Skip to main content

George Will, you are so wrong about sexual assault

By Mel Robbins
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1446 GMT (2246 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mel Robbins: George Will's views about sexual assault on campuses are wrong
  • Robbins: He's out of touch with reality, trivializes the problem, and blames women
  • Colleges tried to sweep assault cases under the rug, but students complained
  • Robbins: Women who are assaulted are victims, not people with "coveted status"

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. Robbins is the founder of Inspire52.com, a positive news website and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine," about managing change. She speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- By now you've either heard about or read George Will's controversial column on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Will's take is that the numbers are "preposterous" and using "simple arithmetic" he can prove the "supposed campus epidemic of rape" just ain't so. Worse, Will believes that progressivism, the Obama administration, a college hook-up culture and shady math are turning survivors of sexual assault into a "coveted status that confers privilege." He goes on to claim that efforts to address the issue on campuses is "making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations."

I'd no more want to have a conversation with George Will about sexual assault on college campuses than I wish to discuss racism with Donald Sterling. Both men are shockingly out of touch with reality. The fact is, George Will is so wrong.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

1. George Will argues that "Washington" and "progressivism" are to blame for creating a "supposed" epidemic of campus rape.

Wrong. Colleges prefer to sweep sexual assault cases under the rug, but students have brought the issue to light. In 2011, 16 Yale students and alumni filed a Title IX sexual assault complaint against the university. Other similar lawsuits emerged across the nation. As of this moment, there are 55 universities and colleges under investigation by the federal government.

When Dartmouth (my alma mater) was confronted with the problem, the university experienced an astounding 14% drop in college applications. Unlike George Will, the president of Dartmouth College, Philip Hanlon, hit it head on:

See what he said about sexual assault
Cutter: Sexual assault not taken seriously?
Newspaper drops George Will column

"From sexual assaults on campus ... to a culture where dangerous drinking has become the rule and not the exception ... to a general disregard for human dignity as exemplified by hazing, parties with racist and sexist undertones, disgusting and sometimes threatening insults hurled on the Internet ... to a social scene that is too often at odds with the practices of inclusion that students are right to expect on a college campus in 2014. The actions I have detailed are antithetical to everything that we stand for and hope for our students to be. There is a grave disconnect between our culture in the classroom and the behaviors outside of it—behaviors which too often seek not to elevate the human spirit, but debase it."

2. George Will suggests that women, hook-up culture, alcohol, anything but men, are to blame.

He cites an example of a student from Swarthmore College in 2013 and condenses her report into two paragraphs -- as if it's representative of most sexual assault cases. Is he trying to find a way to blame women? Women who drink. Women who say no and fall asleep. Are they giving up their right to say no if they pass out or fall asleep?

What about the morality of the man's actions? What respectable young man rolls himself on top of a drunk, sleepy corpse of a woman and forces her to have sex, after she had said no?

Take 25 seconds and watch this brilliant PSA on what a guy should do if he finds himself with a woman passed out, asleep on his couch, or in his bed. It's really simple and there's no gray area or ambiguity: Good guys respect women. Creeps and criminals take advantage of women.

3. By addressing the problems, colleges are turning sexual assault victims into a "coveted status."

Ask any woman who's been the victim of a sexual assault, unwanted groping, or date rape and you'll learn there's nothing to covet. And most definitely it's not a privilege. Dr. Jen Gunter, who wrote an open letter to George Will, offers a powerful first-hand perspective that will tell you what goes through the mind of a rape survivor.

Victims often feel shame, guilt and fear. When they try to report it, they'll be questioned about their conduct, whether there's any drinking involved, what they were wearing, whether they've had sex with the man before. If it's serious enough and not a "micro-aggression" the attacker might be quietly punished, in a way that makes sure that no parents find out. But the victim has to deal with whispers and rumors.

4. The simple arithmetic doesn't make George Will's point powerful.

George Will makes a big stink about whether it's true that "one in five women" could possibly be sexually assaulted during college. I could make arguments to counter his math. But let's do this: What if we say there are "only" one in 20 women who are sexually assaulted, rather than one in five? Does that make this problem less of a problem? Are those women who are raped less deserving of help?

If armed robberies on campus happened to one in 20, or one in 20 students got the measles or food poisoning, we would call it an epidemic. Simply focusing on the validity of the numbers is not a way to invalidate the obligation and importance of universities taking this problem seriously.

5. "I take sexual assault more seriously than you do."

In his response to the backlash, George Will pulled out the Donald Sterling "I'm not a racist and I've never been a racist" defense. He says, "I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you do. Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of crime that might, by their breadth, tend to trivialize it."

Actually, it's George Will who's trivializing the problem. When he summarizes a single story of sexual assault with a giant incredulous eye roll and suggests that a woman's conduct should be scrutinized more than a man's in assessing whether a sexual assault even occurred -- he is trivializing a creepy and criminal act.

The reason why so many women haven't come forward until now is because victims assumed nothing would happen, or even worse, they'd face someone like George Will who'd put the blame right back on the victim.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT