Sexual assault and harassment are big problems, whether on college campuses or elsewhere. I just want to ask this question:

To what degree do larger cultural factors contribute to causing this phenomenon?

Obviously, the largest component is the decision-making of the assaulter him or herself. And no matter what, that person ultimately must be held accountable for his or her actions. But, certainly we would think other factors come into play, e.g., “frat boy culture,” larger cultural ideas about sexual interaction, societal standards on inebriation, norms surrounding gender interaction, and so on.

So, if we could pinpoint which of these larger cultural factors contribute to this proliferation of sexual assault on campus and elsewhere, wouldn’t it be rational to try to address those factors? Isn’t curbing sexual assault an important enough goal that we as a society would be willing to change norms and expectations as needed?

You would think so. But try telling people that maybe a big factor in campus sexual assault is the drinking/party culture coupled with the expectation that college is a time to “explore your sexuality,” and try to have as many “experiences” as possible and all the confusion, insecurity, and fear that comes with that.

But these are not the kinds of considerations administrators, academics, and policy makers are making. To admit that there are wider cultural and social factors at play would be to concede that the liberal, sex-positive culture running rampant on college campuses and being promoted in American media at large is (at least part of) the problem. It would be an admission that the sex education children have been learning in grade school for the past decade has been a major failure — after all, today’s college rapists were yesterday’s middle school students, learning all about having “safe sex” in health class. Rather than confront these possibilities, it’s much more convenient to pin the blame on dumb jocks and frat boys not being able to understand simple moral principles like, “No means no.”

And that’s really telling. If these perpetrators of sexual assault really are too stupid, callous, aggressive, and immoral to abstain from violating another human being in this cruel way, what more damning indictment could there be of the greater ethos of our time?