George Will, male privilege and sexual assault

In his June 6th syndicated column, Washington Post columnist George Will said, “Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous, and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”

The ink had barely dried on the page before the outcry began. Victims groups, advocacy organizations, even a group of US Senators all decried the notion that being raped somehow conferred a coveted status upon the victim. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, one of the largest newspapers in the Midwest, cancelled Will’s column permanently, and the Chicago Times refused to publish this particular entry.

George Will voiced his opinion. He is, afterall, an opinion writer. Part of his job is to encourage conversation and sometimes that involves voicing a controversial opinion. But taking such a callous position on such an emotional and personal topic not only showed his lack of true empathy but also exposed the underlying problem with rape and sexual assault in our society — male privilege. The privilege he decries does, indeed, exist, but with the perpetrator rather than the victim.

The only privilege accorded a victim is, hopefully, survival. The reality is far from privilege.

Victims are ostracized, especially if their perpetrator was a popular athlete, as in the Steubenville rape case where young men sexually assaulted a high school girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. CNN lamented the loss of these boys’ promising athletic careers while also revealing the first name of the minor victim.

Victims drop out of school, like the University of Indiana freshman who could not face her perpetrator who was not expelled even after being found guilty.

Victims commit suicide, like the Notre Dame student who killed herself after reporting a sexual assault by a member of the football team. During the 10 days between the assault and her death, she received numerous texts from other football players telling her to back off and although Notre Dame investigators thoroughly investigated the victim they had yet to question the perpetrator.

Sexual assault changes a woman’s life forever.

The only upside to Will’s column is the backlash. Survivors have taken to social media to lay waste to his claims of privilege and status. On Twitter, survivors use the hashtag #survivorprivilege to share personal stories of how sexual assault impacted their lives. The stories are empowering and they are crucial to this issue.

Women and men must stand up to the rape apologists. Sexual assault is not, as George Will would have us believe, about ambiguities, but about male privilege and violence.

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