‘Rape Culture’ Letter Draws Outrage
November 5, 2013
David Hookstead appears to be at the top of his game.
And his game is ticking people off.
Hookstead, a UW junior who studies political science, is the author of “‘Rape culture’ does not exist,” a letter to the editor published in the Badger Herald Monday. By noon Tuesday the piece had drawn 467 comments — the vast majority of them hostile to Hookstead’s views, but a significant number in support.
“Rape culture” is the concept that sexual violence in society is tolerated or excused. It’s perpetuated through victim blaming, misogynistic language and sexual objectification.
In essence, Hookstead argues, rape has been blown way out of proportion because women are prone to false accusations.
“Why are women so desperate to demonize men that they’ll lie about being raped?” Hookstead writes.
He does concede that “women are more often the victims of sexual assault and rape.” But adds, “many men are assaulted and raped as well. Then why aren’t we teaching our daughters not rape?”
The response to the letter has garnered some local media attention. But Hookstead has, in recent months, attracted national notice.
Here’s a tweet from Hookstead from Aug. 20, after the New York Times mentioned his “Madison confessions” website, which he launched in February: “I’ve got a few critics, but none of them have been featured in the NY Times. Tonight is to celebrate this incredible accomplishment.”
In that light, this comment on Hookstead’s letter Monday hit the nail on the head: “I mean he’s almost literally begging at one point for people to respond to him in an outraged manner. If only we didn’t have such an ‘attention whore’ culture!”
The Badger Herald, not surprisingly, took heaps of criticism for publishing the screed:
“Jesus Christ, Badger Herald, please stop publishing things written by David Hookstead,” fumes one reader.
Herald editor Katherine Krueger told WISC-TV that the paper printed it to provoke a discussion about the issue.
“When I was consulting with our managing editor and our opinion editors about whether or not to publish it, we knew there would be a pretty strong response from the campus,” said Krueger. “I think it’s important to stare something ugly in the face every once in a while to be reminded that there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Krueger also wrote a letter to the UW community on Tuesday, arguing that “As ugly as Hookstead’s version of reality is, this is an actual view held by more than a few UW students. If you’re disgusted and angry, this is your starting point. It’s only by opening the dialogue and banishing topics like sexual assault from our list of cultural taboos that we can begin to affect a lasting change on campus.”
The advocacy group Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), in a lengthy response to Hookstead’s letter, lauded the decision.
“Thank you, Badger Herald, for the stunning example of how rape culture is alive and well on the UW-Madison campus,” reads the group’s statement.
Another journalism student, Ann Marie Steib, defended the Herald for publishing the letter but wrote in her blog, “It’s time to stop getting so angry about the ludicrous things David is saying and start ignoring them. His attention-seeking rants have long overstayed their welcome. When he makes a legitimate contribution to campus, then we can start listening.”
Still, other high-profile sites have taken notice of his tweets. In August, Jezebel featured a few golden nuggets from Hookstead’s Twitter page, like, “I’ve noticed that the women that rag on me aren’t very good looking, and the ones that enjoy me are beautiful. Coincidence? I think not.”
“Worst/Funniest pick up line I’ve ever heard: ‘How do I know we’re having sex later tonight? I’m stronger than you.'”
Such one-liners weren’t funny to women on campus who have been sexually assaulted — some of whom weighed in on Hookstead’s letter.
Here’s a comment from a reader who says she nearly committed suicide years after she was assaulted: “I almost died because of the rape culture, how dare you say it doesn’t exist.”
Of course, Hookstead isn’t alone in his view that the rape culture is a myth. Go to Google and you’ll find all kinds of examples. Here’s an opinion piece in US News and World Report a couple of weeks ago by Caroline Kitchens, a self-proclaimed Wisconsinite and researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, disputing rape statistics.
“Bolstered by inflated statistics and alarmist depictions of campus culture, advocates have been successful in initiating policy changes designed to better protect victims of sexual violence,” Kitchens writes. “Duke, Swarthmore, Amherst, Emerson and the University of North Carolina are among the many institutions that have recently reviewed and revised their policies. It is not clear that these policies have made campuses safer places for women, but they have certainly made them treacherous places for falsely accused men.”
As Kitchens writes, reliable rape statistics are hard to come by. She attributes that to “vague and expansive definitions of what qualifies as sexual assault.” Most law enforcement officials attribute the difficulty in obtaining reliable statistics to the fact that most rape victims don’t report the crime.