In the past few months I’ve been eagerly preparing for the release of my next book, a book about sexual culture on today’s college campuses, written not for academics or students, but for everyone. I’m exhausted and a little terrified, but very happy and, I’ll admit it, proud. The anticipation of the book’s release is exciting.
This week, though, my mood has turned bittersweet, even a bit morose, as I’ve followed the story of Brock Turner’s sentencing: 6 months, less if he behaves himself, for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman on the campus of Stanford University. My mom asked yesterday and my sister today: “Should you be talking about your new book?” And my first instinct was to say, “It’s not out until January and there will almost certainly be another scandal between now and then.” And my heart sank. You see, sexual assault is a stomach-turning opportunity for me to sell a few books and, you know what, it’s one that will unfortunately present itself again and again and again. It’s a demoralizing reality that I’ve just stepped into.
But the problem of sexual assault on campus is part of why I felt inspired to write it. Many of the news articles about the circumstances of Turner’s crime mention the culture on campus and my book’s thesis, in its most succinct form, is that the problem on college campuses isn’t the hookup, it’s hookup culture. Among other problems, hookup culture both catalyzes and camouflages sexual predation. People who would otherwise likely never be sexually violent may be so when the culture around them rewards aggression and punishes care (hookup culture as catalyst), while those who would likely be perpetrators no matter what the context will find that their behavior seems perfectly normal (camouflaged by hookup culture). Athletes like Turner take center stage in this dynamic; I’m sorry, but that’s just a fact.
I am relieved that people are talking about this problem. But I’m sad, too. Sad for Turner’s victim, disgusted by the judge’s decision to minimize Turner’s own suffering, and worried about the state of higher education and criminal justice. I hope that my book will help us have a productive conversation that turns into fair policies and real change, and I look forward to the day when sexual assault scandals aren’t predictable parts of the media cycle.Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.