Thursday, April 3, 2014

President Carter takes on 'epidemic of rape'

I heard parts of an interview with Jimmy Carter, a man I greatly admire, on the radio yesterday. I listened as Carter touted his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." The former president was especially eager to condemn what he says is an epidemic of rape on college campuses, citing Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill in particular (he was in Raleigh to hype his book).

I was glad to see a Newsday columnist, reprinted in the News and Observer this morning, take Carter to task for his equating of income disparity, job discrimination and date rape in America with the atrocities against women in other countries. These atrocities include killing of female babies, unpunished murder of wives by their husbands, genital mutilation and other violence that is accepted in these countries. Carter should know better.

As the father of two daughters, I am naturally protective of women's rights and safety, but I find the condemnation of the alleged epidemic of rape on college campuses one-sided. Carter bolstered his assertions by citing statistics about the percentage of female students who are raped on college campuses and urged colleges to get tough on the rapists, especially the "serial rapists," each of whom are reported to be hunting down and abusing dozens of women. He said colleges should dismiss these men; kick them out.

Wait a minute. If these men are guilty of rape, as Carter claims they are, should they not be charged in criminal courts? Shouldn't they face not just dismissal from school but years and years in prison? If they are, indeed, rapists, they should be punished with imprisonment, not disenrollment.

They should also be entitled to trial by jury and the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. But Carter and others who are condemning the "epidemic of rape on campus" are not willing to allow the criminal justice system to do its work. They seem to want the men involved to be punished for their deeds without an opportunity to defend themselves.

Any sensible person wants women to be safe from predatory men and other dangers, but college women, who should be, by definition, intelligent enough to know better than to put themselves in compromising positions, have a responsibility in this matter. Excessive drinking can lead to behavior you may later regret, whether male or female.

College and sexual relations have changed greatly since I was a student. Gone are the "women's dorms" with their curfews, parlors and house mothers. Today's female students brag about their sexual conquests the way some men did in my day, and at least one Duke student has proclaimed her happiness and self-esteem as she works her way through college in the porn industry.

Women who find themselves uncertain "what happened last night" or regretting their previous evening's behavior have a responsibility, now that they have escaped from the "in loco parentis" rules of the 1960s, to protect themselves from vulnerable situations. Where rape happens, it should be prosecuted by the criminal courts, and it should not be diluted to the equivalence of bad behavior on campus.

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