UR professor under fire for comments made in blog about rape

Posted at: 04/02/2013 5:28 PM
Updated at: 04/02/2013 5:53 PM
By: Ray Levato

Outrage spreading on the University of Rochester campus. News10NBC has learned that a professor is under fire for comments he made in a blog about rape.

Many students say the blog seems to give an okay to rape or sexual assault as long as the victim is unconscious.

News10NBC spoke with the professor and he's not taking his blog down and stands by what he wrote. And this isn't the first time he's come under fire.

Steven Landsburg is a professor of economics. Landsburg wrote a blog in late March in which he posed a hypothetical rape scenario. The example he used was the Steubenville, Ohio rape case in which the 16-year-old victim was so drunk she was passed out and didn't know what happened to her. His blog triggered strong reaction on campus from people who were offended.
Brianna Isaacson and Sara Lewis are sophomores at the University of Rochester.

Sara Lewis, UR sophomore, said, “I don't think he realized how prevalent sexual assault and rape is on college campuses.”

Brianna Issacson, UR sophomore, said, “He posed the question as a thought experiment. But the problem is rape isn't hypothetical. He's just contributing such a negative culture to the campus and many students are very angry about this.”

In his blog, Landsburg poses the question of someone being raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm, no injury, no pregnancy, no disease transmission.
Landsburg says in his blog, “Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal? As long as I’m safely unconscious and therefore shielded from the costs of an assault, why shouldn't the rest of the world (or more specifically my attackers) be allowed to reap the benefits?”

Isaacson said, “There are no benefits of rape. It doesn't matter how you pose the question.”

Professor Landsburg is standing by his blog.

Steven Landsburg said, “It's a very abstract discussion which is to some people's tastes and not to other people's tastes. If you've got a taste for that, visit my blog. If you don't, maybe you should visit some other blog.”

News10NBC's Ray Levato asked, “Can you understand how some women might react so strongly about this?”
Landsburg said, “No, not if they've actually read the piece. It's about a situation which is intentionally so abstract and hypothetical as to be completely unrealistic.”

Landsburg was the subject of a protest last fall when he sided with talk show host Rush Limbaugh in the Sandra Fluke controversy. He's seen continuing to teach his economic class as protestors back then lined up in front of the class before leaving. Sara Lewis was one of those protestors.
Lewis said, “To bring up rape in any type of academic or scholarly,even though it's a personal blog, any type of academic work, I think it is insensitive and ignorant on his part.”
Landsburg says he's not deliberately trying to be provocative. He says this is part of an on-going series of blogs examining the concept of being harmed psychologically. He wants to know where to draw the line when writing laws. In this case, many feel he crossed the line of what's acceptable on a college campus.

The University of Rochester released a statement saying, “The university says it's committed to the academic freedom of our faculty and students. Their views are their own; they do not speak for the university. Rape is abhorrent. It is and should be a crime.   Sexual violence is a concern on campuses across the nation. The university works very hard to combat sexual violence and to promote a culture of mutual respect.”

The University of Rochester is hosting a conference on sexual assault Wednesday. For more information, click here.