Allegations of sexual assault on campus have been turned into a political minefield. Conservatives tend to worry that the rights of the accused are eroded and they do not have a fair chance to address the accusation, while progressives are concerned only with the rights of the accusers, one elected official even going so far as to suggest that if there is even likelihood that the accusations are correct, the accused should be thrown out of college without due process.
But a must-read article in Commentary focuses on another aspect of the problem: how colleges and universities can lessen the need for painful trials by reducing the number of sexual couplings under the influence of alcohol. Turns out that social limits and limits on alcohol consumption can have a profound effect.
B. Richardson and J. Shields conducted a study that found out that when there are regulations limiting alcohol consumption, no coed dorms, and restrictions on sleepovers in dorms not one's own, the number of accusations of assaults go down. Whoda thunk it?
They collected data on every college ranked in the U.S. News and World Report college guide for 2015. They looked at alcohol policies and opposite sex sleepover policies. They correlated this with sexual assault data.
Here is what we found: In recent years, assault rates have been 3.1 to 4.4 times higher at the most permissive colleges and universities than at their more restrictive counterparts (see Table 1). That difference is substantial.
Consider two campuses—one permissive, the other restrictive—that both house 3,000 female undergraduates in their residence halls. The permissive campus is likely to receive somewhere between 65 and 100 more reports of sexual assault over a 10-year period.
One possible objection to our findings might be that these differences reflect underreporting of sexual assaults at conservative and religious colleges. But while it is true that such underreporting has been an issue on college campuses generally, there is no systematic evidence to suggest a plague of it at conservative or religious campuses in particular. In fact, our evidence shows that reports of sexual assault have been climbing at all types of colleges, including at regulated and religious ones. The fact that reports have increased everywhere suggests that colleges of all stripes and the students enrolled in them are responding to the heightened national awareness about sexual assault.
Other studies support this conclusion. A 2009 study by the Center for Public Integrity profiled many permissive colleges with serious underreporting problems, including the University of Colorado, Eastern Michigan University, Florida State, West Virginia University, and Yale. And a 2002 Justice Department study on reporting profiled eight campuses, including two with restrictive social policies: West Virginia State University (dry) and Oklahoma State University (guest ban). While the Justice Department study praised these two colleges for the way they reported and adjudicated cases of sexual assault, it was critical of some of the permissive colleges it profiled. The study, for example, found that the reporting protocols at no-prohibitions UCLA “need[ed] to be tighter in terms of capturing all . . . cases of rape and sexual assault.”
It is true that assault rates are generally lower at religious colleges. But the profession or practice of religion itself does not appear to diminish violence very much.
Nonetheless, the same Justice Department suggested that dry policies might actually depress the number of assault reports. “If student victims know that they are in violation of a policy forbidding the use of drugs or alcohol,” the study read, “this might make them fearful to report a sexual assault.” Its own subsequent research undermined this conjecture. A 2007 DOJ study found that victims who had been incapacitated by drugs or alcohol were much less likely to report assaults, often because they did not consider their memory of the incident good enough to offer a credible report or because they were unsure about whether a crime occurred. Logically, then, the problem of unreported assaults may be especially acute at campuses that do a poor job of controlling alcohol consumption.
The solution to the problem of alcohol-fueled sex on campus isn't to erode civil rights but to have more sensible policies governing alcohol–and sleepovers.
It's an important article and anyone interested in sexual assault on campus, especially children who are going to be picking colleges in the next few years, should read it.