope that they are serious about getting things right. I was bracing myself for being disappointed in BYU, but this made me cautiously optimistic.

  15. Rachael says:

    Thank you so much for speaking these truths, Michael. As a rape victim and sexual abuse survivor, sometimes I feel so tired and overwhelmed by all the injustice surrounding these issues and it is a relief when others who may not have experienced these things first hand (I don’t know whether you fall into this category or not) are willing to speak up in defense of those of us who have.

    For those who haven’t experienced it, I think it is very hard to comprehend exactly how much pain and suffering it causes, how it rips your heart out and leaves your life in shreds. How it sometimes makes you wish and pray and plead with God that you can die so that you may finally experience some blessed relief from the emotional pain. Given all of the trauma I have experienced, and the resultant PTSD, my heart starts racing and I feel that fight-or-flight anxiety stir in my body every time I encounter the people who come on these forums and say, “but, false accusations!” It’s that feeling all over again of not being believed, of being blamed for ‘my part’ in my rape, of that baffling question, “Why do so many men seem so personally invested in not believing us?”

    My first impulse is to get mad at you who are saying these things, but I know that you are sons of God who mean well. I know that you are deeply committed to the concept of (legally) innocent until proven guilty (as am I) and I believe that this is likely an important part of your motivation. I really do want to understand you and where you are coming from. So please answer me the following sincere question: The statistics on false rape accusations put the number at somewhere between 2% and 7%. This is the same amount of false reporting as for any other crime. Yet I have never read a comment section about a family who was burglarized or an elderly couple who are victims of fraud, and seen comments of the form, “but, false accusations!” I assume that comments of this sort are rooted in fear, the fear that at any moment those scary false accusations might be lobbed in your direction, but I am genuinely curious, why do you not experience similar levels of fear that you might be falsely accused of being a burglar, a con artist, or a murderer?

    Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you are walking around afraid that these accusations might come your way at any moment, and maybe you do make the same “but, false accusations!” comment whenever you read about any crime. But if you don’t, if you reserve a special place of mistrust, revulsion, or antagonism towards those who speak out about sexual crimes alone, then I am genuinely curious as to what motivates the difference. What is it about these particular crimes that make you so afraid of false accusations?

    It if is not fear that is motivating these relentless, “but, false accusations!” comments then what is? I want to know, so that I can understand you, so that you can feel heard and so that we can get back to the important issue at hand. We can all agree that burglary is wrong and that any societal changes that we can make to decrease the incidences of burglary and increase the reporting of such crimes would be welcome; we can make real progress on those sorts of questions without having to pause every few comments to reassure those who are afraid of false burglary accusations, so I’m ready to do whatever I can to hear and acknowledge your fears and concerns so that we can get back to the matter at hand of addressing how to minimize rapes and increase rape reporting.

  16. Can we start using quotes around “the Lord’s University?”

    Some of us went to the U :)

    In all seriousness, great post. Anyone who is an alumni, student, or community member should give feedback on the policy while BYU considers changes.

  17. Mark B. says:

    The problem is that the term ceases to have any real meaning, other than a bludgeon to beat on institutions or people who haven’t reached our high level of enlightenment, if it’s applied to everything from the Red Army marching through Germany in the winter and spring of 1945 to the sexual free-for-all that coed dorms in most American universities have become to the attempts by BYU to implement its honor code.

  18. Mark, that linguistic concern is a distant second priority to actually helping rape victims more. We can get rid of the term later if you like.

  19. Mark B.: As applied to the world of higher education–American college campuses–rape culture has a clear and understandable meaning. It properly labels and calls attention to and makes people take notice of a serious problem that must be addressed. That’s “real meaning” both definitional and pragmatic. To then ask for a distinction between the Red Army marching through Germany and rape on college campuses (a distinction which is obvious and hardly worth discussing) is to suggest a “we’re not that bad, so no problem here” line of argument. If that’s where you’re going, don’t. If that’s not where you’re going, and you really only care about different words for different things, then I’d just echo Steve Evans at 6:59pm.

  20. Michael Austin, Re: “This, for example, is why the first question asked of a rape victim during an investigation is, ‘what were you wearing?’”

    You state this as fact. Is it true? What is the source? (Is it in the Bishop’s handbook also?)

    My daughter reported to her bishop that she was sexually assaulted. His first 2 questions were, “What were you wearing?” and “What did you do to provoke him?” She has since left the church, she finds many aspects of the culture toxic. I can’t say I blame her.

  21. KH (5:39 p.m.) I looked into the makeup of the committee before I wrote here and was impressed by their credentials and experience. But BYU’s administrators also have a decades-long practice of not consulting students about their decisions. Because students have been victims, they should be involved in contextualizing and shaping the decisions those qualified professors have to recommend to the Trustees.

  22. I think the only way forward is to let the tape roll. Hear and record everyone’s stories, and then see where we are. My guess: BYU will not be happy with the picture that emerges and will make substantial changes.

  23. There is no reason to use quotes around “The Lord’s University” when referring to The University of Utah. Just call it The University of Deseret :)

  24. There is not a rape culture as you perceive it. There is a very small group of people who have done terrible things and another small group who have a hard time dealing with all manner of problems others experience. The same people who victim blame or judge people in cases of rape also harshly blame people around them for accidents and mistakes. Think King Benjamin and his response to people who blame the poor rather than helping. The attitude is not rape focused and is more broadly present in people’s personality. Treat the underlying problem and not just the symptom that appears in the case of rape.

    Telling someone they got what they deserved for going out with that loser and drinking, etc is a terrible thing to say (rarely said in that way, but I do it at the extreme here for illustration) is not so different in underlying personality type than telling someone who got in a car accident it’s their fault for not obeying some rule of the road when someone got into an accident with them.

    We have an problem-blaming culture more broadly. And to the extent we have a rape culture, it is those things our culture encourages (drinking, hooking up, sex obsessed entertainment, sex obsessed behavior, sex without consequences, choices without consequences, failure to teach morality, etc).

    While you no doubt think you’re doing good, using a crime next to murder to describe cultural attitudes you don’t like will end up doing a disservice to the crime, it’s victims, and real ways to prevent it.

    All the hot air on rape culture is sucking air out of the room that could absolutely be used to teach people proper behaviors to prevent most rape and appropriately deal with the aftermath when it does happen.

    You are part of the problem if you think the solution to the real rape culture is anything other than teaching and exemplifying Christ-like discipleship.

    We have the truth, and we hide our light under a bushel to follow the intellectual trends of the day.

  25. John Mansfield says:

    I’d like to hear more about working with the culture of chastity. I take it as a given that everyone on this Mormon website thinks a culture of chastity is a good thing along many dimensions, including that there is lower incidence of rape with such a culture. But there is the idea here that this culture that rejects fornication is providing cover for coerced fornication. I don’t completely understand this idea, but I’ll go along with it and the idea that sexual criminals exploit this, though not so amply as they could the opportunities found in cultures of non-chastity. So, what should be added to the culture of chastity to make it less of a rape culture?

  26. Mark B. says:

    Here’s the “clear and understandable meaning” as set forth in the OP:

    “Rape culture does not always look the same.”

    [After citing differences at the BYUs due to expectations regarding chastity and abstinence from alcohol] “It does not follow, however, that there is no such thing as a rape culture at LDS universities.”

  27. Martine says:

    Bullet point #2: “when men lose control of their actions” appears to relieve men of responsibility.

  28. I think John Mansfield raises an excellent point. I suppose I’d offer the following suggestions:
    1. Emphasize that chastity is about more than sexual virginity and fidelity. It is about choosing a particular approach to life because you find it pleasing to yourself and to god. People who fail to follow this approach should be encouraged to find it, rather than condemned. Condemnation helps predators.
    2. Don’t treat the sexes as asymmetrical in sexual interest, fantasizing, modesty, or other relevant characteristics. The belief that men are subject to forces beyond their control helps predators. The belief that women are the only source of sexual control does as well.
    3. Talk about sex more. There are respectful, informative, and supportive ways of discussing sexuality that are not erotic or blasphemous. Keeping sex in the closet helps predators.
    4. Drop the “sin next to murder” rhetoric. It comes from an iffy interpretation of a single passage and it means all sexual slip-ups tempt sinners to silence, shame, and unnecessary suffering. As is amply evident from the Tribune’s reporting, it also helps predators.
    Those are just off the top of my head.

  29. John Mansfield,
    It can be hard to teach kids the intricacies of sex while also teaching them that they shouldn’t be having it! I think one of the biggest improvements needed is addressing consent. When we teach kids that all sexual sin is almost as bad as murder, we don’t leave any room for rape being worse than consensual sex. It seems obvious that rape is worse than consensual sex, but often not teaching this explicitly can cause problems. Teens and young adults should be taught to seek affirmative consent. The problem is, we can often equate the seeking of verbal consent with premeditated sin rather than just “losing control in the moment” which is often seen as a lesser sin. So even though intellectually we know rape is worse than consensual sex, in the moment, having the out loud conversation to make sure both parties are consenting can seem worse than just going for it. This is one of the reasons that I think we should teach about consent even if we don’t want our unmarried members engaging in even consensual sex.

  30. D. Fletcher says:

    On the topic of rape culture at Brigham Young University, here is a list of questions I’ve asked myself, and answered:
    1. Do I think anyone should be punished for having sex? No.
    2. Do I think the BYU Honor Code encourages lying about potential violations? Yes, of course it does.
    3. Do I think the police should inform BYU Honor Code office about potential offenses? Only if these are actual crimes.
    4. Do I think a rape culture exists at BYU? No more than anywhere else.
    5. Do I think the Honor Code is outdated, and needs to be overhauled? Yes.
    6. Do I think there might be people who cry rape rather than face the consequences of their own actions? I suppose there are a few, but going to the police is a big, big deal that I’m guessing most people would rather not do. Anyone who is actually reporting rape must be considered very brave.
    7. Do I think the Salt Lake Tribune has done lazy reporting, and should be reprimanded? Certainly not, and not because I have some personal connection there. This is a very important story, and needs to get the media’s and our full attention.

    I took out the “quotes” although I think it’s a bit silly. “Rape culture” or rape culture, whatever.

  31. 1. Full stop with any and all rhetoric (including giving within the temple sealing) that promotes women as objects. This means no more joking about the harder your work on your mission, the hotter your wife. This means no more modest is hottest. No more joking about having more wives in the afterlife because of polygamy. No more Johnny Lingo references.

    2. Take out the virtue scripture from the YW curriculum that promotes the horrible idea that women’s virtue can be stolen.

  32. John Mansfield, yes a good and welcome question. Chastity is vitally important.

  33. Clark Goble says:

    EmJen (9:38) I largely agree. I do think we have to be careful what we mean by objectification though. There’s a strong component in some talk about objectification that ignores the very nature of sexuality. Both men and women, especially as teens and young adults, clearly see idealized members of the opposite sex and desire that. We should temper unrealistic expectations which definitely harm everyone. However we have to do that in a manner that doesn’t come off as so ridiculous the message gets ignored.

    But you’re completely right there are some clear problems in LDS pedagogy such as Johnny Lingo (however well intentioned) and the way virtue is discussed. Personally I think the message on chastity and sex should be fairly similar between boys and girls.

    John C (6:47) Well said. Your point (1) brings to mind a BYU Stake conference Elder Ashton presided over. After the typically “hellfire and brimstone” type talk by Stake Presidents over sex Elder Ashton stood up and brought his wife up. Rather than give yet an other talk about all the things BYU students sin in and condemning them he talked about why chastity is important by talking positively about his wife and his love for each other. He brought in the spirit and showed that we should have a different mindset than the world has in this regard. That sort of positive message doesn’t get out enough.

    Regarding your (2) I think one unfortunate facet of a lot of these discussions is that both sides in the debate tend to treat sex asymmetrical. The reality is that women can do things in a socially acceptable way that would be considered sexual assault were a man to do them to a woman. Again it’s partially because of large American social norms but also because of the way the Church teaches sex differently between men and women in the teen years. i.e. the idea that every guy just wants sex. Boys aren’t prepared enough to resist advances and be aware of it as a problem. Girls are given too much of the responsibility and their own sexual natures really are ignored. All of this leads to many problems.

    Rachael (8:02) False rape accusations rates are all over the field. The Wikipedia has a good source of stats and links to the original studies. However even 5-10% is a big number. The Dept of Justice puts the rate at 8%. Other studies have arrived at figures lower or higher. (Canada places the rate at 10%)

    The robbery example is actually quite good. I think we don’t want to stop prosecuting robbery, but we also recognize that we need due process due to the false charges of robbery. What some of us worry about isn’t that rape isn’t dealt with seriously enough. I think most people think both the government and colleges aren’t doing enough. Reform is necessary. However we worry a great deal that some group’s solutions to this is reducing or even eliminating due process. Surely we can do more to prevent rape while maintaining due process. Yet concerns about due process sometimes are dismissed as if the people concerned about it are dismissing rape. That’s very unfortunate.

    I’d say that one big problem the honor code needs reform in is in fact its due process. I’m all for the honor code and think it’s an important part of making BYU a better place to go to college. But in practice the way it is run just seems horrible with little concern with actually improving student’s lives or the atmosphere around BYU.

    Rob P (10:44) I agree that the BYU administration should listen to students more. However I’m not sure BYU or other colleges have necessarily shown students have the answers. I think a big problem at many colleges these days are administrators listening too much to students. Honestly a big problem is just the administration becoming aware of the facts regarding how poorly the honor’s code office behaves. They should be monitoring and managing that part of BYU. It’s pretty clear that they haven’t been doing that. The whole honor’s code office is in dire need of reform.

  34. John Mansfield says:

    Yesterday afternoon my young son went through some exercises to earn the cub scout cyber chip, a requirement for his wolf badge. There was instruction on not behaving poorly toward others through computer-mediated communication, but most of it was about dealing with predators trying to snare boys. A constant refrain was “Tell a trusted adult,” with a section of the training on who a trusted adult is. As with other scout training of this sort I’ve seen, it was a mix of how to protect yourself, and how to get help, including not letting a predator use your embarrassment against you, even if some of that embarrassment is because you didn’t follow a safety or family rule.

  35. The rhetoric about virtue is easy to understand differently if the idea of virtue is widened beyond sexual activity. The passage in the Book of Mormon reads “chastity and virtue”, indicating the wider meaning for “virtue” beyond sexual purity.

  36. Clark, students probably won’t have the answers. But, they will be able to supply a richer set of “use cases”, as my own discipline might put it, that will broaden the perspectives of decision makers. That, to me is vital. Students need an advisory role in this process.

    Frankly, whether or not other universities listen to students too much isn’t something that should enter into the equation, in my view. Even so, you’re right to point out the risk of that; the examples of the demand letters students at WWU and UW issued are instructive, because students can be bad at effective rhetoric.

    I can’t deny that the HCO is in need of reform; I thought so in 1991, and not much has changed about their praxis since then. But because I believe that the entire university’s administrative practices need reform, I think if this Title IX committee as only the most important start. There’s been too little organizational innovation since President Wilkinson, and it’s time for all of it to be examined anew.

  37. Clark Goble says:

    Rob, I think that’s right, but Victorian culture tended to use virtue in a different sense. I think we’re still suffering from the remnant of those aspects of Victorian culture. It’s something I wish we could get away from better.

    John, yes I think anyone working with kids notes the way people have to protect themselves not only from false charges but practice behaviors that also make it harder for predators to not act. Now clearly there’s a big difference between how leaders in an organization like Scouts act versus how individual young adults act with other adults. So we have to be careful not to draw false analogies. Yet it’s hard not to see the parallels. It’s also worth noting that some studies show that the rate of female abusers is quite high. (See stats in Wikipedia) Others place the figure lower, but still high enough it should be more concerning than most people treat it. i.e. there’s a cultural tendency to see men as a threat but not women in abuse that just isn’t born out by the statistics. Over at T&S Julie did a parody based upon fear of false accusations, but the reality is as anyone who has worked with children quickly realizes is that you want to avoid even the appearance of any impropriety. I suspect that will happen with regards to rape culture as well. That is while Julie meant this as a parody I think there’s far more truth to it than most people realize. A lot of those things listed are just smart to do IMO. The biggest problem is that right now culturally the assumption is only women should do such things. That’s sexist and often ridiculously unfair.

  38. Clark Goble says:

    Sorry, that should read “harder for predator to act.”

  39. The lack of victim’s voices is an often overlooked part of changing the culture, especially because they tend to be invisible when they aren’t in the room. I hope that more women, especially more women who are rape and incest survivors, will be included at all levels of church discussions.

  40. I think I fundamentally disagree that BYU has any “rape culture” whatsoever.
    Here is a school that throws kids out for premarital sex. Let alone rape.
    I think this type of over the top language does a disservice to the goal of preventing rape.

    My eyes glaze over and I think of Rolling Stone magazine.

    I then think of my grandfather with a squad of soldiers killing 4 Russian soldiers as they chase a 12 year old German girl on a bike in June of 1945. His squad spent 3 months preventing gang rapes at the end of the war. His assignment was to prevent the Russians from sneaking into the American zone and gang raping German women. That was rape culture. Real rape culture. Not politics not gotcha journalism.

  41. Karen H. says:

    Bbell: Sex and rape are not on the same continuum. One of them is a choice that adults make, that may or may not have social and cultural consequences based on their situation. The other one is a crime with a real-live victim of the crime. When you assume that they are on the same continuum, you are only looking at the situation from the point of view of an aggressor who wishes to excuse their conduct. Also, while I commend your grandfather for preventing gang rape in a post-war zone, and I wish that more people would engage in that very worthy effort, to suggest that post-conflict environments are the only ones where rape is either made easier or the consequences for rape are diminished is unfortunate and facile thinking. Finally, to the fifty victims of sexual assault and rape who were further traumatized against by being reported to the honor code office, this is neither politics nor gotcha journalism. It is a situation that has to be fixed so more people don’t suffer like they did.

  42. Clark Goble says:

    BBell (12:15) I dislike the term rape culture for precisely that kind of misunderstanding. However while BYU does some things that discourage rape, there are also some things that clearly make it easier for predators, such as ways victims are punished. While I hope those aspects of our culture (such as the presupposition people brought it on themselves) are rarer than I fear they are – they are definitely there. To the degree they are part of our culture it’s our duty to purge them.

    Rob P (11:08) I think it’s important to listen to students so administrators can understand where there are problems and what the possible consequences of their policies may be. It’s when students start running things that I think things get dangerous due to their limited perspective and tendency to push radical change without enough consideration of unintended consequences.

    Regarding too little administrative reform or innovation, I tend to agree. The last major change to the honor code was (if I recall) around 1990 and consisted of long overdue ridiculous requirements of socks and silly pant rules. Things that should have been eliminated decades earlier. For various reasons I’m less confident that Title IX reforms are necessarily good – especially the way the current White House is pushing interpretations of them with what I see as a loss of due process. However you’ll get no argument from me over the honor code office being a mess. As I’ve said I’ve reported people and got no actions. (Including one person I reported who went on to rape at least two women) I’ve also seen innocent people suffer when false charges of drinking or members of the opposite sex being over after hours. And, in the pre-Bronco days, there were of course the huge double standards for athletes.

  43. Andrew B says:

    Just because a school has some elements of the problem of rape doesn’t qualify it as having a rape culture. Besides, if BYU has a rape culture problem, I’d hate to know what you’d call the problem at other universities where it is absolutely pervasive. How about we acknowledge and praise the chastity culture of BYU instead? Because there are not many that have it.

  44. My argument is with the phrase “rape culture” this is a political term.

    There is no rape culture at BYU or anywhere amongst LDS people.

    Coed dorms at liberal us universities. Yep
    Certain mens sports teams dependent on the players yes
    Islam yes
    Antebellum slaveholders. Yep
    Turkish harems. You betcha
    Comanche indians in Texas prior to 1875 yep
    Red Army 1945 yes
    Clinton household yep
    Barbary pirates yes

    Not BYU. Its simply not there. There is nothing in our theoIogy that promotes rape. I am confident in sending my daughters to BYU that it is a safest possible environment for young adult women outside of my own home.

  45. Andrew B., more than half of the original post praised the chastity culture of BYU. Did you read the post?

    Andrew B. and Bbell, the rape culture problem at BYU is that the current structure of the relationship between the Title IX office and the honor code office prevents rape victims from reporting their rapes. This is because, as victims of rape, they do not want to also face an honor code investigation about whether they happen to have broken an honor code rule (like being at a boy’s apartment past curfew) when the rape happened. BYU can either make it possible to investigate, prosecute, and kick out as many rapists as possible or it can make sure rape victims get punished for any infraction of the honor code that might have occurred in connection with being raped. It cannot do both.

    Up until now, BYU has chosen to go with the latter — naively hoping to get rid of rapists at the same time as making sure that no girl anywhere “gets away” with breaking any honor code rule. But it is not possible to do both. Women will not report being raped if they believe they will be separately investigated and punished for what the honor code office might perceive as infractions of the honor code in connection with the rape (like wearing a sundress or being in a boy’s bedroom — neither one of those infractions could ever conceivably justify raping someone). So that is how rape culture looks at BYU — a policy that prevents rapists from being caught and ejected from the school or prosecuted by authorities.

  46. Bbell’s response is precisely the downside of using inflammatory language: instead of provoking discussion, it can shut it down and lead to the recitation of nostrums.

  47. I keep seeing it: “Rape” categorized under “chastity”, as a failure of chastity. It is not. Rape is a power crime; an assault, and therefore, a far more fundamental failure of general civility.

    BYU has a rape culture problem because its power structures are inherently inequitable, institution-to-participant, male-to-female, priesthood-to-member. Some of that is inevitable because large institutions cannot function without generalizing procedures. But the fact that students have no substantive input into policies and procedures is a force multiplier for feelings of general powerlessness.

    This is because BYU’s processes, all of them, are not tuned to serve the education of students. They’re tuned to minimize workloads on faculty and staff, reducing costs. This proceeds from an intentional creation of culture. From first admission, students are told, paraphrasing Elder Packer, that the university is a refined and privileged place, funded by the widow’s mite, and that those who don’t love that are welcome to leave it. The attitude is literally ratified by the “Mission and Aims” documents the University publishes to declare its exclusive claims, attached to the names of apostles and prophets, and therefore literally affixed to the fear of God Himself.

    Every last one of you who continues to deny this is not paying attention to the vice-like hold the fear of expulsion has on a raped student. On anyone, really, whose circumstances have become out of phase with the expectations BYU’s rigid administrative processes impose. There doesn’t even have to be the implication of sin for that culture to grind people down. And for at least 30 years nothing essential has been done about that.

  48. Every last one of you who continues to deny this is not paying attention to the vice-like hold the fear of expulsion has on a raped student. On anyone, really, whose circumstances have become out of phase with the expectations BYU’s rigid administrative processes impose. There doesn’t even have to be the implication of sin for that culture to grind people down. And for at least 30 years nothing essential has been done about that.

    And this gets to the heart of why neither my brother nor I, though exceptionally academically qualified and faithful Latter-day Saints, even bothered to apply to “The Lord’s University.” The fact that one can be expelled without the transfer of credits for so much as taking a leaf off the hedge about the law, never mind actually violating a commandment, is something I find deeply insulting.

    When obedience to religious dictates (and not necessarily God’s law, mind you–I’m talking about shaving practices and the length of shorts) becomes intimately bound up with one’s worldly prospects, with one facing financial ruin as a result of noncompliance, that is compelled “righteousness” and is contrary to the teachings of Christ.

  49. ““Rape culture” (with quotes) is the written equivalent of an eye-roll and a loud sigh that greets anybody who tries to have a serious conversation about rape culture. It is a rhetorical device designed to deprecate the notion that rape is a problem on college campuses and to delegitimize those who are trying to address it. “Rape culture” supports rape culture by pretending that it doesn’t exist.”

    It would be nigh impossible to paint with a broader brush than this.

    Far too many appeals to “rape culture” strategically elide crucial and morally significant distinctions – that oft-quoted and moderately misleading “1 in 5” statistic being the most well-worn example. To be suspicious of such ambiguities (as all of us should be) is a far cry from denying the existence of cultural practices which actually do tend toward, tolerate, excuse or otherwise relate to rape (as none of us should do).

    I am very much against rape culture, but I can’t help but reject most appeals to “rape culture”.

    For example, many will find this very comment to itself be an expression of rape culture. But to place my comment (no matter how false, insensitive or otherwise distasteful it might be) on all fours, morally speaking, with rape itself – without any important distinctions worthy of mention – is to trivialize how horrible real rape actually is.

    To be sure, most people here will (rightly) draw a distinction between the two, but the very fact that some will elide such distinctions is 1) ideologically motivated, 2) morally inexcusable and 3) the direct consequence of broad-brushed appeals to “rape culture”.

  50. Clark Goble says:

    Rob P (2:06) If inequitable relationships imply rape culture then rape culture is unavoidable. The relationship of student to professor or worse student to administration simply never will be remotely equal. However I don’t think inequitable relationships really are the problem. That’s not to deny problems there. But I think it’s unhelpful to cast the problem in that form.

    You don’t really get explicit about what you think the solution is, but my sense is that you want to get rid of the honor code entirely. (A few others in various threads on the subject have explicitly made that suggestion) I’d definitely oppose that. While I think the honor code office is severely dysfunctional, the solution is to fix it not eliminate the honor code. That said I think there should be room for repentance and not expel someone for one screwup. But I do think those who don’t have any intention of living the honor code are a drag on students and are taking a spot from someone who wants to be here but can’t. Part of the problem is parents sending wild child type kids here hoping BYU will somehow reform them. (It won’t) But I think it’s fair for students to hope that at least most people here are living the honor code. Obviously all aren’t. (A lot of off campus housing is non-BYU student for that matter) But the honor code has a huge positive effect on the atmosphere. Further I honestly think the vast majority of students who oppose rape culture and who live the honor code are the best solution for preventing rape culture.

    What you initially say about not conflating rape and chastity I definitely do agree with. That they are equated by anyone is disturbing to me.

  51. The definition of rape culture depends on who you ask. I think Michael did a pretty good job of explaining what he means by rape culture for the purposes of this post. I’m not sure how many commenters are genuinely confused by what is meant by the term rape culture in this context and how many could not be troubled to read the post carefully.

  52. Left Field says:

    It’s fortunately not true that BYU will withhold transcripts for honor code violations. I know that’s a claim often repeated on the internet, but there’s really no credible basis for the rumor. BYU has no written policy to that effect, and nobody can produce a letter denying anyone a transcript for that reason. It’s true that they require good honor code standing to award a BYU degree, but transferring credits is an entirely different kettle of fish. I deal with transfer credits quite a bit in my day job, and once credits are earned and tuition is paid, an institution is obligated to produce transcripts. The grief they would get from accrediting agencies and who-knows-what federal regulations would be more than enough to quash such a policy before anyone in Cougarland could entertain the notion of proposing it.

  53. Madhousewife,

    “The definition of rape culture depends on who you ask.”

    This is all the reason I need to keep using scare quotes…. or maybe just drop the term altogether in exchange for a less ambiguous, less morally inflammatory term.

    You’re right, however, that Michael’s definition (despite his use of the 1-in-5 statistic) is clear, level-headed and points to a phenomena that should be of concern to all decent people.

  54. AZ in GA says:

    I think my biggest problem with this is that it creates an incentive to falsely report rape. If a high performing female student slips up, and faces expulsion due to her choice, it creates an incentive for her to say RAPE and continue on her path towards graduation. This creates a dichotomy which inherently punishes some men simply because she wants to keep studying.

    I would rather see a policy which offers a more atonement centered Honor Code which allows for “repentance” and continuation of education for SELF REPORTED violations. This would cover both rape, and simple slip ups. It would remove the incentive to lie about being raped, and can teach those students about the redeeming power of the atonement. That’s not saying that self reporting process should be a cakewalk, but I would be much more supportive of that, than creating an artificial out because you accused someone else of a crime.

    This approach would protect everyone equally in my opinion.

  55. Clark Goble says:

    AZ, while I think some people dismiss the problem of false reports far too swiftly, I think on the other side people paint it as a bigger problem than it is. While I’m almost certain that a block on honor code violations for rape reports would incentivize and thus increase false reports, I’m skeptical it would be that large. While it’s almost impossible to know the actual rate of false reports, it seems like the rate is somewhere between 5 – 10%. One would have to imagine that BYU would have a much lower rate first due to far less sexual activity but also because I bet most members would see that as an absolutely horrible thing to do. Of course I’d imagine the rape rate at BYU is much lower than most colleges as well. So perhaps the two would balance out.

    My own views here have been misrepresented in the past. I think it important to look for unintended consequences in any change of policy. That said, I also think if the issue is some sinner getting their degree when they don’t deserve it versus lowering the rape rate that then it’s kind of a no brainer. However the question then becomes what happens to the person about whom a false accusation is made. If they aren’t paraded through the press it’s less of an issue. If the rate goes up significantly though and their names are made public then that is a big issue.

    To me the solution is to reform the honor code department. (At a minimum that should already be going on with the completely inappropriate access to the police report) However there then has to be careful management and followup to see if the other problem gets out of hand. That is don’t simply dismiss it out of hand as a non-problem but see whether it becomes a problem when the policy is changed.

    Your other point is well made. Part of the issue is that the honor code office seems a bit of a mystery to most people. How much due process is there in practice? When the office (or someone at the office) screws up, what are the solutions? How do managers of the office know about such problems? I think there’s a lot of distrust of the office – some justified and almost certainly some unjustified and exaggerated. There’s a lot that could be done to improve things, if only to public understanding of the department with more transparency.

    Right now at a minimum even if claims about the honor code office were completely false, the fact is that the perception of such claims completely affects how people react. So, for instance, if someone screwed up morally do they believe their college career would be over? How, especially after all this press, do we expect real rape victims to feel about coming forward and prosecuting? Even if most perceptions are false (and I don’t think all are) BYU has a huge problem with how the honor code department is perceived. That’s hard to repair.

  56. I worked on the BYU Women’s Center and launched our Students Against Violent Environment program, to further discuss and educate on and off-campus groups on sexual assault and rape. It’s incredibly disturbing to hear that the same assumptions, “it doesn’t happen here,” is being perpetuated 20 years later.
    If anything, making sexual assault someone else’s problem only allows it to continue to damage people and force them into silence and isolation. The culture of niceness- to please, support, and not offend, is just as enabling to a predator as drugs or alcohol incapacitating someone’s ability to clearly consent.

  57. I am so interested to see no indication of anyone hearing or paying attention to Rachael’s plea, as a sexual assault survivor, except to express concern over the possibility of false accusations if we were to allow women to report rape without fear of Honor Code punishment. I am so interested to see how many are concerned about a general lowering of the high standards and atmosphere at BYU if women were allowed to report rape without fear. I’m so interested to see how often rape is stated in the passive voice – “when rape occurs,” “when a person is raped,” etc., – as if the rapist is some nebulous figure we have no hope of getting a handle on, instead of our own brothers, sons, neighbors, ward members, students at BYU – real people who are getting away with rape. I’m so interested to see how many commentators are male. I realize in many cases I’m guessing at gender. I also realize women can commit sexual assault. But to me this lopsided attention and concern is evidence of rape culture in this forum, as well as at BYU. Granted, it’s not as bad as gang rape by Russian soldiers. But sexual assault while attending BYU is probably not that much less traumatic to the survivor than sexual assault in a German city in the 1940s.

  58. Great poinst, Karla. If I didn’t know better, I might think that Michael had hired some of these commenters to make the need for this discussion even more obvious.

    Thanks for this post, Michael.

  59. Rachael says:

    Clark, would you mind sharing your sources of which groups’ solutions are to do away with due process? I have been on many feminist blogs and never once have I heard it demanded that alleged rapists should not get a fair trial. If there are such groups, I would like to distance myself from them. But it seems to me that most of the people, like myself, who find the relentless false accusations comments derailing are not the enemy of justice that you imply. Most of us would just like to get through a conversation about the topic at hand.

    I would also love it if you or others would answer my original question: Do you spend as much time and energy decrying false allegations for all other crimes, and if not, why?

  60. Clark, I think the positioning of rape as a category of unchastity goes back centuries, predating the founding of the Church. It’s rooted in a different conception of marriage and family than the statements of complementary equity found in the 1996 Proclamation on the Family. Put simply, it belongs to a world where women are legal property of families. I believe this is why the idea confounds us, but also why we keep seeing it expressed in these encoded forms.

    Given a large enough population, any inequitable power dynamic will produce abuses of power; that’s little more than Joseph Smith’s observations about his “sad experience” with delegated authority and “unrighteous dominion” in D&C 121:39. It’s a section of the D&C I’ve come to interpret as more of an observation of human nature and a corrective exhortation, than a condemnation or warning issued to powerful people who intend unrighteousness. Unrighteousness can arise from ignorant and pious sincerity; that’s part of what Paul meant in Romans, right? It 30 years of observations I’ve seen more along the lines of petty emergent tyrannies at BYU, rather than any evidence that anybody meant ill towards students.

    The SLTrib’s investigations thus express one of the most damaging emergencies which arise from that institutionally efficient enforcement regime around boundaries. I don’t know what the full solution could be, but I don’t want to get rid of the honor code; as others have pointed out, it’s a unique and essential facet of university governance at a CES campus. It could be a facet of self-governance, but administrators would have to turn a listening ear and embrace more dynamism and flexibility than the policies and procedures they have now will let them.

  61. Clark (5:15 p.m.) “How much due process is there in practice? When the office (or someone at the office) screws up, what are the solutions? How do managers of the office know about such problems?”

    By my readings of the policy, there is a process, but not due process the way Americans understand it. It is an administrative review process with a preponderance of evidence standard, that denies students access to interpretive help or a hearing advocate. Of note in the policy is a statement that the University *may* keep an attorney in the hearing, where the role is defined as advisory. But the power imbalance is facially obvious.

  62. BHodges says:

    To anyone complaining about the term itself: please get over it. Your hand-wringing does nothing to help improve things for victims of sexual assault. Thank you for your time.

  63. Mark B. says:

    And you think that throwing around the term “rape culture” willy-nilly does anything to improve things for victims of sexual assault?

  64. Clark Goble says:

    Rob (8:15), I’m less concerned with process in theory than process in practice. But even the theory seems rather bad. If anything my qualms with the honor code office is that they remind me too much of what seems like the abuses of the Title IX changes. That is while people tend to oppose them what bothers me is their similarities.

    Rachel (8:00) The issue is what constitutes a fair trial. Are they allowed to know the evidence? Are they allowed attorneys? Are they allowed to contest presented evidence? Are they allowed to present evidence? It’s not at all hard to find new stories where all these basic parts of due process are denied the accused in University “trials.” There are now many lawsuits over this. While it’s fine to say people don’t oppose due process, what has been the case in many Universities in response to Title IX is very disturbing.

    As for false charges, yes, I think it’s a huge issue. In particular I’m extremely worried about the Patriot Act and how government has changed post 911 in these ways. I think that there’s a huge problem of false positives leading to an over militarized police force doing no knock SWAT raids on innocent people. And believe me I discuss those issues far more than I do this. Also, again, I think you’re misrepresenting my position somewhat. I am advocating a balancing of issues. To simply pretend such problems don’t occur is simply not a good way to decide policy.

    If we were to discuss policy regarding changes to how burglary were handled I’d hope and pray the issue of mistakes and false charges was considered. One needn’t read very much in the crime reports to realize the problem of over-conviction (often by escalating charges unnecessarily to put criminals in a hard situation with prosecutors). The problem of course with the “hard on crime” era in the 70’s through early 90’s was how anyone showing any concern of false charges or the nature of those accused were pushed aside as promoting crime. This led to the types of abuses we now see protested by movements like Black Lives Matter. (I’d add, that in some ways the concern with overreach is probably now acceptable for both parties primarily because the crime rate has dropped so much) So to my eyes, what I see with people attacking even bringing up such issues – even when they agree with you on the basic problem and solutions – is extremely scary and reminds me very much of what led to the general problems in criminal justice with regards to robbery and other crime. One needn’t read the news very much to see many people (often people of color) put up on false charges. Frequently only exonerated years later by DNA evidence.

    What’s boggling is that just bringing up the issue of worrying about false charges is seen as a kind of apostasy from the cause. Yet in every post I think I’ve been pretty emphatic that rape is a big problem, that we need to do more, that the honor code office is a mess and more. I’d hope we’re all able to be able to keep two ideas in our mind at the same time. That we can address the needs of those victims so poorly served by society while not creating institutions that create their own problems. What you are doing is sort of like those critics of movements like Black Lives Matter do when they say Black Lives Matter should worry more about murder and assault and less about what the government does. Surely we can do both!

  65. Rachael says:

    Clark, I agree that we can and should do both. And, to be fair to you, I do see you trying to balance both concerns. However, given that many rape and sexual assault victims are not believed, even by family, I’m sure you can recognize how personal it seems when a sizable percentage of the comment sections of every piece about rape is devoted to false accusations (as if we all somehow forget that they exist unless someone reminds us every third comment). It is hard not to feel like men (and women at times) are very concerned with burying their heads in the sand and pretending like rape rarely actually happens. I routinely read comments of the sort: “Most rape accusations are false,” or “We have a real problem with all the women lying about rape.” So you can understand why I would find such discussion unhelpful in these sorts of articles.

    To accommodate those with very real emotional scarring, it would be kinder if we could focus on talking about how to resolve miscarriages of due process in articles devoted to such topics and we could focus on how to improve rape culture in articles devoted to this topic, otherwise it’s hard not to feel like the latter discussions are constantly being derailed. Further, if you are really concerned with increasing the reporting of rape, then you have to be aware that many rape victims will take these constant ‘false accusations’ comments as evidence that police, courts, and public opinion are predisposed to not believe them.

    Of course, everyone is free to talk about what they think is important any time, anywhere, but if one were to really care about how their words affect others, one might choose to be sensitive to how very, very often rape victims are made to feel like the real problem is not the rape, but the girl who dares to report it.

  66. (Mark B. 8:57) — Quoting the words distances the writers from the term, which is clearly what the Church Newsroom wants conveyed: BYU doesn’t have the rape culture problem that universities without a chastity culture might have. If their use of quotes was for that purpose, then the press release becomes a protestation that whatever the actual flaws are, BYU is still a hallowed place.

    That statement from the Church: “We do not believe they represent the ideals BYU or Church leaders follow when responding to victims,” is easy to support and accept; the claim is that the trustees, who sit perpetually at a far remove from student experience, don’t believe it.

    But they’re not close enough to the matter, because policy making bodies never are. I sit on one where I live, an educational system about the size of BYU, actually. We have to rely on our experts. What is encouraging is that they are clearly interested in structural dynamics at BYU. So they’ll investigate structure, policy, procedure, because if those experts’ shoulders are to the wheel of a broken wagon, no amount of pushing is going to get the place to be like Zion. That’s a wise move. (I still want students more involved.)

    (Clark 9:09) — Perhaps the shortest way to describe what I want is for the University to reduce its investigative role in Honor Code violations so that the role really is administrative, rather than also judicial, with much greater reliance on ecclesiastical endorsements to decide continuance status. I also think there ought to be an enrollment path for Mormons who dissociate from the Church. I really don’t know what form that should take. But they could do away with beard cards. They really could.

  67. Rachael says:

    Also, Clark, don’t think that I didn’t notice you overtly comparing your position to the virtuous Black Lives Matter cause while comparing my position to that of the unjust critics of that virtuous cause. If we are to have a constructive dialogue where we respect and learn from each other’s differences of opinions, I would recommend that you not resort to ad hominem attacks.

  68. pconnornc says:

    I wonder how much of our churn on this topic has to do w/ the broad scenarios that it is applied to. The word “rape” gets used in the following scenarios:

    – A person who is sexually assaulted by a stranger
    – A person who is attacked by someone they know, but with whom there is no amorous relations
    – A person who protests emphatically during an amorous encounter, yet is overpowered
    – A person who feels they protested or were manipulated during an amorous encounter, yet the partner felt it was clearly consensual
    – A person who is confused or has regret after an amorous encounter as to how in the swell of hormones and emotion it ever took place

    I would assume that everyone is 100% behind the application of the word in 1 & 2 – and I would hope everyone comfortable w/ #3.

    I get the sense that people are uncomfortable with equating #4 w/ #1 or 2 – purely because of the subjective perceptions of those involved. This is probably the most problematic in our culture, and the Honor Code, if followed, probably does the most to help avoid the problem in the first place, but also become an obstacle when it does occur.

    I think the last one is rare and some people are overly concerned. Our cultural prioritization of chastity and our human tendency to try to blame others when we are wrong contribute heavily to this.

    Unfortunately because we use the same word for all 5 scenarios, we talk past each other way too much.

  69. I am so completely done with dudes who constantly argue and push back against basic ideas like how we should be paying attention to and addressing things that encourage rapists and discourage victims from coming forward, like it’s some academic discussion to parse down to platonic principles before it’s worth giving real actual space.

    I couldn’t care less that you don’t like the term rape culture. I couldn’t care less that folks like bb above have a strong reaction to the words.

    Rape culture means something in the culture is facilitating the occurrence and severity of rape. It’s really not that arcane. Yes, it includes a wide variety of specific circumstances, and that is by design. It isn’t a shortcut to make you instantly understand complex circumstances that you might never have given a second thought to before, it is a flag to indicate that something is broken in a way that has -serious- consequences, so maybe start paying attention to where and why and how and what can be done about it.

    How can rape culture be too strong a term when the universal factor that all rape cultures share is some degree of encouragement and tolerance for rape? Rape is happening! If you shy away from the discussion because the -word- makes you feel uncomfortable, confused, shy, distracted or attacked, if you’d rather make the discussion about how -you- feel about the use of the word “rape” rather than actually having the discussion about the actual cultural elements being addressed, that is YOUR problem. Deal with it on your own time; your offense at addressing problems surrounding rape by using the word rape in addressing them is something you need to dig down on and process. You, not everyone else for you. Nor does this very correct use of the term need to be gentled down to protect your sensibilities and ability to comprehend what you’re reading. If the conversation is too much for you just because it uses the term rape culture, feel free to stay out of it, because you clearly have nothing useful to add. Yeah, we need people on board with solutions, but if you actually care about being in that number, worry about doing your own work and weeding your own garden first. Discussions about preventing rape don’t need to coddle your fee-fees, nor do they need to drag every armchair quarterback who happens across them up to speed from the ground level. Do your own work, do your own work, do your own work, and don’t expect that your “feedback” about how the discussion could better cater to you will be viewed with any kind of appreciation. Do your own work. After you have, then maybe you can be useful in a reaching out capacity to encourage others to do the same.

    Because coming into a discussion about how folks dismissing a term exacerbates the circumstance that the term points to, with a complaint that you don’t -like- the term or that it doesn’t serve your own particular sensibility when you’re not one of the people primarily affected by the actual circumstance, is about as ridiculously self-centered an approach as can possibly be taken.

  70. “When a culture tells women that they need to help men control their thoughts by being modest in word and deed–or that their choices in clothing, makeup, and appearance can turn them into “walking pornography”—it becomes easy to blame women when men lose control of their actions.”

    One quibble with an otherwise great piece. Rape doesn’t happen when the rapist “loses control” of themselves. It happens when they deliberately choose to take control of someone else.

  71. Thank you, Rune and Rachael!

  72. Clark Goble says:

    Rachel, while I’m very sympathetic to that, when we’re discussing a post about culture at BYU with a focus (through multiple posts) on changing the honor code system, then to ignore discussion of those issues is essential. Again I think your using other analogies like robbery is very helpful. Were this a post about whether there’s a robbery problem or how we should help victims of robbery I’d never bring such things up. (I can’t speak for others, but then I don’t think I should be held accountable for what others say – especially when as in this thread I disagree with them) If the topic is the nature of a “culture of robbery” or “how should we reform laws” or even “what should our neighborhood watch do differently” then I think these other issues have to be brought up.

    Again, for the record I’m completely in favor of most people proposed changes to the honor code system. If “rape culture” is taken to include any concerns about even watching for other issues then that’s a problem with how people are analyzing “rape culture.”

  73. I love your comment, Rune.

  74. Old Man says:


    A very wise and sensitive comment. Thank you.

    I do not believe that the situation at BYU culture should be described as a “rape culture.” This situation cries out for more accurate and sensitive analysis. I perceive problems with the honor code. It needs clarification and it needs to be more fully connected with the spiritual and ethical life of all students. . I see problems with how students are treated by the Honor Code Office, and the best word I can think of at the moment is “objectified,” although that term is loaded. I see the Honor Code as highly idealistic, but not pragmatic enough to avoid manipulation by predatory elements. But as several people have noted, using “rape culture” as a descriptive is manipulative at best and derogatory at worst.

  75. Old Man says:

    One more thing… can anyone out there identify a real-world culture or sub-culture that is not in some way “rape culture” by the definition given?

  76. Rune & Rachael, thank you for being so articulate. Thanks to BCC for the posts and discussions, but I’m taking a break from the site for awhile. These comment sections that eventually devolve into men debating semantics around rape and rape culture are simply awful.

  77. Imagine that, the term rape culture makes a collection of cultural elements that have the collective effect of sheltering rapists and oppressing victims makes it sound like that’s a bad thing. Gee, I wish some wise old man would wander by and tell us how to talk about this without making it sound so icky. Life is so much more comfortable when we never have to face the ways we fall short of our own myth. Poor BYU. Let’s make sure we all feel super bad about making them feel bad about something that’s bad.

  78. It’s comments with an overly exaggerated heat-to-light ratio like Rune’s that make me distance myself, not from a struggle against rape culture, but from people who use that term as a form of heavy-handed, moralistic sloganeering – a verbal weapon of intolerance and dogmatism with which to beat others over the head.

    In other words, by going too far in the other direction, the term becomes part of the problem by marginalizing those who would otherwise be on board with the stated goal. Like she said, the words we choose matter – and these particular words are too often being used by the overzealous as weapons against the very people that they could otherwise be recruiting within their moral coalition.

  79. Cynthia (7:14 AM)

    That is a fair point that I am happy to accept.

  80. Jeff, it seems odd that there would be someone out there who would be interested in eliminating rape and addressing root causes, but then finds the overall ‘anti-rape-culture’ movement so repulsive that they change their minds about it.

  81. Jason K. says:

    I’m personally comfortable with being heavy-handedly, moralistically, and dogmatically intolerant of rape.

    Rune and Rachael: you rock!

  82. AZ in GA says:

    I am curious as to whether or not those on this board believe that being a victim of a crime absolves one from compliance to the honor code? If so, does that apply solely to rape? What about mugging? If someone goes to a bar, and someone assaults them, should they be exempt from any honor code sanctions as a result of that?

    In my opinion, the best option would be revising the honor code to allow for a repentance process that will enable continued education for a wide set of offenses. In this circumstance, rape victims do not have the fear to report. Additionally, you don’t create the false reporting dilemma.

    Why can’t people assume that there is validity on both sides. If this is not the solution, there has to be some solution out there that incorporates the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of all involved.

    Too often anymore, people views compromise as something other people do when they don’t agree with my own totally righteous, and well thought out opinions.

    It is ridiculous that we view things this way. If you can’t see the view of the other side, or if you chalk it up to ignorance, stupidity, or some other sinister motive, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

    There are answers that come close to helping everyone. Just because someone disagrees with your proposed solution does not mean they want people to be raped, or don’t care about rape victims. For those on the other side, it doesn’t mean that they are looking to punish people unfairly through unchecked false accusations.

    Compromise is taking all the points of view, and trying to come up with a solution that most people can support. Why don’t we try it sometime?

  83. Clark Goble says:

    I agree with Steve. While it seems undeniable that at a national level some push the rape culture rhetoric far too far, I can’t imagine most ethical people somehow seeing rape differently. At best it’ll have a marginal impact where when there is overreach people stop listening when “rape culture” is raised.

    However I think in a way that was part of Michael’s point about rape culture with quotes or without. He sees “Rape Culture” as a way of dismissing and not engaging with the real problems. However the way some people with good intentions treat Rape Culture can end up making things worse by pushing people out of the discussion by making parts of Rape Culture things that are less defensible. So no one here is doing it, but it is unarguable at many large universities some see due process as part of Rape Culture. Further to debate that point is also seen as part of Rape Culture. This in turn pushes people to dismiss analysis of what is Rape Culture. Yet figuring out things we may not be aware of that contribute even if only marginally to the incidence of rape matters a great deal.

    At the same time I’m extremely sympathetic to Rachel’s point that some truly and honestly see any disagreement over what constitutes Rape Culture as pushing women from reporting rape. The perception is that anything that isn’t only focused on their immediate needs pushes them off thinking no one will believe them. And I think that is an honest real problem. However that leads to a conundrum. How in a post about the difference between “Rape Culture” and Rape Culture can one discuss that difference?

  84. N. W. Clerk says:

    “I am curious as to whether or not those on this board believe that being a victim of a crime absolves one from compliance to the honor code? If so, does that apply solely to rape?”

    Duke Lacrosse Team members were victims of a pretty horrible crime (false rape charges). Yet it seems that they do not deny doing some pretty horrible stuff: racist, violent, and obscene. If Duke has rules against this disgusting behavior, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be held responsible for what they did do, even though they had to suffer the trauma of falsely being accused of rape.

  85. A few years ago Latter-day Saints — including me — fought against the term culture of violence to describe Utah society in and around 1857. Mormonism didn’t teach violence! Violent men were breaking gospel law, not living it! Gradually we came to understand that while, yes, murder, even of perceived enemies making threats, was contrary to Church teachings, frontier Mormonism did create an environment where a number of bloody, horrible murders occurred. Brigham Young did not say, “Hey, John D., take some friends and kill these travelers; Mountain Meadows would be a good place” … but he, and other leaders in Salt Lake and all along the trail, spoke publicly, repeatedly, approvingly in 1856-57 about cutting throats and forfeiting lives. He wrote letters that winter which preceded the travelers, telling Southern Utah men that if travelers caused problems, “leave no witnesses as tale-bearers.” When leaders learned what had been done, and by whom, no action of any kind was taken for a long time.

    Brigham Young — whom I love and will defend as far as humanly possible — did not order these violent acts, but he, with others, created the atmosphere that let men believe they were doing what was acceptable, even expected. That’s a culture of violence.

    If you object to the term rape culture, make the analogy. Whatever elements exist in our society that could in any way lead a man to think that any type of nonconsensual sexual behavior is expected, or wanted, or okay, or something he ought to get away with, or not that big a deal, or that shields or excuses a perpetrator from responsibility, or that faults a victim for not preventing the act, is rape culture, even when it isn’t taught by the Church or BYU, even when it goes as much against gospel teaching as murder does, even when a victim’s prior behavior is as unpraiseworthy as the behavior of the Fancher party’s was reported to be. You don’t have to advocate bad behavior directly to contribute to the atmosphere that leads to it.

  86. Ardis, brilliant. I only hesitate to say so because your comment ought to be the last word.

  87. Clark Goble says:

    Well said Ardis.

  88. No one is advocating for a complete honor code carte blanche for anyone who happens to also be a victim, but amnesty for the purpose of dealing with the rape itself, which is hardly a stretch to request, especially since removing a chill factor against reporting means more power to pursue and deal with rapists, and prevent them from committing more rapes.

    The utilitarian math there is not complicated. De facto allowance for rapists to get away with rape because they are never reported vs. the possibility that lesser honor code breeches go unexamined that could have been gotcha’d thanks to the report, and thus rape victims might “get away” with something. Why is that even a question?

  89. (AZ at 10:27 a.m.) “I am curious as to whether or not those on this board believe that being a victim of a crime absolves one from compliance to the honor code?”

    It does not. But, it would express Christian mercy for the institution to recognize that the fact of being a victim of rape is such a breathtaking, life altering trauma in and of itself, that any coincidental honor code violations have already drawn a worse penalty than expulsion or suspension ever could. That isn’t absolution, it’s recognition that the consequences are already borne.

    Ardis, thank you for your comments.

  90. Rune, thank you for your comments, both of them at 6:48a and 9:24a. Also Rachel and JasonK (and others), you helped me get through reading what this comment thread has become, just like clockwork, because we are all tainted by rape culture. Even you upright dudes who would never dream of committing such a crime, you perpetuate rape culture right here with your comments parsing the rhetoric over ideas and events while ignoring the traumatic damage of the survivors, and the main issue, which is (as Cynthia L. said above) not that a rapist loses control, but that they deliberately take control of their victim in an evil way.

    I was struggling to write and rewrite a comment when Ardis arrived and saved me a lot of embarrassing trouble. Thank you, my dear. I have avoided commenting about this topic, though I have read many of the posts and comments, even though [because] I find them triggering. I grew up programmed in rape culture, just like the rest of you. I have memories that caused me great shame, but due to an evolving understanding of rape culture, and also “rape culture”, I have changed my perspective. Now that I understand consent and control with a more autonomous wisdom than I had at 23. Some (not all) would fall on the murkier end of pconnornc’s 6:03am continuum, or pecking order of rape scenarios (as it were.) That comment, which some of you found comforting, made me hurt.

    This is an important discussion to have right now, though it’s painful for all of us. We well know it’s painful for you dudes to do the work you need to do, but it’s awfully painful for me to sit in your presence while you grumble about it, because this discussion is painful to me too, but for different reasons. I share the impulse many women have expressed that they have to take a break from it.

  91. Not to mention that being subject to an honor code investigation at the same time as one is trying to pursue justice and/or healing from an incidence of rape is counterproductive to either of those goals. Being made to recount and relive the incident is traumatic, and if it is forced for any reason other than to help the victim, the ones doing so are compounding the original trauma for no good reason. They are making the rape worse. Compounding rape trauma is a cruel and petty justice to seek, just for the sake of making sure no one is getting away with . . . pretty much anything else short of murder.

    And the odds that a rape victim will be unjustly found in breech of the honor code are way too high considering most people don’t have any sort of training in trauma response, and the tendency to blame victims for their own rape is already high.

    That’s not justice. That is the petty pedantry of technicalities for the sake of keeping one’s worldview tidy.

  92. Steve,

    “it seems odd that there would be someone out there who would be interested in eliminating rape and addressing root causes, but then finds the overall ‘anti-rape-culture’ movement so repulsive that they change their minds about it”

    As odd as it may seem, this is very often the case. It is important that we do not conflate a rejection of a problem that stands in need of a solution with a rejection of a particular group and their particular approach to solving that problem.

    Indeed, it would be particularly inconsistent for this particular movement to claim that their words cannot produce the unintended or unsavory consequences (such as the ones you suggest) since their whole point is that the words we use often have unintended and unsavory social and moral effects.

    We all want rape to stop, but sometimes our words and practices inadvertently interfere with this goal. Over the top, moral condemnation for people who don’t agree with the specifics of our own diagnosis or remedy is just one more way in which our language inadvertently gets in the way.

  93. Ryan Mullen says:

    Rob P (11:37 am) While I appreciate the call for Christian mercy, the justification for offering sexual assault victims amnesty is not that they have already been punished. Sexual assault should never be equated as the consequence of breaking the honor code. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Full stop.

  94. Honestly, if there really is someone who would be anti-rape but changed their mind because someone used the term rape culture, they’re not really ready to be of any help anyway.

  95. I’m going to exercise my magical female body “shut that whole thing down” powers and close this thread. Shout out to Rune and Rachael, you rock.

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