If you are of a certain age and work in an environment in which the subject of sexual assault has made repeated headlines and you continue to talk about rape in a way that places more pressure on a potential victim than the predator, you are making a conscious choice to be stupid.
Lincoln University president Robert R. Jennings exercised that option while recently speaking to a group of young students about the issue of rape. Jennings, playing the role of both president and patriarch, offered a dangerous message in September when he said at the university’s All Women’s Convocation: "We have, we had, on this campus last semester three cases of young women who after having done whatever they did with young men and then it didn't turn out the way they wanted it to turn out, guess what they did. They went to Public Safety and said, 'He raped me.' "
The clip made its way to YouTube, prompting public outrage and Jennings offering the cliché response of “My comments were taken out of context.” As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, Jennings “said he was referring to three cases in which women falsely reported rapes as revenge against men who had been unfaithful.” A university spokesman added that those cases “were investigated by the university and reported to authorities.”
One of those authorities – Michael Noone, a first assistant district attorney in Chester County – countered those claims, noting that one allegation of attempted sexual assault that did not end with a woman recanting her story; rather, the case was dropped because it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jennings’ remarks were not taken out of context. His attempt at clarification was needless elaboration. We understood them the first time.
Enter another bit of “advice” to the women in attendance: "Don't put yourself in a situation that would cause you to be trying to explain something that really needs no explanation had you not put yourself in that situation."
What Jennings did was put the onus of rape prevention on women. He did this in the most asinine and sexist way imaginable. Jennings may be cleaning up his act now thanks to a YouTube video going viral, but the stain is there.
Some sentiments don’t require a great degree of nuance. Yes, some women lie about rape, but there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that is often not the case. Perhaps Jennings and Black men like him would be more sympathetic to how troubling this line of thinking was if they were put into a similar situation.
Can you imagine Darren Wilson or George Zimmerman or insert any other White man with a gun in hand and prejudice in his heart shooting a Black man in cold blood and going with the line of defense, “Well, you know some of those hoodie wearing Black dudes are scary and violent? Can you blame me?"
Wait, that has been the line of defense and how often have Black men rightly been angered by that?
Lincoln University has separate convocations for men and women. It is a university tradition. Jennings says he explained to men that “no means no,” but it’s evident who he truly thinks bears the burden of rape.
Should Lincoln keep that tradition going and Jennings is still in the position to lead both discussions that tackle the subject one hopes he stops spreading the message that a woman has to be responsible for her victimization. That consensual sex is the only sex that is appropriate. Because if Jennings truly believes “no means no,” then he should be talking to men and women the exact same way. Any other message is as ignorant as it is repulsive.