Much as the “scared straight” idea seems as if it really ought to work, but doesn’t, whoever came up with the letter must have thought it was just beyond genius. After all, if everyone viewed the world through their eyes, with their mindset, it made perfect sense. It doesn’t dawn on them that everyone doesn’t see the world their way. As with any religious belief, the obviousness of its rightness depends on blind faith.
A new ad campaign is targeting college-bound high school seniors, encouraging them to consider their prospective schools’ sexual assault records before accepting admissions offers. The campaign began with a print ad that ran in the Harvard Crimson on Saturday: a fake acceptance letter from a university admissions director who promises “lifelong friends and memories here on campus,” including “being raped by someone you thought you could trust.”
The ad ran during Harvard’s accepted-students weekend, an event that brings hundreds of prospective Harvard students to campus before they decide which college to attend this fall. It relays a disturbing account of a student abandoned by a university administration after reporting a rape. “You’ll fear him the night he presses you against a wall and every day after that,” the fake letter reads. “The claims you will make against your rapist will be ignored, much like your right to feel safe at school.”
Put aside the assertion that
on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead “this is a true story,” and the silly “one in five” statistic. Put aside that on the Don’t Accept Rape website, they laud the debunked Hunting Ground documentary. That whoever is behind this letter believes their hype is to be expected. You can’t expect priests not to believe in God. It’s what they do.
But consider the impact on the non-believer. If you’re a parent of an incoming female frosh, would you send her to Harvard’s Somalia campus? Even if, as any rational person might suppose, the “this is true” line fails to make it so, would you take the risk?
You may well think that this is just about crazy women harping on their pet cause by looking under rocks for reasons to hate, but still. This is your child. This is the child you’ve protected and nurtured from birth. You’re a bit risk averse when it comes to your child and rape. Why risk it? But that’s only if you’re the parent of a girl. What if yours is a boy?
What parent wants a son to be falsely accused of rape? What parent puts a son in the position of being subject to a system designed to destroy his life over nothing more than a post hoc regret fantasy and system created for the purpose of assuring his ruination? Even if the son had a fair opportunity to defend himself, what parent would want his son to have to go through a disciplinary gauntlet based upon allegations that wouldn’t constitute a wrong anywhere else but on campus?
The putative purpose of this scare letter is to reach out to incoming students and indoctrinate them to their religion before they step foot on campus.
I would like to congratulate you on your acceptance into Harvard. We know you will make lifelong friends and memories here on campus.
We’re sorry that one of your memories will include being raped by someone you thought you could trust. You’ll fear him the night he presses you up against a wall and every day after that. The claims you will make against your rapist will be ignored, much like your right to feel safe at school.
You can’t expect us to expel someone on the basis of a story that begins with ‘I had been drinking.’
Alcohol has a way of making you stretch the truth, and we don’t respond to liars.
The irony, of course, is that this is exactly what the new definition of rape is based on, that when kids in college drink alcohol, because kids in college do drink alcohol, and have sex, because kids in college do have sex, and sometimes after drinking alcohol, the male is fully exposed to the after-the-fact allegation of rape. And that the male was drinking as well is irrelevant, because reasons. That there are texts for the next six months about how consensual and fun it was is irrelevant, because reasons. That the allegation only arose after a break up, or a meeting with a rape advisor, or embarrassment by friends, is irrelevant, because reasons.
This is a true story.
But the irony doesn’t end there. There is a government educational establishment dedicated to the pursuit of this religion. Even the president says so. Which president? All of them. Certainly the administrators of colleges and universities nationwide are acolytes, and they wouldn’t destroy the lives of boys if it wasn’t true, right?*
On one hand, this kind of shock-value messaging is a perfect way to garner the attention of teens who might not think the issue applies to them. Few high schools mandate curricula on sexual violence, and this campaign could help fill an awareness gap among new college students who don’t know how to identify or report a rape.
As shock-value messaging goes, this is indeed an effective job. That students need to be told how to identify a rape, lest they be “raped” and not know it, or confuse it with conduct they chose to engage in, on the other hand, may not be an “awareness gap” in need of filling.
But even the most ardent believers in the religion, those who shut their eyes so tight, scream so loud, that reason will never get through, see that this message could backfire.
This messaging is utterly terrifying, and it may do more to make incoming students feel helpless and vulnerable than empower them to demand change from a university at which they haven’t yet matriculated. It’s hard to overstate the severity of our country’s campus sexual assault crisis, especially when it seems like advocates will never be able to provide enough proof to convince those who dismiss the existence of a pervasive rape culture. But this campaign comes close to crossing that line, portraying sexual assault as a foregone conclusion for first-years.
When sexual assault, whether as victim or perpetrator, becomes a “foregone conclusion for first-years,” the message such shock campaigns seek to impart isn’t the message received. The message is all is lost, for males and females.
Who is behind this shock campaign? The “Don’t Accept Rape” website doesn’t reveal where the money comes from. The ad agency and producers are noted, no doubt proud of their handiwork, but the only other name mentioned is “Ultraviolet,” a meaningless name of a fake group.** Whoever it is, they no doubt believe they’re spreading the gospel, and that their god is smiling upon their good work. The only question is whether their efforts gain converts or drive people to burn down the temple, and the school with it.
As for colleges targeted by such shock campaigns, these are the people with whom you’ve hopped in the sack, embracing the “everything is rape” and believe every “survivor” fantasy. Instead of loving you for coddling their feelings, they will destroy you for not believing enough in their god. Did you not realize that religions not only have their heaven, but also their hell?
*And because irony is an inexhaustible resource, the most likely audience for this message would be people too stupid to grasp that its goal is impossible. Should Harvard have a rape advisor chaperone every date, sit in every bar and dorm room? Parents don’t want their child raped or falsely accused of rape, not to “prevail” after the fact at a disciplinary hearing.
**Albeit a group with sufficient money to make this happen.