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the problem with spike lee’s solution to america’s campus rape epidemic

Image: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Image: Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Spike Lee has come up with a solution to America’s college rape epidemic – or so he thinks. The film director recently spoke with Stephen Colbert, and argued that ending sexual assault begins with women denying men sex, stating, ‘I think a sex strike could really work on college campuses where there’s an abundance of sexual harassment or date rapes.’ He then predicted that come spring semester, sex strikes will become common practice at universities across the country.

Lee borrows this logic from his latest joint, Chi-Raq, which follows a young woman who organises a widespread sex strike protesting gun violence in Chicago after a girl is killed in a drive by shooting. The film is a modern retelling of a classic Greek play called Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens stop the Peolonnesian War with the most powerful weapon in their arsenal: their sexuality.

In a roundtable with the Washington Post, Lee points to the effectiveness of the Lysistrata method, arguing that sex strikes ended the Liberian Civil War. But the woman who staged these sex strikes, Leymah Gbowee, argues that the sex strikes had little or no practical effect, although they were extremely valuable in getting media attention. The war wouldn’t have ended had it not been for the Liberian protesters who staged sit-ins, and mass demonstrations.

While these sex strikes may have been useful in drawing in attention from the media, it’s hard to argue that there is an effective substitute for activism and discourse. For the beast that is rape culture, this is certainly true. Lee’s approach ignores the root of the problem.

Recent data indicates that while crime has gone down significantly since the ’90s, a rape is still committed once every six minutes in the United States. The factors to which these assaults occur have little to do with access to sex.

It’s not that women aren’t saying no, it’s that men don’t give a shit, and they’re backed by a system that keeps allowing rape to occur.

Individual women withholding sex cannot take down a system of passive college administrators who would rather protect their student athletes from lawsuits than investigate rape charges, and police who refuse to test rape kits.

Problems of sexual assault on college campuses can’t be completely eradicated through women striking sexual encounters. Withholding sex doesn’t eradicate male privilege and entitlement. Solutions will not be reached without directly combating an entire culture that perpetuates rape, which starts with education and awareness.

To end trends of campus sexual assault, men need to be taught what healthy, affirmative consent looks like from an early age. Women need to have access to a legal system that doesn’t automatically assume they are at fault. And as Cindi Amato notes, to combat the campus rape epidemic ‘we need to really look at raising awareness and giving people what they need to be able to respond to it.’

Though certainly well intentioned, Lee’s solution to the campus rape epidemic places the onus of responsibility on women, ignoring fully the root of the problem: rape culture. As Jessica Valenti noted, ‘Rape is as American as apple pie’, and the epidemic will continue until we combat the underlying issue.

One thought on “the problem with spike lee’s solution to america’s campus rape epidemic

  1. This gets me thinking. Certainly, the system does fail women and it’s ridiculous how rapists can escape punishment. I totally agree that rape culture needs to be addressed in a realistic and effective way.

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