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May 6 2014

Rape and Justice: Why Shoddy Numbers Are to Be Avoided

Abby Schachter

Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle is the latest to weigh in on the White House’s dubious statistic that one in five women on campus is the victim of sexual assault.

In an article headlined “Rape on Campus Belongs in the Courts,” McArdle challenges the White House with regard to both the accuracy of the statistic and the proposed remedy.

Noting that the one in five statistic “seems calculated for maximum scare factor,” McArdle writes:

I do not want to defend people who kiss women who are unwilling or incapacitated. You may call me antediluvian, but I do not want to put them in jail, either.

I would like a statistic that does a better job of separating things that demand immediate prosecution from things that demand harsh social sanction….[Also] the majority of these sexual assaults take place while the victims are incapacitated by drugs or (most usually) alcohol. Yet the word “alcohol” appears just once in the White House report. There is a passing reference to the fact that many of these crimes occur while the victim is non compos mentis, or unconscious, but no suggestion that sexual assault prevention could involve alcohol education or regulation, and no acknowledgement of the difficulty of pursuing disciplinary action when the victim, and frequently the only witness, cannot reliably testify about what happened.

But McArdle’s larger point concerns how accusations of sexual assault are handled on campus. Because rape is a notoriously hard crime to prove in court, the taskforce prefers hearings on campus conducted without traditional due process safety guards for the accused.  

Perhaps recognizing that such college bodies deliver “shoddy” justice, the taskforce would add a single investigator  into the mix. Even so, McArdle maintains that rape cases belong in the courts:

It’s understandable … that many people want to loosen the standards for prosecuting rapes. This can’t be done in a criminal trial, but it can in a college judiciary hearing -- and that’s just what the government, and not a few people on campus, has been pressing colleges to do.

Yet as understandable this instinct is, it’s wrong. No one accused of a serious crime should have his fate in the hands of a single investigator with a mandate to err on the side of believing the people who are testifying against him. In fact, colleges shouldn’t be handling this sort of thing at all. If a college wouldn’t conduct a murder trial, it shouldn’t be conducting rape trials, either.

Charlotte has also addressed concerns about the one in five statistic from Factual Feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, economist Mark Perry, and the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald. 

 

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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