Serious Sexual Harassment Virtually Eliminated on Australian Campuses

I’ll try to make this one brief. It’s tough to make a brief case against standard assumptions. But this time, for sure, just a glance.

As I’ve said in previous pieces, I completely support protections against real harassment and abuse, sexual and nonsexual — for all people, male and female alike. But feminist journalism tries to make men the problem, and that’s just wrong, morally and factually.

The example du jour appears in the New York Times (McKinnon, 2018). As feminists often do, McKinnon mixes up a number of issues, in an effort to use the misbehavior of tiny groups of men as an excuse to attack men generally. Here’s the quote:

Less than a third of the Australian Parliament is female. Canberra, the capital, is frequently described as an old boy’s club, with many men’s connections — and attitudes about sexual conduct — starting in the elite universities . . . .

That culture of harassment and protection for powerful men, women say, has prevented more accusers from speaking publicly . . . .

Over the past few years, students at the University of Sydney, Australian National University and on several other campuses have mobilized against “rape culture,” drawing attention to a lack of punishment for sexual assault and harassment.

Their efforts led to a nationwide survey of 31,000 university students in which 51 percent said they were sexually harassed at least once in 2016.

We can deal briefly with the complaint about Parliament. In most places, if someone is not elected, that’s because they didn’t run a persuasive campaign. The fact that many women do get elected suggests that it can be done. It may be hard for most women. It’s also hard for ordinary men, the kind who do not have money for ad campaigns, and who aren’t good at lying to people — that is, telling people what they want to hear, even if it’s not true.

I agree: democracies have a problem in that regard. It isn’t a gender-specific issue. It’s a matter of persuading voters to identify and prefer integrity and competence. These days, I don’t have a hell of a lot of confidence in voters. But however it turns out, I can assure you: merely being male does not somehow make it my fault.

After that complaint, McKinnon admits that s/he (Alex? probably male; no biographical information available) is talking about men who have been empowered by “elite universities.” That’s an understandable complaint: too many insiders. But female legislators empowered by the same universities will not solve that problem. The problem McKinnon describes is one that calls for legislators, male or female, from outside the establishment. McKinnon has nothing to say on that.

So we turn to the main issue: rape culture at Australian universities. According to Wikipedia, rape culture refers to “a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.” Wikipedia says an entire society can be a rape culture. South Africa is an example, where one survey found that about 1 in 4 men in certain districts had raped someone. More commonly, Wikipedia says, rape culture refers to behavior within a social group, such as among convicts in a prison.

It is hard to imagine an American or Australian university having a rape culture. Prominent women’s advocates have rejected such claims. For instance, in an article titled “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria,” Time magazine (Kitchens, 2014) quotes recommendations from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN, 2014, p. 2):

In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming “rape culture” for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses. While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.

What McKinnon seems to mean, in the foregoing quote from the New York Times, is not that campuses have an actual rape culture. It is, rather, that punishments are too lenient, for the tiny minority of men who commit campus rapes. McKinnon doesn’t phrase it that way, perhaps because doing so would make it sound like a complicated and boring legal problem affecting a small minority. You’re not going to rouse the rabble with that sort of talk.

To make it more dramatic, McKinnon draws instead on that “nationwide survey of 31,000 [Australian] university students in which 51 percent said they were sexually harassed at least once in 2016.” McKinnon didn’t provide any further information on that study; s/he just took it as gospel from a previous Times article (Williams, 2017). In her article, Williams claimed “alarming levels of sexual violence on Australian campuses.”

But that’s not what the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC, 2017) actually found (see also The Spectator (Arndt, 2017)).

First, bear in mind that the Australian survey counted someone as a victim if they experienced a single instance of sexual harassment in an entire year (p. 3). Second, consider that “sexual harassment” included extremely minor problems: stares, insults of a sexual nature, and intrusive questions (p. 26).

In other words, the study considers you a sexual harasser if you ask someone out on a date, where you thought s/he might be interested, but s/he decides that your invitation was “inappropriate” (p. 57). As we saw in another post, some people can get pretty haughty about this sort of thing. Likewise, you may be considered a sexual harasser if you call a man a “dick” or a woman a “bitch,” because someone can consider those to be insults of a sexual nature. Your “victim” could also feel that you had asked an “intrusive” question if you asked whether s/he has a boyfriend or girlfriend.

In addition, according to the AHRC, sexual harassment includes “accessing sexually explicit internet sites” (p. 26). That’s interesting, when WebMD (McMillen, 2009) begins an article with these words: “As it turns out, men are pretty much hard-wired to like watching — or reading about — other people having sex. Here’s why they do it — and why it’s probably ok.” (Evidently some feel, to the contrary, that male behavior is OK only if it is the same as female behavior.)

If you’re getting the sense that the AHRC survey was digging pretty deep to find anything that anyone could possibly consider sexual harassment, you’re in good company. The survey itself admitted that two-thirds of its alleged victims did not think their experiences of so-called “sexual harassment” were serious enough to deserve the minor effort of filing a complaint (p. 9). And then there’s the fact that only 9.7% of contacted students even bothered to complete the survey (p. 225). It seems sexual harassment is not exactly a hot-button topic for the vast majority of Australian students in the middle of this imaginary “rape culture.”

Further, as the researchers admitted, that small minority (9.7%) of respondents may consist especially of people who have a personal interest in the subject of sexual harassment: “It may not necessarily be representative of the entire university population . . . . People who had been sexually assaulted and/or sexually harassed may have been more likely to respond to this survey than those who had not” (p. 226).

Of course, serious incidents do occur, in Australia as elsewhere, and alcohol can make them worse. The AHRC survey does provide some examples of that. In a country of millions, there is always going to be the occasional horror story. But the survey also provides examples that seem pretty trivial. Consider, for instance, this complaint (p. 80):

Whenever someone starts chanting ‘win-on’ and making a chopping motion with their hand in the direction of a male and a female, everyone normally follows along, and this means that those two people have to kiss. Again, of course you can always say no, but this looks so bad in the eyes of your peers that most just do it.

“Peers,” there, includes women as well as men. If this were something that women as a group really disliked, they would be perfectly able to refuse.

The complaint seems to be that the person went to the party, wanted to fit in, wanted to be “forced” to kiss someone who was really attractive, but instead got stuck kissing some ugly toad.

That complaint is understandable. If you really feel strongly about how it turns out, I’d suggest not going to that kind of party anymore. Find others who feel the same; form your own preferred kind of social event. But please don’t use this to support a claim that your campus fosters a rape culture. For that would be ridiculous.

The title of this post claims that serious sexual harassment has been virtually eliminated on Australian campuses. The AHRC study, and those New York Times articles, made no such claim. To realize that this does appear to be the situation, one has to read between the lines — to recognize how hard these feminist sources are trying to dig up evidence of a problem, and to exaggerate what they find.

I mean, imagine if we were talking about assaults against men. Imagine men saying that they could “always say no” to assault, that two-thirds of them didn’t think their incidents were serious enough to report, that only 9.7% of them even bothered filling out a survey on the subject. You’d have every right to suspect that assaults on men are just not a serious problem. That’s what we’d get on the subject of sexual harassment, from these putative researchers and journalists, if they were trying to present the facts neutrally, instead of twisting them to promote their agenda.

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