A potential draft of new federal campus sexual assault policies was leaked this week, so expect a new round of false and misleading statistics to be shared by those who claim due process “protects rapists” and “hurts victims.”
Rape and sexual assault are serious offenses, and shouldn’t be watered down to create a narrative that America is somehow the rape capital of the world, nor should we pretend that non-offenses are offenses. That hurts real victims.
I’ve taken down every one of these statistics before — sometimes many, many times — but it’s time to debunk them all in one place. So here we go.
1-in-5 (or 1-in-4 or 1-in-3) Women Will Be Sexually Assaulted During College
Studies purporting to find such an astronomical amount of sexual violence on college campuses (numbers thousands of times higher than war-torn Congo or Detroit, America’s most dangerous city) suffer from many of the same flaws. They are often not nationally representative, are produced by women’s organizations determined to find women as oppressed victims in America, and are self-reported — a notoriously unreliable form of data.
The Majority Of Campus Rapes Are Committed By A Small Number Of Men
Sometimes known as the “serial predator” study, this one from David Lisak has been around for decades and was debunked just a few years ago. It claims that “90%” of rapes on campus are perpetrated by a few men.
For starters, Lisak didn’t conduct the study himself but used data from studies conducted by his former grad students, who didn’t limit their data to college students. As in the 1-in-5 stat above, this one was also not nationally representative, as the surveys were conducted near a commuter college with participants who didn’t live on campus and may not have even been students.
The surveys were anonymous, yet Lisak has claimed he conducted follow-up interviews with men who admitted to committing multiple rapes (one questions whether such admissions would be so freely given to a stranger in the first place). Lisak did conduct 12 interviews during his dissertation research three decades ago, but he then combined those cherry-picked interviews into a single character — called “Frank” — which he used to tell school administrators how dangerous their campuses were. No such monster as Frank actually exists, nor is he a common problem across the country.
False Accusations Are Rare
The truth is, we don’t know how many accusations are truly false, and even if we did, one can’t walk into an investigation assuming they already know the answer.
We’re often told that “just” 2% to 10% of rape accusations are false. College administrators are told this when “trained” on how to handle accusations of sexual assault. The implication is clear: Women just don’t lie about rape, so nine times out of ten, you’d be safe in assuming the accused is guilty.
But that statistic is wildly misleading, as it only applies to accusations made to police that are proven false. Proving a negative is often impossible, especially in a “we had sex but it was consensual” situation. On college campuses, there is no punishment for a false accusation and thus no fear, as there is with lying to the police.
Further, the proven false statistic is one category of sexual assault classifications. The other categories do not all equate to “true,” so implying that 90% to 98% are true is downright false and prejudicial. Other categories include “baseless,” wrongly reported as sexual assault, cases without enough evidence for an arrest, cases with enough evidence but for some reason outside police control an arrest is not made, and cases where there is enough evidence for an arrest. Of the cases that lead to an arrest, a small percentage actually go to trial and result in a “guilty” finding.
Using the same logic as the peddlers of this statistic, one would only be able to say that 3% to 5% of rape accusations are true, since that’s how many return a “guilty” finding.
It’s Bad That 91% Of Colleges And Universities Said They Received No Rape Reports
I include this one because while one would think it would be a good thing that reports of sexual assault aren’t rampant on college campuses, the “scholars” at the American Association of University Women think it’s a bad thing. Because they’ve thoroughly bought into the debunked statistics above, no reports must mean that schools are somehow discouraging victims from coming forward or are sweeping reports under the rug. It’s hard to believe either of these is the case when the media, lawmakers, federal institutions, and Hollywood are constantly claiming huge swaths of the female population are sexually assaulted on college campuses and begging people to come forward.
1-in-3 Men Would Rape If They Could Get Away With It
This statistic was quickly debunked as soon as it appeared in 2015. A woman who admitted to me at the time that she was seeking grant money (a good motive for finding alarming statistics in one’s survey) claimed her study found that a whopping one-third of surveyed men had “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse.”
Wow, right? Except, as I’ve pointed out with previous misleading statistics, this one suffers from many of the same flaws. It’s not nationally representative, and the answers of just 73 men were used to arrive at the 1-in-3 number blasted out by the media and women’s groups. Of those 73 men, 23 were found to have those intentions, based on the researchers own definition of what constituted bad intentions. Just nine guys said they would actually rape a woman. Nine guys do not an epidemic make.
These guys may not have been taking the survey seriously or they were answering a question from Plato’s Republic: How many people would commit a crime if they knew they wouldn’t be caught? One would believe many people would answer affirmatively to such questions about various laws, but that doesn’t mean they’d actually commit them. One can never know if they will get away with it.
As regular readers know, I’ve often written about the campus rape hoax. I don’t suggest rapes don’t occur on college campuses. Clearly, every crime that occurs elsewhere can occur on a campus. However, during the Obama Administration, rape, like virtually everything else, was politicized, and a “guidance” letter was issued to ensure progressive narratives would be […]
Put me with Pence and Coates. I also have rules. I’ll have lunch alone with female colleagues, but in more than 20 years of marriage, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve had dinner alone with a woman not my wife. And I’ve managed that without ever disadvantaging or discriminating against any woman I worked for or with. I have other rules as well. For example, I travel quite a bit, but when I’m traveling alone I don’t eat or sit at bars — especially hotel bars — unless there is no other place to sit.
I have those rules not because I think that without guardrails I’m going to assault someone, but because I understand human nature and because I respect women. I don’t want any woman to feel like I’m putting her in an uncomfortable or compromising position. This may come as a surprise to critics of the Pence rule, but there are quite a few women who don’t want to dine alone with male bosses. There are quite a few women who believe that dinner (especially with drinks) is unnecessarily intimate and that business can be conducted in the office or with other colleagues present.
But don’t tell that to Pence’s critics. This week Christianity Today’s Katelyn Beatty took to the pages of the New York Times to write “The Christian Case Against the Pence Rule.” Given her intelligence and theological knowledge, I was surprised to see this paragraph:
The Pence rule arises from a broken view of the sexes: Men are lustful beasts that must be contained, while women are objects of desire that must be hidden away. Offering the Pence rule as a solution to male predation is like saying, “I can’t meet with you one on one, otherwise I might eventually assault you.” If that’s the case, we have far deeper problems around men and power than any personal conduct rule can solve.
No, no, no. Let’s break this down in the simplest terms possible. The Pence rule (or its variations) arises from an accurate view of man’s fallen nature. In this context, it means three things.
First, when men and women are alone — especially at night, especially with drinks — there is a far greater chance of mutual or one-sided attraction (not assault) than when they’re in groups or in professional settings. Even if they don’t intend the attraction. Even if they’re happily married. If you doubt this reality then, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Spend any time in professional settings, and you’ll understand that workplace attraction happens, and when it happens it tends to happen not in the midst of conference calls but rather in those settings that get far more personal and less professional.
Second, variations of the Pence rule protect both sides from reputational harm. It’s a simple fact that observing a married man alone at dinner with a woman other than his wife can start tongues wagging, and it’s also a fact that leaders of Christian ministries have often had to take extreme measures to protect against intentional sabotage of their reputations. I know leaders who never travel alone in part because of actual past hostile attempts to place them in compromising positions (with photographic evidence). If we should understand anything in 2017 it’s that our politics is vicious and poisonous. The more high-profile you become, the more careful you should be.
Third, surprise, surprise but there are actual predators out there, and women who operate under some version of the Pence rule gain an additional layer of protection. Moreover, corporate implementation of the rule is like a flashing sign that says, “This workplace aims to be safe and professional.”
Beatty says, “All the people I know who keep the rule are men.” This is yet another puzzling statement. Every Christian ministry I know that imposes the rule on its employees does so without regard to gender, and these are ministries that employ multiple powerful women. In fact, almost every powerful Christian woman I know keeps a version of the Pence rule.
But here’s where critics of the Pence rule have a point. If you’re in a position of authority, you should endeavor to create a workplace where equal opportunity is evident and gender-based favoritism is absent. It is unfair to take Luke out for dinner and never take out Laura. The better approach is to keep business matters in business settings, and that includes when it’s late and folks need to eat.
But due process appears to be making a comeback. By K.C. Johnson’s count as of Sepember 8, 59 accused students had received at least partially favorable rulings from judges after they sued their schools for gender-bias and denying due process. I believe this count is now over 60.
Some of these judges decried schools shifting the burden of proof onto accused students, some stated cross-examination was essential, others noted the potential ramifications for expelled students that activists seem to ignore, and others simply said the campus kangaroo courts were “unfair.” These are just four examples of due process wins for students, but there are dozens more.
Those are just the judicial wins. Accused students have been racking up settlements with their universities for years, with a seeming uptick in 2017. Some of the settlements came from high-profile cases, like Columbia University settling with the man accused by “Mattress Girl.”
With court wins in the background, DeVos rescinded the Obama-era guidance that led to this chaos and denial of civil rights for accused students. She promised to create guidance using the proper notice-and-comment period that Obama’s education department had ignored. She promised to hear from all parties with related interests, including victims and self-described victims, accused students, lawyers, schools, and others. The system she hopes to create will benefit both accusers and the accused, neither of whom are being served well now.
In an anticipated speech yesterday, delivered at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the U.S. Department of Education is moving to end the reckless Title IX enforcement regime adopted by the Obama administration. The speech reflected a welcome regard for statute after years of executive-branch adventurism and, more important, a much-needed push to begin correcting for the kangaroo-court insanity that Obama-administration ideologues unleashed on college campuses.
DeVos appropriately framed her remarks by hailing twin imperatives: the need to protect all students on college campuses from sexual harassment or assault, and the need to ensure that those accused of such acts are treated fairly. Especially for someone who has had her share of stumbles in public remarks, DeVos delivered a well-crafted speech with aplomb. The balance and tenor of her remarks was just right.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos makes remarks during a major policy address on Title IX enforcement, which in college covers sexual harassment, rape and assault, at George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
She opened by flatly declaring, “Let me be clear at the outset: Acts of sexual misconduct are reprehensible, disgusting, and unacceptable. They are acts of cowardice and personal weakness. . . . One rape is one too many. One assault is one too many. One aggressive act of harassment is one too many. . . . Survivors aren’t well-served when they are re-traumatized with appeal after appeal because the failed system failed the accused.”
But DeVos also proceeded to do something that her Obama-era counterparts never did, which is to carefully affirm that we do not protect or support victims by railroading the accused through sham processes. As DeVos put it, “One person denied due process is too many. . . . Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined. . . . Due process either protects everyone, or it protects no one. The notion that a school must diminish due-process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims.”
DeVos addressed the worrisome way in which Title IX enforcement has grown into a tool for policing speech. She highlighted the need to be “more precise in the definition of sexual misconduct” and observed:
Schools have been compelled by Washington to enforce ambiguous and incredibly broad definitions of assault and harassment. Too many cases involve students and faculty who have faced investigation and punishment simply for speaking their minds or teaching their classes. . . . But if everything is harassment, then nothing is. Punishing speech protected by the First Amendment trivializes actual harassment.
Bizarrely, DeVos’s sensible stance represents a sea change from current policy. In April 2011, responding to hyperbolic claims of a “campus rape epidemic” fueled by junk science, the Obama Department of Education issued a “Dear Colleague” letter that dramatically altered Title IX enforcement on college campuses. The letter greatly expanded federal reach into how colleges should adjudicate sexual-harassment investigations if they wanted to steer clear of a potential federal investigation.
The 2011 guidance, issued without the required notice-and-comment rulemaking process, informed schools receiving federal funds that they should use the “preponderance of evidence” standard — the lowest possible standard of proof in our judiciary system — in all investigations of sexual offenses, ranging from unwelcome sexually charged speech to rape. The preponderance of evidence standard means that if the campus administrator thinks there is a 50.1 percent chance that accusation is true, the accused is to be found guilty. The letter also imposed a form of double jeopardy by requiring that schools allow accusers to appeal not-guilty rulings. It further “strongly discouraged” institutions from allowing accusers to be cross-examined. Campuses that failed to abide by any of these “suggestions” would be vulnerable to federal civil-rights investigations.
Subsequent Obama-era Title IX guidance imposed further federal strictures on higher-education institutions, including telling them to adopt a remarkably expansive (and unconstitutional) definition of sexual harassment. A self-proclaimed “blueprint” for Title IX compliance issued in 2013, for example, reaffirmed OCR’s expectation that schools treat any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including speech, as sexual harassment, despite the Supreme Court holding otherwise. It also made clear that conduct which a “reasonable person” would not consider “objectively offensive” could still be deemed to constitute harassment.
The consequences of all this were as unfortunate as they were predictable. K. C. Johnson, co-author of The Campus Rape Frenzy, has noted that a district-court decision against Appalachian State University last month marked the 60th time that courts have ruled against colleges and universities in campus due-process cases since the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter. This September, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a study of campus due process in which it reported that of 53 of the nation’s leading colleges and universities, 85 percent maintain policies that grossly violate due-process protections and nearly three-quarters don’t even presume the accused innocent until proven guilty. In one striking instance, Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis found herself subject to two Title IX investigations in 2015 following an essay she had written for The Chronicle of Higher Education about campus sexual politics and paranoia. Other instances of accused students and faculty being railroaded by university kangaroo courts can be found in nearly any major news outlet.
DeVos’s speech marks a promising turn. While the education press reported that DeVos was, for now, leaving the 2011 Obama guidance intact, a senior Department of Education official told us that this is misleading. Rather, the official says the department has already filed paperwork with the Office of Management and Budget to rescind the guidance and adopt new interim guidance in its place.
The interim guidance will stipulate fair-treatment standards for both parties involved in these investigations. This means no more star chambers: All the evidence available to one party is to be available to the other, and institutions will be required to notify the accused of any charges levied against them. The interim guidance will also take Washington’s thumb off the scale in terms of evidentiary standards, cross-examination, and the like, allowing campuses to reinstate due-process protections without fearing they will trigger a federal civil-rights investigation. DeVos also announced that she will launch a “transparent notice-and-comment process,” in accord with federal law, to develop guidelines that can more responsibly and effectively promote safe campuses, provide justice to victims, and safeguard the rights of the accused.
Secretary DeVos’s fine speech and pledge to act are worth commending — especially given the caterwauling and vitriol with which she knew she’d be greeted by the Title IX lobby, campus ideologues, and old Obama hands. If she’s able and willing to follow through, DeVos’s articulate and measured challenge to campus kangaroo courts will prove to be a heartening win for common sense.
Some years ago, near the end of the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” scare, it occurred to me to wonder how much of the trauma experienced by kids was due to their having been sexually abused, and how much by the constant drumbeat of expectation that they had been traumatized. (Not talking about cases where physical damage occurrs — more like the Kliban cartoon, “Uncle Sid’s Birthday Peek” (good luck finding that one.)
Someone acts in a creepy way, or maybe a very creepy way, and the target is told this is the worst thing that could ever happen to her. She gets the message that unless she recognizes how traumatized she is, maybe there’s something wrong with her. (Some of the interviews of children at the Mc Martin Preschool went awry in this very way.) So she confesses trauma. She rehearses it in interview after interview, conversation after conversation. Eventually, she believes it. An event has progressed from “boy that really creeped me out” to “he ruined my life!”
I don’t know if that ever happens, or how often it might happen. But in the middle of the hysteria, it was probably not safe even to ask the question.
Under this theory, hormones and other neurotransmitters go mad and can cause temporary brain damage; memories of an assault are stored perfectly somewhere in the brain but are “fragmented” at first, so it might take victims time to piece together the true story of what happened. College Title IX coordinators—the folks responsible for adjudicating claims of campus sexual misconduct—are told that “the absence of verbal or physical resistance, the inability to recall crucial parts of an alleged assault, a changing story—none of these factors should raise questions or doubt about a claim,” explains Yoffe. “Indeed, all of these behaviors can be considered evidence that an assault occurred.”
But science offers little evidence to support these claims. In fact, they fly in the face of almost all recent research on memory and trauma. (See Yoffe’s piece for plenty of backup on this front.) Rather, the “neurobiology of trauma” movement seems to have become popular because it plays so nicely into progressive ideology.
We have been here before.
In the 1980s, the idea that childhood sexual abuse caused later psychological troubles, substance abuse problems, and repressed memories grew quite popular. The medical mechanism through which this occurred was supposedly trauma, or more specifically, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Activists alleged that child sexual abuse victims experienced PTSD in the same way soldiers did.
The trauma theory arose in response to questions about why many victims didn’t recall or report abuse until later. Trauma, PTSD, and repressed memories provided an explanation that avoided any emphasis on victims’ actions or behavior. To suggest that they waited out of shame, because they didn’t understand the meaning of the abuse until later, or for any other reason involving the remotest bit of agency on the victims’ parts was seen as too close to victim blaming. Any questioning of quack psychologists who “uncovered” repressed memories was viewed as saying most accusers were making their stories up.
PTSD also provided a semi-plausible biological mechanism for how childhood sexual abuse could directly cause mood disorders, drug abuse, excessive drinking, relationship and sexual problems, eating disorders, personality disorders, and other issues later in life—problems that were proclaimed to arise in almost every case.
Yet “the theory of PTSD did not readily adapt to the experience of sexual abuse as described by victims,” writes Clancy, who began focusing on the issue as part of her doctoral research at Harvard in the 1990s.
At the start, Clancy expected her interviews with survivors of childhood sexual abuse to confirm conventional wisdom: that this type of abuse was always traumatizing to children as it occurred, that this trauma could cause them to block it out or detach from it until years later, and that the result was always lifelong psychological, sexual, and relationship problems. But what she found was more complicated. Most of those she talked to—as patients and as part of her research project—knew their abusers, were not physically harmed by them, and recalled feeling more confusion than fear at the time.
In other words, they had not experienced the abuse as particularly traumatic when it occurred. The negative psychological effects of the abuse came later, in adolescence or early adulthood, when a victim could fully conceptualize and understand what had happened. That didn’t fit the PTSD model.
To be clear, she does not suggest that sexual molestation isn’t traumatizing—just that it traumatizes victims in a different way than was commonly understood. But when she began putting this out there, it was not taken well by her peers in the psychology community or by feminist activists. Clancy was accused of victim blaming and of being a “friend of pedophiles.” At the very least, critics asked, why did it matter? If the new trauma paradigm had mobilized mass attention and opened Uncle Sam’s pocketbook for research studies, child abuse hotlines, training programs, and awareness campaigns, then why quibble over the psychological particulars?
The answer, to Clancy, is simple: “To truly help victims, our theories need to be based on the empirical knowledge—and not on assumptions, politics, and lies.”
As she interviewed more and more survivors of childhood sex abuse, Clancy realized that misinformation about trauma was further victimizing them and causing even more psychological harm. For most—those who had not “fought back” against the abuse or reported it until later, those who hadn’t developed crippling psychological problems in the aftermath, etc.—the conventional wisdom on trauma only compounded feelings of insecurity, shame, and self-loathing. If they weren’t terrified in the moment and traumatized forever after, they took that as a sign of their own complicity, deviance, or flaws.
“The reason the truth matters—the reason advocacy is best based in truth—is that our lies about sexual abuse are not helping victims,” writes Clancy.
On campuses today, we may be making things worse for young people by embracing “science” because it feels right rather than because it reflects the empirical evidence. As before, this comes in reaction to a real problem—a historical disbelief in rape victims’ stories and a tendency to treat any minor memory inconsistencies as proof they are lying—but it has veered into a damaging overcorrection.
“This information sends the message to young people that they are biologically programmed to become helpless during unwanted sexual encounters and to suffer mental impairment afterward,” writes Yoffe. “And it may inadvertently encourage them to view consensual late-night, alcohol-fueled encounters that might produce disjointed memories and some regret as something more sinister.”
In today’s climate, this can lead to some major miscarriages of justice for those wrongly accused. But it’s also no boon for preventing sexual victimizaiton or for encouraging sexual safety and fulfillment among young people more broadly.
In survey after survey, students speak of incidents where they never communicated a desire to cease sexual activity because at that moment they felt “frozen,” even though the perpetrator was not (by their own accounts) violent, threatening, or otherwise acting in a manner that should inspire terror. Read about recent campus sexual assault investigations and you’ll find all sorts of cases where the sexual activity started consensually—often under the influence of alcohol—and then one partner had enough but didn’t say or do anything to indicate that. The other party, who cannot read minds, then continued…and later was accused of rape.
An attorney who defends students accused of Title IX violations told Yoffe: “I don’t think I’ve seen a complaint in the past year that didn’t use the word frozen somewhere.”
Of course people should take responsibility for ensuring a sexual partner’s consent. But in the absense of this affirmative consent—i.e., in the vast majority of sexual encounters today, on campus or off—it helps for people to speak up when they don’t want sexual activity to go on, to be forceful about it, and to physically attempt to leave if necessary. Obviously this isn’t realistic in every situation: Attacks involving strangers, violence, threats, etc., do not lend themselves to polite conventions and conversation. (And no victim should be disbelieved or blamed simply because he or she didn’t respond in some idealized way.) But the vast majority of campus sexual assaults that get reported do not involve violence or threats, do occur between people who know each other, and seem to involve some degree of genuine confusion over consent.
Rather than wade into what sorts of cultural messages and factors could contribute to all this, activists have invented a biological explanation and started teaching it through college pamphlets and websites, Title IX training modules, and more.
We are constructing a new trauma myth.
To challenge it is to be accused of victim-blaming, of putting the onus “on women not to get raped instead of on men not to rape,” of being a “rape apologist.”
To not challenge it is to deprive a lot of young people of skills necessary to avoid being assaulted.
Freezing up should be understood as something that’s understandable in the face of an unwanted sexual advance. It should not be our presumed default. Yet we’re teaching a generation of people new to sex that if they feel any hesitation about someone’s advances, it’s perfectly natural to say nothing and, because it’s the other person’s job to ask for affirmative consent, later report them for rape. Who is this helping?
Jackie’s story of fraternity rape at UVA remains an exception in that it was exposed as false beyond any reasonable doubt. But Sulkowicz’s claims look increasingly unlikely, especially since her new interviews point strongly to habitual mendacity. (A recent Daily Beast story quotes her as saying that it was Nungesser, not she, who publicized his identity—even though there is an extensive record of her admitted efforts to make his name public.) Several of the stories featured in the 2015 campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground have been effectively debunked in critiques by the veteran journalist Emily Yoffe, the legal scholar Stuart Taylor Jr., and the Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk.
If rape culture in America is real, why does the case for it rest on so much fabulism?
CATHY YOUNG: Betsy DeVos is right about campus sexual assault. “Why the fury? DeVos offered a full-throated defense of due process, asserting that ‘every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously’ but “every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined. It is the right message, whatever one thinks of the messenger.”
FROM USA TODAY, A STRONG EDITORIAL IN FAVOR OF BETSY DEVOS’S CHANGES: Campus rape cases don’t deserve second-class justice. “Sexual assaults are serious crimes best handled by the criminal justice system. The most stringent punishment schools can order is expulsion. That can be appropriate for cheating on a term paper, but not for rape. . . . At the same time, when universities employ tribunals or other quasi-judicial systems, they have an obligation to follow due process.”
EMILY YOFFE: The Uncomfortable Truth About Campus Rape Policy: At many schools, the rules intended to protect victims of sexual assault mean students have lost their right to due process—and an accusation of wrongdoing can derail a person’s entire college education. “The way in which Bonsu’s case was handled may seem perverse, but many of the university’s actions—the interim restrictions, the full-bore investigation and adjudication even though R.M.’s own statement does not describe a sexual assault—were mandated or strongly encouraged by federal rules that govern the handling of sexual assault allegations on campus today. These rules proliferated during the Obama administration, as did threats of sanctions if schools didn’t follow them precisely. The impulse behind them was noble and necessary—sexual assault is a scourge that should not be tolerated in any society, much less by institutions of higher learning. But taken in sum, these directives have left a mess of a system, and many unintended consequences.”