Earlier this week I participated in a Bloggingheads debate on contemporary campus free speech and sexual violence issues, alongside Robby Soave from Reason magazine. I’m working on a full writeup of that debate, but I just came across one particular moment that I’d like to highlight.

I don’t usually quote myself at length, but I think this response — to a suggestion from Soave that we’re currently seeing an “authoritarian, moralizing, Victorian policing of students’ sexual lives” on campus — is worth foregrounding.

“Let me put it this way: It is absolutely beyond arguing that we saw a hundred times — a thousand times — more, and more pernicious, policing of students’ sexual lives before the sexual revolution than today. The problems that we’re dealing with now in terms of policing sexual behavior are problems of figuring out how to deal with predators in a free society. The problems that we were dealing with half a century ago were the problems of a society in which women had essentially no recourse when they were subjected to sexual predation — a society in which not only did they have no recourse when they were subjected to sexual predation, but also a society in which even voluntary, consensual sexual activity was routinely punished in extremely draconian ways.

“So we are getting better at prosecuting rape in this society — and rape rates are, by plenty of indications, declining — and we are also getting better at not prosecuting consensual sexual activity. You know, we’ve had an assumption here, a sort of unstated assumption, that we’re talking about heterosexual activity, but if we’re talking about sexual activity more broadly, all of these campuses — many of these campuses — were punishing consensual homosexual activity in extremely vicious and horrific ways. And even heterosexual sexual activity was being punished regularly half a century ago, and overwhelmingly the people who were punished in those cases were women.”

To get where we want to go, we need to understand where we’ve been.