Sometimes conversations around #MeToo resemble a hostage negotiating with a man who has a gun to her head. “Don’t worry,” the hostage keeps saying. “We can both win!” That isn’t entirely false. But the hostage knows she is saying what she has to say to survive—including admissions of fault that might not be true. (“You’re holding the gun, I’m standing here—we’re both contributing to the situation.”) The trouble comes when people on the sidelines start to believe she’s at fault, too.
At the National Catholic Reporter, Jenn Morson and Heidi Schlumpf have published articles interviewing multiple women about their experiences reporting rape at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Christendom College. The stories are upsetting, but unsurprising; equally unsurprising, the defensive and obtuse responses. Nothing—for some—could be a stronger protection against predation than traditional sexual morality: if sexuality is ordered to the good of the other and contained within marriage and intended for procreation, then the sort of unfortunate situations popping up in the news simply can’t occur.
Thus one Steubenville student, publishing in the Washington Examiner, just doesn’t believe the stories in the articles: “when I walk around campus at Franciscan University, I don’t see a sex-crazed student body where rampant sexual assault is taking place.” After all, “sexual activity outside the confines of a married couple is a very grave sin. The way men and women interact at [Catholic] institutions is much different than at your average state university.” Perhaps men assault women as a kind of bad manners. If the rules were clearer, the lines brighter, things simply better explained (by women, to men)—then men wouldn’t make these mistakes.
Meanwhile, at Crisis, Austin Ruse dismisses the idea that the assaults matter out of hand: “the issue is never the issue.” For him, the real issue is punishing “orthodox” institutions; the women are a distraction. The Steubenville student is a child and can be forgiven his naiveté; the evidence suggests Austin Ruse is fully grown, though perhaps charity demands I believe otherwise. In any case, this line of argument is also a popular one. In his obituary for the late Cardinal Bernard Law, for instance, Philip Lawler wanted to stress that Law was “not unique” in his handling of the sexual abuse of minors. (Everybody covers up child abuse; why do you care so much this time?)
Ruse writes in defense, in part, of Stephen Krason, a professor at Steubenville who has been singled out for criticism by alumni for his writings on sexual harassment. Of women who are harassed or raped and keep silent out of fear of career retaliation, Krason asks, “Were their careers more important to them than sexual virtue? Can’t they truly be viewed, at least to some degree, as cooperators with wrongdoing?” It’s difficult to imagine this question being asked of other kinds of violence—whether or not, for example, an employee who takes a punch to the face cooperates in it.