Porn, Booze and the SMU President’s Council Report on Sexual Assault

This morning, the SMU President’s Council that formed after the infamous “rape chant” handed over their findings to the university. While SMU has said they’re committed to putting changes in place in accordance with the guidelines proposed by the Council, there is a whole host of problems with the report. I’m (cautiously) calling the research and report a small victory because there are shreds of merit, but we need to talk about the problematic nature of some of its content.

Responsible Porn Consumption & Education

The report explicitly states: “The Internet and social media are forces for good but also have a much darker side like easy access to pornography.” The problem here lies in the criminalization of porn consumption. The nature of our culture and its reliance on the internet means easy access to pornography, and it isn’t changing any time soon. Like anything else, when society goes through changes the way we educate our youth has to change too. Rather than simply saying that “porn = bad,” make it a point to educate the young people in your life that most porn is not a true representation of the sexual experience. It’s fiction, movie magic. If we take initiatives to educate people about ethical and responsible consumption of porn and the ways in which representations of sexuality are skewed in porn, we have opportunities to talk about consent. There are wise ways to consume porn, but if we aren’t talking about them or are calling them shameful, we miss opportunities to socialize our youth into adults who think critically about the representations of sex they see. Porn will always be easily accessible, so we need to transform the way we talk to our youth about it.

Alcohol Consumption & Victim Blaming

A recurring theme in the report is alcohol consumption. Sure, there may be a problem with excessive alcohol consumption on campuses, but tacking alcohol problems onto a study of sexual assault is so incredibly misguided. The focus of the alcohol-related portions of the study perpetuate the idea that rape is caused by university girls drinking too much: “Women are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and are at greater risk of experiencing gender- based violence such as sexual assault when drinking heavily.” Classic victim-blaming. If the university wants to change the nature of alcohol consumption on campus, then they should allocate resources to perform a separate study of it. Alcohol doesn’t cause rape. By framing sexual assault as a by-product of alcohol consumption, the report dodges the idea that maybe, just maybe, the problems on our campuses are actually caused by rapists. Educating young people about drinking responsibly is crucial, but what do we do when our educators are saying that it’s alcohol causing all this rape? 

I’m calling the President’s Council out as victim-blaming, misguided, and uninformed. The report isn’t a total trainwreck, but I’m still terribly disappointed, especially considering the council claimed to have feminist voices in their midst. As I continue forming my thoughts, I’ll update.