UNC’s rape analogy insults, serves to gaslight victims

Rape is rape unless you are a University of North Carolina Chapel Hill administrator. Photo: UNC Athletic Communications

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2013—Rape is rape unless you are a University of North Carolina administrator.

“Rape is like football,” begins a UNC administrator, “and if you look back on the game, what would you have done differently in that situation?”  

What was the intent of this analogy and question? Was the administrator hoping to enlighten student and rape victim, Annie Clark, or obfuscate her reality and cause confusion and second-guessing?

Effective analogies compare two experiences or ideas, one simple and the other complex, in the hopes of enlightening us with deeper meaning and understanding.

Some analogies are simple, poetic, and work well to illuminate:

Life is like a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

This familiar and simple analogy is from the classic film “Forrest Gump.” We envision a box of assorted chocolates each with a mystery filling that is only known if we choose to take a bite. Many choices. Many surprises. Much like life.

Analogy grade: A+

Other analogies, like the UNC administrator’s analogy, are insulting and ineffective, because they fail to establish an essential core connection between the two ideas being compared:

1. Football requires several active and willing participants; rape requires at least one active and willing perpetrator and at least one inactive and unwilling victim.

2. Football is fun for all participants, even the fans; rape is fun for the willing perpetrator only.

Unlike the universal appeal of the “Forrest Gump” quote, it’s doubtful that the 1 in 6 women who have survived a sexual assault or the 1 in 5 men who have been sexually victimized in their lives would find UNC’s analogy helpful or for that matter, thoughtful.

Analogy grade: F-

Now imagine for a moment that you are Annie Clark.

You’re a college student. A fellow college student rapes you. You are ashamed and afraid. You seek on-campus guidance through your campus’s honor court system, a system all students are encouraged to trust. You choose to trust. You choose to share. You assume you will be believed considering your University’s “honor system has helped to cultivate an atmosphere of trust for students in pursuit of their academic and social activities.” With this knowledge and understanding, fear of not being believed never crosses your mind.

You sit down with a campus administrator. The administrator begins, “Rape is like football…” Those words immediately stun you. Your mind races and you say to yourself instantly, “No! Rape is not like football. Is it? What is happening? What is going on?”

The administrator finishes, “and if you look back on the game, what would you have done differently in that situation?”

This question infers that the victim really is not a victim at all. This question infers that the victim made a choice to be raped. This question infers her actions or possibly how she dressed caused her to be raped. This question infers that the complainant somehow invited and welcomed the rapist to rape her. This question infers that the victim is an imaginative liar without actually using the words, “You are a liar. You imagined all of this.”

Together, the analogy and question exemplify gaslighting – a form of intimidation or psychological abuse, where false or contradictory information is presented to the victim, causing the victim to doubt their own memory, perception and their sanity.

But what is UNC’s motive behind its use of gaslighting tactics? Usually gaslighting is what the accused practices in order to make their victim appear too emotionally unstable to be believed. It’s also what society does to rape and assault victims when we choose not to believe the victim’s allegations and claims but instead side with and protect the alleged rapist from possible false accusations.

Could it be that UNC is more concerned about covering up an incident of campus rape to keep its reputation clean and rankings high than it is about upholding the University’s honor code and protecting Clark and other students from potential harm?

Annie Clark had the expectation of being believed like all rape victims who set aside shame and blame and bravely come forward with their claims. Instead, her truth and reality were dismissed. She was presented with a careless and insulting analogy, which has lead her to fight even harder for justice –Clark, along with three other students and a former assistant dean, filed a 34-page complaint earlier this year with the U.S. Department of Education. Clark accused the university of acting “with deliberate indifference.”

Could this “deliberate indifference” of student safety be ironically driven by the campus’s need to project a culture of care for student safety in hopes of driving up the recruitment of top-performing future students, increasing alumni dollars and maintaining its reputation?

We may not have to wait long for the answer. UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, announced yesterday that the University is under review and investigation by the Department of Education for the possibility of falsely reporting campus crimes as required by the Clery Act.


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Paula Carrasquillo

Ms. Carrasquillo lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area. She earned a master's degree in communication and adult education from Regis University in Denver, Colo. and a bachelor’s degree in English from Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Md. In addition to her column for The Washington Times Communities, Ms. Carrasquillo contributes and edits stories for various online outlets including Elephant JournalPaula's Pontifications, and Places to Yoga. She also works as a Web editor and analyst for a Fortune 500 company headquartered in Bethesda, Md. In May 2012, Ms. Carrasquillo published her first novelette, Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath. Visit her online portfolio to learn more about her education, career experiences, and her next book.

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