‘Booze-and-Rape Op-Ed’ in SMU Student Newspaper Stirs ‘National Controversy,’ Petition

A petition and “national controversy” are swirling around what the press has dubbed a “booze-and-rape op-ed” recently published in the Southern Methodist University student newspaper.

In the piece, Daily Campus contributing writer Kirby Wiley contends greater attention must be paid to what she sees as a link between female students’ alcohol overindulgence and sexual assaults.

The Dallas Observer says the op-ed presents “a parallel but much less carefully argued point” than a similarly controversial Slate column posted last month headlined “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk.

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In Wiley’s words, “The best way for women to prevent these assaults from happening to them is to never drink so much that they cannot control themselves or remember what happened the next day. If women quit putting themselves in situations where they appear vulnerable, it will be much less likely for men to try and take advantage of them. … If the media would focus more attention on the fact that the majority of the women who are sexually assaulted are intoxicated, as opposed to stating and restating how horrible the perpetrator is, then maybe young women would start to listen.”

Upon its publication, a pair of SMU gender and sexual rights groups pounced, proclaiming the op-ed nothing more than irresponsible victim blaming and female bashing. According to CNN, the subsequent hubbub is “pushing [the piece] beyond the Dallas campus and into the ongoing national debate over how much responsibility potential victims of sexual assault bear.”

2A Change.org petition launched by the groups and sporting roughly 300 supporters (as of this morning) implores the Daily Campus to “STOP publishing articles contributing to rape culture and misogyny in general.”

As it argues, “This is not a matter of Freedom of Speech; saying that people have their opinions and we are just posting them is blatantly unethical, erroneous and ignorant. The focus needs to be on the implications and insinuations of such public dialogue — the dominant ideology (i.e. patriarchal misogyny) is only bolstered when such diatribes are pushed forward for public consumption. … We are fed up. Clearly we need all the help we can get here in Texas, so help us stop the Daily Campus from continuing to do harm.”

In a letter posted Sunday on the Daily Campus site, two recent DC editors similarly criticize Wiley’s piece for “plac[ing] the blame for sexual assaults on their victims. Needless to say, this is not an appropriate way to report on a serious problem affecting colleges around the country.”

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Wiley admits, in hindsight, “I wasn’t careful enough with my wording.” But she tells CNN her main point has a significance worth exploring deeper. As she explains in an email, “The purpose of my column was to call the media’s attention to an often overlooked side of sexual assault and rape cases on and around college campuses — the all-too-common intoxication of victims. I feel the facts of a woman being too intoxicated should also be included in reports, not to place blame or any additional stress on the victim, but rather to inform other women of this factor that studies have shown increases the risk of sexual assaults.”

According to the DC, editors met privately with representatives from the petitioning groups. The paper also ran a news report on the backlash, labeling it online with two hashtags: #controversy and #DailyCampus.

In addition, the paper published the entire Change.org petition, a separate guest column from the petitioners explaining their side in greater detail and a note from the editorial board explaining the paper’s opinion page policies.

4In the latter, the board reminded readers it sometimes publishes columns and letters espousing views with which staffers disagree. It also confirms, “Sexual assault is not something we have trivialized. In May of 2012, the Daily Campus published a three-part investigative series titled ‘Sweeping Rape Under the Rug.’ This series played a large role in the creation of The President’s Task Force On Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures. We continued covering sexual assault as well as following the progress of that task force through 2012.”

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