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Thursday, June 13, 2024

During Ben Shapiro’s speech on April 3, he criticized the term ‘rape culture’ as a slur against men. I was one of the “idiot protestors” at his event and specifically made my sign, which read “Stop Rape Culture,” for the talk. A sharp commentator who enlivens audiences with audacious statements on controversial issues, Shapiro tried to undermine the very real problem of sexual assault for college students, while blaming rape victims who do not report the crimes for helping to keep rapists out of jails. I address the problems with Shapiro’s claims, not only because they are potentially dangerous, but also to illustrate the often tenuous foundations of his fast “facts.”

Shapiro laments the lack of specificity of the term rape culture. Though non-exhaustive, I understand rape culture to refer to environments, which normalize sexual assault and coercion. This includes a societal entitlement to women, non-binary and trans folks’ bodies, pressure on men to “score,” automatic suspicion about sexual assault claims and assumptions that only promiscuous women or weak men get raped.

When Shapiro calls for rapists to be castrated or killed, he is suggesting that rape is infrequent. When he emphasizes the need for strong evidence, he suggests all rapes and sexual assaults (R&SAs from here on out) are violent and produce damning evidence. When he blames victims for not reporting their rapes, he assumes that all victims are believed and treated with respect and further, that all the true rapists are prosecuted and convicted. When he prioritizes the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) over other national or campus-level surveys, he purposefully makes a choice to favor statistics which de-emphasize rapes by incapacitation, when victims cannot consent.

R&SAs are notoriously difficult to measure using surveys — not everyone wishes to resurrect these sensitive experiences. Further, individuals have different personal opinions about what constitutes sexual crimes. Victims are also conditioned to think their R&SAs are their own fault and may not attribute criminal culpability to their aggressors.

During his speech, Shapiro specifically criticized statistics from the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, ignoring results from other important surveys. For instance, the CDC’s 2011 National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) shows that 19.3 percent of U.S. women have been raped during their lifetime, while the 2015 AAU Climate Survey on Sexual Assault & Sexual Misconduct finds that more than 20 percent of women on college campuses surveyed experienced sexual assault and/or misconduct (AAU). UF participated in this survey, and about 275 female students (estimated using about 20 percent of the approximately 1,374 UF females who responded) reported experiencing sexual assault with physical force or when they were incapacitated and could not give consent.

As someone trained in survey research, I acknowledge that both surveys may suffer from non-response bias (again, measuring R&SAs via surveys is notoriously difficult). But the survey Shapiro cites broadly measures criminal victimization, and as acknowledged by the NCVS authors and others, is likely to undercount R&SAs because some victims won’t classify such assaults as “criminal activities.”

I do not believe Ben Shapiro is evil or that all men commit rape. I congratulate him for acknowledging that men are also victims of sexual assault and that statistics likely underreport sexual assaults. While Shapiro sees problems with the left’s “hierarchy of victimhood,” as he puts it, I rather emphasize that acknowledging one another’s struggles, including those experienced by white men, is necessary to come together as a nation. As for why sexual assaults are not reported to authorities, we need only to ask women who have tried, only to be made to relive their rapes over the course of the investigation, have their names and reputations smeared, face unsympathetic harassment, endure intense scrutiny if there is a trial, and if they are lucky, watch as their assailant receives a light sentence for the sake of his future.

Jennifer C. Boylan graduated from UF with a Ph.D. in political science in 2016 and currently works as a program officer within the Center for African Studies.

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