The White House Overreaches on Campus Rape

Wednesday’s announcement of a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is the culmination of the Obama Administration’s years-long efforts in support for the feminist crusade against campus rape.  It is too early to tell what new remedies for sexual assault on campus the task force will propose.  So far, however, the initiative relies on the same old approach: wildly inflated numbers, the rhetoric of female victimhood, and complete disregard for any rights that the accused may have.

The report from the White House Council on Women and Girls, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” asserts that one in five female college students are sexually assaulted during their college years, with one 12% of these victims reporting the assault to law enforcement.  These figures draw on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, conducted in 2005-2007 at the request of the National Institute for Justice, and a 2007 federally sponsored national study of rape from the National Crime Victims’ Research and Treatment Center.

analyzed the CSA and its numbers nearly three years ago when the administration launched its first initiative to combat campus sexual assault in April 2011, with the “Dear Colleague” letter to college and university presidents from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.  The vast majority of the incidents counted as assault involved what the study termed “incapacitation” by alcohol (or, rarely, drugs).  But “incapacitation” is a misleading term, since the question used in the study also measured far lower degrees of intoxication: “Has someone had sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, or asleep?”  This wording does not differentiate between someone who is unconscious or barely conscious and someone who is just drunk enough to go along with something he or she wouldn’t do when sober.  The questions related to sexual assault by physical force–particularly attempted sexual assault–are also worded so ambiguously that they could refer to a clumsy attempt to initiate sex, even if the “attacker” stops at once when rebuffed.

Three quarters of the female students who were classified as victims of sexual assault by incapacitation did not believe they had been raped; even when only incidents involving penetration were counted, nearly two-thirds did not call it rape. Two-thirds did not report the incident to the authorities because they didn’t think it was serious enough.

When feminists first began to draw attention to the problem of date rape thirty years ago, they argued that many women don’t realize forced sex is rape if it happens in a dating situation.  Even if it was true in the early 1980s, it is very unlikely to be true today, in the age of mandatory date rape awareness workshops on college campuses.

Moreover, the government’s numbers are wildly at odd with actual crime records.  Several years ago, Carnegie Mellon business professor Chad Hermann analyzed the number of sexual assault reported at Pittsburgh’s three major campuses (the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, and Duquesne) and concluded that even if 90 percent of such assaults go unreported, a woman’s annual risk of sexual assault at these schools ranges from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 650.  Spread out over four or five years of college attendance, that still adds up to somewhere between 1 in 130 and 1 in in 925.  There is little doubt that records from other campuses would yield similar results.

There is no doubt that sexual assault on college campuses–sometimes involving physical aggression, sometimes assaults on genuinely incapacitated women–is a real issue.  But the chase for the phantom rape epidemic can only trivialize this issue, redefining sexual assault to include sex under the influence or due to “verbal pressure”–and cast suspicion on male students, believed to have an army of rapists walking among them.

Already, many have expressed concern that excessive zeal in the campus “war on rape” is creating a “presumed guilty” mindset toward accused men.  One thing you will not find in either the official White House statement or the council’s report is any recognition that protections for victims must be balanced with fairness to the accused, or any acknowledgment of that such concerns legitimately exist.  Instead, the focus is exclusively on “survivors.”  The only mention of false accusations in the report is a passage decrying the “myth” that “many women falsely claim rape.” Cited in rebuttal is a 2010 article by University of Massachusetts psychologist David Lisak and his colleagues, which analyzes several studies (and a sample of its own) and concludes that “only 2-10% of reported rapes are false.”

Of course, the upper range of that estimate is hardly a trivial rate.  But there is another issue, too. Lisak’s numbers refer to cases in which a rape allegation is more or less definitively proven to be false.  Given how difficult it is to prove a negative, the existence of these confirmed false allegations suggests that a certain percentage of unresolved charges–in which there is no conclusive proof one way or the other–are likely false as well.

The orthodox feminist position, apparently endorsed by the Obama administration, is that unless a charge of rape is clearly demonstrated to be false, it must be true.  That is the very definition of “presumed guilty.”

(Photo Credit: AP/Politico)

11 thoughts on “The White House Overreaches on Campus Rape”

  1. I believe US gender-feminists are going to keep perverting the definition of rape, and keep perverting American law enforcement, until we reach the point where all hetero-sex will be viewed as rape.
    Oh whoops, the most hard core gender of the gender-feminists… already do believe hetero-sex is rape.

  2. You write, “There is little doubt that records from other campuses would yield similar results.” This is actually not true, and as I explain in detail later, Chad Hermann’s methodology is fatally flawed, both because he looks at assaults per year rather than assaults during college, and because by definition the statistics he uses does not consider any off-campus assaults, even if they occur between students.
    First, let’s look at some other schools:
    Yale has approximately 2,671 female undergraduate students on campus. Assuming that 1 in 5 will be assaulted in their four years, we have 534 assaults over 4 years, or approximately 133 assaults per year. Given a 12% reporting rate, we would expect to see an average 15.96 reports per year. There were 9 reported assaults that took place in residence halls (where undergraduates live) in 2010, 17 in 2011, and 15 in 2012. That averages 13.6 per year, which is pretty close to the expected 16 per year.
    Harvard has approximate 3,226 female undergraduate students; one-in-five is 645 assaults over four years, or approximately 161 per year. 12% reporting is 19.3 reports per year. 2010-2012 averaged 25 reports per year.
    Swarthmore: 792 female students- 158 assaults over four years, or 40 per year. 12% reporting is 4.8 per year; they had 4 reports per year from residence hall facilities (meaning the reports came from undergraduates).
    So, what gives with Chad Hermann’s findings? Several flaws in methodology, as well as a biased sample.
    First, he accepts Clery Act numbers as gospel truth. There are two major problems with this:
    1. The Clery Act reports SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDES all incidents happening off-campus, even if they happen between students. The 2007 CSA study finds that over 60% of assaults happen off campus, and thus, even if reported to the schools, will NOT be included in Clery Act numbers.
    2. Schools have been found to misreport Clery Act numbers to hide their statistics and help improve their public image. USC, Occidental, and Yale were recently found to have excluded as many as 50% of all sexual assaults that should have been reported under the Clery Act for a given time period.
    This is particularly problematic for large institutions in major cities, such as the ones Chad Hermann uses in his article, because more students live off campus than in small institutions (and thus the assaults are excluded from Clery Act Reporting, in contrast to some of the examples above–like Yale–where 87% of students live on campus).
    The second methodology mistake is found in both the source of his “number of female students,” and how he then gets to “numbers of assaults.”
    1. The White House report refers to college (i.e., undergraduate) students, not graduate students. No one said the one-in-five statistic applies to graduate students; however, Clery Act statistics are most likely to refer to undergraduates, since graduates typically live off campus.
    2. The report referred to students assaulted during their time at college, not per year. Most students take from 4 to 6 years to graduate. No one has said that one-fifth of the student body is assaulted each year–just that one-fifth is assaulted during their 4-6 years at college.
    So let’s re-analyze his article, adjusting the methodology and using the most recent data (2012):
    Total # of female undergraduates at all three schools: Approx. 9200
    One-fifth assaulted during college time: 3080
    Divided by average length til matriculation: 4 years (I’ll use this, even though most students take longer)
    Equals Average number of assaults per year: 770
    12% of 770 assaults per year that are reported: 92.4 (I’ll use it, even though this statistic was for rape only, and statistics for sexual assault are as low as 3%):
    40% that occur on campus,where the reports would be covered under Clery: 37
    Number of Clery reports from these three schools in 2012: 29.
    8 reports is well within a margin of error, particularly for something as under-studied as this. At the very least, the government report is not self-defeating, as Chad’s and this article claims.

  3. Any reasonable examination of the DoJ’s guidelines for handling campus sexual assault charges compels the conclusion, I think, that no one who formulated, propagated, approves of, or expects to administer this policy can credibly claim that he believes in due process of law, the presumption of innocence, or equality of the sexes.
    At Yale, a private institution not hampered by all that pesky First Amendment stuff, the policy is openly to let “the accuser control the process.”
    I have come to the conclusion, and Ms. Young, please inform me if I’m in error, that all of this is easily explicable if you realize that the jurisprudential ideal of the left is Andrei Vishynsky.

  4. While I do not contest any of your numbers, you have one factor very wrong. If the “annual risk of sexual assault at these schools ranges from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 650″, that risk does not change spread over four or five years. So no, if the first numbers are correct, it will NEVER become “somewhere between 1 in 130 and 1 in in 925″.
    I know that seems like the correct thing to do, but you do not add percentage of probability that way. Look at it this way. If a female student is not raped on campus as a Freshman, leaving all things the same, she is not twice as likely to be raped as a Sophomore, three times as likely to be raped as a Junior, and four times as likely to be raped as a Senior. Probability doesn’t work that way. Her probability of being raped as a Senior is exactly the same as her probability of being raped as a Freshman.

  5. A couple of decades ago there was a spate of stories about 1/3 of all females in Detroit ERs were because of rapes.Every doc (including me) was baffled by this since we didn’t see this,.But ,it was quoted for years

  6. there were studies done by law enforcement which actually showed that at least 50% of all rape accusations were false, with the number going up as high as 70% in some areas.

  7. “So far, however, the initiative relies on the same old approach: wildly inflated numbers, the rhetoric of female victimhood, and complete disregard for any rights that the accused may have.”
    Don’t you suspect it’s part of a greater agenda to capture the female vote? Remember, “Republicans hate woman”.

  8. “If you want it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” Traditionally that’s part of what marriage is, a public commitment and acceptance of sex. If a man doesn’t want to be accused of rape, he should wait until marriage.

  9. As far as marriage goes, that’s not a safe haven either. The statistics of sexual assault include consensual sexual relations between a married couple if either was intoxicated, which is then deemed to be automatically non-consensual, be it kissing, fondling or intercourse.

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