|University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor (NPR)|
I was recently asked by a woman I respect (even though we disagree on a few things) to comment on an essay Rabbi Steven Pruzansky wrote on his own personal blog. I responded that I was not inclined to comment, because of the overwhelmingly negative response already published - with which I agreed. I felt that I had nothing to add.What he wrote was out of line and wrong, but since there has been so much written about it, I did not want to pile on. She responded that my voice was needed since I am viewed as someone more right wing than those who were currently responding.
I thought about it, but I just wasn’t sure how to express my feelings about it accurately. However, I understand the need so I have decided to add my voice to those who have criticized his essay.
What Rabbi Pruzansky seems to be saying is that despite identifying it as such there is no such thing as a rape culture on college campuses these days. What is called rape today would never have been called rape in the past. But because of our promiscuous times - where ‘hooking up’ seems to be the norm - a coed who cries rape by a fellow student hasn’t really been really raped at all. It is a relationship gone bad. He thereby excuses a rapist that had some sort of relationship with the victim. In short he seems to be promoting a kind of ‘blame the victim’ mentality.
Here is the thing, though. Unwanted sex is rape, whether it is at gunpoint or at a party where alcohol and/or drugs are being served. Can anyone imagine it wouldn’t be? Excusing or explaining it away because of a permissive culture where women are willing participants does not change that fact. Does he not realize that it doesn’t matter what kind of relationship there is? Has he not heard of marital rape? If a woman does not want to have sex with any man and is forced to have it - it is rape. Period.
How does Rabbi Pruzansky think his words affect the women that were rape victims over time? Here is an excerpt from one rape victim’s response:
I was traumatized by the experience of being a rape victim and having the cops doubt my credibility, and am re-traumatized when people like you today suggest it was my fault.
It doesn’t matter whether the rapist was carrying a weapon, a roofie to put in a victim’s drink, or emotionally manipulates them. Rape is rape…
60 percent of rapes are unreported (90 percent on campus) because women have given up trying to convince people like you that they were subjected to a violent, demeaning, dehumanizing condition, one that could cost them their lives, by men who simply wanted to assert their power over them.
Last Friday the RCA posted an open letter on Facebook responding to Rabbi Pruzansky. It more or less reflects my own view here. Here are the key excerpts:
(Rabbi Pruzansky) argued in a way that many find objectionable and was hurtful to many who themselves were victims of sexual violence or who were troubled by what he said…
The empathetic, pastoral ear and heart that were absent from his entry implicated his colleagues. We as religious leaders feel an added and primary responsibility for compassion, for the defense of the weak and the vulnerable, and to defend those who are or consider themselves victims of aggression and assault…
However, we are dismayed by the overkill that has become the response to Rabbi Pruzansky's blog entry. Some have misrepresented his remarks; some are fomenting personal attacks and boycotts against him… Response to perceived disrespect is not through disrespect
I think that final point should not be overlooked. I have disagreed with Rabbi Pruzansky before. More than once – on a variety of issues. And I strongly disagree with him here. But I do not think he is a bad person. Nor do I think he intended to hurt anyone. He was trying to convey a point about the current promiscuous culture so prevalent on college campuses today (which is unarguable in my view) and suggest that abstinence would be a way to turn the tide… and lower if not eliminate the number of rape cases.
One can agree or disagree with that. But there is not a doubt in my mind that there is a ‘hook up’ mentality on college campuses today. That has created a culture where having casual sex with a coed is as acceptable as eating a candy bar. The values of modern times have taken a deep dive downward. The idea of abstinence as a solution is laughed at. It is unworkable in today’s culture. The idea of saying ‘no’ to this culture by refusing to participate in it is seen as unrealistic. Maybe so. Everyone who does not have strong religious values regarding the morality of having casual sex sees no problem with it as long as neither of the participants are in a committed relationship with another person.
There is little doubt in my mind that this attitude creates an environment that in many cases sees a man talking a woman into having sex with him even if she doesn’t really want it as ‘no big deal’. There is no question that incidences of rape on college campuses have increased in recent years. I think the promiscuous society in which we live (especially on college campuses) has contributed to the numbers.
This of course does not excuse rape when it happens under any circumstances. This is where Rabbi Pruzansky went wrong. But the increase is real and there has to be a reason. (I don’t think it is only the fact that reporting it is up. I think the actual rape numbers are up, too.) There may be other contributing factors but I don’t think this one should be discounted.
Had Rabbi Pruzansky stuck to this point, I might have agreed with him. Unfortunately with his words he entered to territory about which he seems to have little knowledge… and hurt a lot of people in the process.