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October 30 2013

A Back and Forth on Campus Rape Statistics

Charlotte Hays

Caroline Kitchens wrote a sober piece for US News & World Report saying that statistics don't bear out the notion that there is a “rape epidemic” on campus. Kitchens further argues that the feminist activists who make claims about a pervasive “rape culture” on campuses often seek to compromise the rights of the accused, who usually happen to be young men.

The accusations made against the lacrosse team at Duke University—shown to be false but not before dragging the names of the young men on the lacrosse team through the mud—are perhaps the most famous recent example of the phenomenon Kitchens was highlighting.

Kitchens’ measured article brought forth a hysterical response from Erin Gloria Ryan of the (almost always hysterical) Jezebel blog. The headline was:

“Rape Culture” Is Just Drunk College Sluts Lying, Says Major Magazine

Of course, that's not what Kitchens argued. But maybe Ryan had trouble reading Kitchens's article. After all, Ryan did admit that Kitchens’ op-ed made her “eyeballs hurt.” They must have been hurting when she got Kitchens' last name wrong and dangled a modifier. (The former error was corrected but the dangling modifier remains, hurting my eyeballs.)

Ryan, who gently calls Kitchens’ statistics “crap,” appears to think the woman who has a few and then has sex is always absolved from any responsibility. In an aside, Ryan writes:

What if other crimes were normalized as acceptable outcomes for the person victimized getting drunk? Every once in awhile, I'll put away a few glasses (fine, a bottle) of wine and pass out on my couch while watching Daria on Hulu, but if someone broke into my apartment and stole my laptop, no one would be like, well what did you expect you drunk laptop-waving skank? If I was mildly intoxicated on the train ride home, and I got mugged, no one would try to tie my right to control my debit card to my ability to responsibly imbibe.

I'm certainly not for absolving a guy who takes advantage of a women who's had too much to drink. But I am for maintaining due process so that the accused has a chance to clear his name. The notion of a "rape epidemic" employed by people such as Ms. Ryan has been used to create rules that deny the accused due process.

As a result of Ryan’s article, Kitchens was deluged with nasty insults from the charmers who read Jezebel. Kitchens was called a “small-town bigot,” a “rape-denying harpy,” and “disgustingly anti-woman.”

Kitchens wrote a reply that deserves to be read in full. An excerpt:

Contrary to Ryan’s characterization, I did not say or imply that “across the country, poor men are being kicked out of college in droves.” What I actually said is that campus tribunals fail to provide the procedural safeguards necessary to protect students from false accusations. Though Ryan seems not to care, research shows that false accusations may be more common than gender activists realize. In an excellent review of the literature, Rachael Larimore and Yale Law School’s Emily Bazelon explain that the research surrounding false accusations varies widely in its estimates, but most credible studies converge around a rate of 8% to 10% for false reports of rape. False accusations may or may not be rampant, but they are certainly not trivial.  And if we continue to promote policies aimed solely at protecting the rights of the accuser without protections for the accused, wrongful convictions will become much more likely.

The activists’ lack of concern for those falsely accused is troubling. Discussions surrounding sexual assault policies should not be based on a numbers game of false accusations vs. unreported victimizations. We should be focused on ensuring justice and basic fairness for all students. Sexual assault activists may not like it, but our country upholds the presumption of innocence as one of the central tenets of the justice system. To say that young men accused of sexual assault should be guaranteed due process by no means implicates victims.

It’s not easy for campus judiciaries to find the correct balance between protecting the rights of the accused and cultivating a safe environment for victims of sexual assault. There needs to be more civil discussion on how to fix the way universities respond to cases of sexual misconduct, and it needs to be informed by a commitment to protecting the rights of both parties.

What are the chances of having a civil discussion with Ms. Ryan?

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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