ANALYSIS: Rape on college campuses

NASHVILLE (BP) -- The horrific volume of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses is not only a reflection of the wickedness in individual assailants' hearts. It is the fruit of a campus culture awash in sexual immorality.

Though perpetually an issue at colleges and universities, the blight of rape was highlighted Jan. 27 by the conviction of two former Vanderbilt University football players for sexually assaulting an unconscious female student in 2013. Ultimate blame for this crime lies with the men who committed it, illustrating the truth of Jeremiah 17:9 that "the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable -- who can understand it?" These men, having been found guilty by jury trial, deserve to be punished in accordance with the law.

But there is more that must be said. During the trial, one defendant's attorney argued that the "university's culture of hard drinking and easy hookups" contributed to his client's behavior, The New York Times reported. Though the claim "infuriated" many Vanderbilt students who defend their school's "party culture," according to the Times, and though the claim does not excuse his client's behavior, sociological data and Scripture suggest that the attorney may be on to something.

Consider the sociological data first. In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report stating that the rate of sexual assault among college-age females is three times higher than among non-college-age women. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that four out of five college students drink alcohol, and half of those binge drink. Combine with that statistics reported by Ohio State University researcher Morgan Van Epp that 70 percent of college males and 60 percent of college females report becoming sexually active before age 17.

Sexual promiscuity seems to be embraced officially at some college campuses with "Sex Week" occurring at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Northeastern, the University of Kentucky, Indiana University and Washington University among others, the Times reported. Typically sex weeks feature instruction on sexual health and pleasure, according to the Times, without emphasizing abstinence until marriage.

Sexual assault seems a predictable outcome of this milieu, with young women as its most frequently abused victims.

The Bible addresses rape as well, with sexual assaults often presented in Scripture as symptomatic of a wicked culture.

-- Sodom's wickedness was epitomized by the attempted gang rape of two angelic messengers (Genesis 19:4-11).

-- In Judges, the rape of a Levite's concubine by the men of Gibeah illustrated the extent to which God's people collectively had departed from Him (Judges 19:22-30). As the author of Judges notes more than once, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted" (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

-- Following King David's adultery with Bathsheba, the moral decline of his family included Amnon's rape of his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22) and Absalom's sexual assault of his father's concubines (2 Samuel 16:22).

-- When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, their rape of Jewish women illustrated the extent of pagan culture's brutality (Lamentations 5:11; Zechariah 14:2). This was a stark contrast to God's standards for Israel, where rape could be a capital offense (Deuteronomy 22:23-29).

In these instances, Scripture implicates not only the guilty individuals but also suggests that the sexual assaults described were the fruit and manifestation of a sinful environment.

Of course, wicked acts do not always stem from a sinful environment. For example, Judas betrayed the Son of God. Surely his behavior did not stem from a sinful culture among Jesus and the disciples. And at times, sexual assault occurs at godly churches or Christian schools. It would be wrong to link each instance of sexual assault on campus with a university culture of promiscuity and alcohol.

Yet when as many as 25 percent of women in U.S. higher educational institutions will be victims of rape or attempted rape, according to a National Institute of Justice report, the problem is more than a few deviant assailants. As in Old Testament cases of rape, a culture of immorality surrounding the offenders appears to help fuel their misdeeds.

Any lasting solution to sexual assault on college campuses must address the underlying culture in which drunkenness and illicit sex are viewed as permissible.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.
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