Student newspaper issues amazing response to college president's victim blaming

Donald Eastman III suggested students stop drinking and having casual sex to prevent assault. Students said: Nope!

Published November 26, 2014 7:47PM (EST)

 Eckerd College president Donald Eastman III   (Vimeo/Tom Reid)
Eckerd College president Donald Eastman III (Vimeo/Tom Reid)

Eckerd College president Donald Eastman III was subject to widespread criticism on his campus and on the Internet earlier this week, in response to a letter he disseminated to students urging them to refrain from excessive alcohol intake and from having casual sex in order to prevent sexual assault. Eastman's recommendations were not only poorly received, but also totally deflated on Wednesday, when the editors of Eckerd's student newspaper, the Current, published a searing editorial rebuking the president.

Editor-in-chief Sydney Cavero and managing editors Gary Furrow and Teresa Young were joined by a significant portion of the newspaper staff in condemning Eastman's message, issuing a well-reasoned, well-informed missive highlighting the numerous problems with Tuesday's proposed prevention policy. The editorial begins with a bit of deference to the president, noting that his letter was likely sent "in the spirit of genuine concern."

But then Cavero & co. launch directly into their respectful disagreement, first tackling Eastman's suggestion that students can avoid sexual assault by drinking less:

Though precautions are beneficial, we must remember that sober victims also exist. Correlation and causation differ greatly; this correlation between the two factors -- alcohol consumption and sexual assault -- does not mean that one causes the other. Addressing it alongside sexual misconduct without explicitly underscoring this distinction runs the risk of victim-blaming by insinuating that these atrocities would not have happened had they been sober.

We would do well to remember that students’ levels of drunkenness at the time of an assault does not make them any more or less responsible for what happens to them. Regardless of who you are, what you wear or how much you drank, any violation that occurs is absolutely and solely the perpetrator’s fault. Though the president did not insinuate otherwise, glossing over this essential fact can have negative effects.

And in response to Eastman's assertion that "no one's culture or character or understanding is improved by casual sex," the editorial board gets raw:

His opinion ... seems to be presented as a fact. It also is not geared towards Eckerd, nor any college campus in the 21st century. Sex happens. Neither policing nor condemning it will make these occurrences any more or less frequent. This call to abstinence outside of commitment and return to virtue in the midst of a discussion about sexual assault is misplaced, inappropriate and highly subjective.

Though there is evidence both for and against casual sex, it is a separate conversation from that of sexual assault. Abstinence from casual sex on behalf of the survivor will not change a perpetrator’s mind if they are planning to violate them. [...]

The focus here should be on obtaining consent in any sexual situation, not on the level of commitment present between the two parties. The bottom line is that casual sex has no place in this conversation, and while alcohol may be involved in many sexual assault cases, there is only one true cause of rape: the rapists themselves.

The Current staff goes on to detail ways Eckerd -- and other colleges and universities -- can better support sexual assault survivors, as well as outlining what a real prevention program would look like. The letter references a number of pertinent studies and articles on the campus sexual assault crisis and is well worth a full read. Read the whole thing at The Current.

By Jenny Kutner

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