The existence of ‘rape culture’ on college campuses — the social conditions that allow for the normalization of sexual assault and violence — leads to one in four college women being assaulted before they reach graduation. For evidence that rape culture is alive, well and thriving on the University of Wisconsin campus, look no further than David Hookstead’s letter to the editor.
As a woman and a feminist, I find Hookstead’s views morally repugnant, patriarchal and offensive. His letter is the embodiment of rape culture. He peddles the horrifically misguided beliefs that sexual assault victims were asking for it with their clothing or behavior, were drunk or are flat-out lying about being raped. He perpetuates the cycle of blaming victims of sexual violence, rather than fostering an environment where individuals can be connected with resources without fear of social backlash or worse. Rape culture prevents members of the LGBT community, cisgender women and men from reporting their assaults to police or campus authorities.
I made the decision to publish this piece after careful deliberation and debate with our managing editor and opinion editors. We chose to publish the piece for its potential to move our collective understanding about what rape culture looks like in Madison forward.
Letters to the editor are just that: They may not (and, in this case, certainly do not) reflect the views of the Herald’s opinion section or the organization as a whole. This is also not an opinion section column because Hookstead is not on staff. In the public discourse, the most repellent ideas should be buried as the strong, well-reasoned arguments prevail. We hoped this piece would be torn limb from limb in the ensuing fray, and we haven’t been disappointed by the quality of the campus’ impassioned debate in response to the letter.
While many of the responses condemned Hookstead’s reprehensible opinions, others came out of the woodwork in support of his ideas.
On campus, we’re lulled into complacency on these issues. Student groups on campus provide resources and education, but unless you’re actively seeking them out, you can spend four years on campus without ever having your views on sexual assault and consent challenged. There’s also an understanding that everyone’s on the same page with these complex issues, so it’s easy to assume few students share Hookstead’s views. But he’s one of many, not only at UW but also across the state, who allow a culture that alienates and silences victims to persist. Sadly, Hookstead’s ignorance only serves to underwrite the lack of sexual assault awareness on this campus.
We need to stare ugly viewpoints in the face as a reminder of the work that’s left to do on campus. These views are often kept out of sight and out of mind, and it’s uncomfortable to see a fellow Badger’s hateful words printed out in the open. It’s infuriating to know that people actually believe these falsehoods. But simply condemning this piece is the easy way out. The much more difficult and fruitful way forward is to take a hard look at the things we overhear every single day at the gym, at the bars or shouted at passersby on the street.
We don’t spend enough time as a campus community getting righteously angry about why assaults are still happening on our campus. The overwhelming response from the greater campus community also makes it clear that people who know rape culture is a real problem are not on the “fringe[s] of reality,” as the writer states.
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.
Note: Out of consideration and respect for sexual assault and rape survivors, I regret not including a trigger warning when the story was first published. A warning has been added to the online edition of the letter.