The fourth wave of feminism saw tremendous strides in 2018. From the #MeToo movement to the increased representation of culturally diverse women in Congress, women across the country seem to be on a prolonged winning streak. Unfortunately, that momentum was abruptly halted when Jacob Walter Anderson, former fraternity president at Baylor University, was given a $400 fine and a slap on the wrist for drugging and assaulting a young woman at a fraternity party.
Was the nation shocked? Probably not. Are people angry? Absolutely.
The detestable but obvious truth is that it pays to be rich, white and male in this country. With those qualifications one can rape, slur and shoot up schools and walk away unscathed for the most part. This sort of privilege is propagated by the justice system, as evidenced by people like Anderson facing few repercussion for an abhorrent act of violence that left his victim waking up to choke on her own vomit.
However, the Dallas community is fighting back with multiple petitions that ask for the banning of Anderson from the UT Dallas campus — his attempted place of refuge after being expelled from Baylor — and the resignation of Judge Ralph Strother, who dished out Anderson’s alarmingly light sentence.
The petition raised a poignant fact: “When judges see themselves reflected in the face of a perpetrator and recuse him of all responsibility, they will not feel a modicum of remorse due to their privilege of race and class.” Strother has an ugly reputation of letting young men like Anderson off easy when it comes to sexual assault sentencing. As an esteemed Baylor alumnus, he is incentivized to protect the school’s legacy and the boys that come out of it, rather than the safety of young women on the Baylor campus.
Of course, this isn’t Baylor’s first rodeo when it comes to sexual assault allegations. In 2016, the Pepper Hamilton law firm conducted an investigation on the university’s Title IX policy in response to a growing number of sexual assault claims. Of the numerous cases presented, 19 pegged Baylor football players as perpetrators. Many of these players happen to be black, and face up to 20 years in prison, a stark contrast to the almost jocular “consequences” Anderson faces. This is not to say they didn’t get what they deserved; rape is a serious offense and should be regarded as such, but it does beg the question: Would the outcome have been different if they were white?
Anderson’s case bears a striking resemblance to that of Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer who violently assaulted an unconscious girl behind a dumpster after a fraternity party before being stopped by bystanders. He was sentenced to six months in jail, but only served three. Turner’s defense team and the judge involved in administering his sentence argued that indicting him would ruin his future and potential as an Olympic swimmer, as if it were more important than the livelihood of his victim.
The age-old saying that “boys will be boys” is no longer acceptable.
It is no wonder that often perpetrators of sexual assault are found participating in organizations, such as fraternities or competitive sports, which champion and excuse this behavior. It is within these organizations that the culture of white male privilege flourishes. By propagating a sense of natural superiority, members see it as their right to take what they want, even if it means taking the sense of safety from others.
I find it to be inherently cowardly, as many of these men either refuse to speak up against these behaviors or fail to take responsibility for their actions. The rape culture is toxic masculinity on steroids as men compete for alpha male status by collecting points for sleeping with women, consensually or not. It should also come as no surprise that more culturally diverse or all-black fraternities see a lot fewer of these incidents.
Petula Dvorak, a columnist at The Washington Post, shed a light on a harrowing reality: the longstanding notion of who we consider to be a rapist is no longer applicable. They are no longer defined by their estrangement to you, the random guy in the back alley late at night. Instead, it is fundamental to recognize that a rapist can be your friend, your classmate, your colleague, the frat boy who seems to be harmlessly hitting on you. It is Turner and Anderson, smiling for their mugshot and then walking out of the courthouse with a bright and near-perfect future ahead of them.
So, should the outcome of the Anderson case be considered a sign of regression for feminist progress?
The fact of the matter is unless America can finally recognize the ever-widening rift that separates white men from accountability young women will continue to fall prey to sexual violence, with their heart-wrenching testimonies tossed aside like a simple parking violation. If upholding the dignity of rapists over the well-being of women continues, more victims will continue to feel the sharp pangs of silence and solitude.
The #MeToo movement, which gained an unparalleled following within the past year, has guided many women out of darkness into the light of the courtroom. Built on a solid foundation of female support and understanding, the movement has encouraged victims of sexual assault to come forth with their allegations, and has put more than a few well-known faces behind bars.
However, it seems that in all of #MeToo’s glorious attempts to shed light on the issue of sexual assault in this country (especially on college campuses), the effort continues to be undermined by people like Anderson and Strother. They force into question the legitimacy of the incident by shifting the blame to the victim, questioning what was she wearing or how much was she drinking, instead of accepting rape as rape.
The news of the Anderson case spread as viciously as Turner’s did across various different social media platforms and news agencies. While this attentive coverage is important — it can incite change among a vast number of people — it begs the question: Does mass coverage have adverse effects? Are young, entitled white men being subconsciously encouraged to rape knowing that they too could share the same fate as Anderson and Turner?
As long as white male judges continue to look down upon the contemptuous grins spread across these young men’s faces, and see potential instead of a rapist, nothing will change. Hopefully, 2019 will see the dismantling of this cycle, and finally bring justice to college campuses and beyond.