An award-winning journalist reports from the front lines of the sexual assault controversy.
Entering the complex, contentious conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair contributing editor Grigoriadis offers an extensively researched investigation based on dozens of case reports and interviews with 120 students (accusers, accused, and activists) from 20 universities and 80 administrators and experts. What has emerged from her three years of research, though, are more questions than satisfying answers: what constitutes sexual assault? How prevalent is the problem? How should colleges address assault charges? How can assaults be prevented? Types of college assault, she found, occur in four main categories: penetration (“intercourse, oral sex, and fingering”); “incapacitated rape,” meaning “sex that happens when the victim is unconscious”; any aggressive act, such as groping; and “the vast middle ground” of sex without consent. Incapacitated rape, the author reveals, is the most common type, resulting from a culture of heavy drinking at most residential colleges. The most significant risk factors for assault are “free-flowing alcohol and misogyny,” both of which are hallmarks of fraternities. “If you want to maintain your status as a striving middle-to-upper-middle-class member of society,” Grigoriadis asserts, “having been part of the Greek system in college is a sure way to do it.” She paints a dismal picture of college social life, where students feel pressured to hook up, where boys are confused about what constitutes consent, and where girls—often falling-down drunk—acquiesce to sex that they don’t really want. As a society, writes the author, we’re afraid “to tell girls that they too bear responsibility for their sexual behavior and safety.” In an appendix, she offers common-sense advice for students and parents: “watch out for guys who exhibit toxic masculinity”; watch what you drink; “learn a few self-defense tricks”; and carefully read the sexual-misconduct section of the college handbook.
This is a vital, timely issue, and the author’s research is impressively in-depth, but an overabundance of anecdotes and statistics offers little clarity on the issue.