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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT