April is sexual assault awareness month. Can you identify which of the following statements about sexual assault on campus is not true?
A. College is a dangerous place where one-in-four female students are sexually assaulted.
B. Many colleges and universities today adopt expansive definitions of sexual misconduct that conflate criminal assault with inappropriate behavior or even disappointment and regret.
C. Procedures adopted by campus sex bureaucracies often deny students accused of sexual misconduct the right to question their accusers or submit evidence such as text messages that may suggest consent.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A. LIE! This statistic is based on flawed surveys that lump together a variety of sex-related behaviors. Such surveys ask students, not whether they were sexually assaulted, but whether they have had certain experiences, such as being touched without consent or having sex while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a student responds in the affirmative, that student is labled a survivor of sexual violence, even if that person does not consider herself to have been assaulted. According to data from the Department of Justice, the number of college women who are victims of rape or sexual assault is approximately 1 in 53. Although no incident of assault is acceptable, the number of sex crimes that occur on college campuses remains nowhere near the 1 in 4 statistic bandied about by acitivists. And studies indicate that women who attend college are far less likely to be raped than women of the same age who do not attend college.
B. TRUTH! In 1981, Catharine MacKinnon wrote that rape occurs “whenever a woman has sex and feels violated.” MacKinnon’s view—that regretted sex constitutes rape—was radical in its time. Today it is enshrined in campus disciplinary codes that define “sexual assault” in an almost limitless fashion. At the University of Virginia, for example, a student can be found responsible for sexual assault for any “intentional sexual touching”—“however slight”—where the recipient did not give “informed,” “active” and “voluntary” permission. At Brown, a student can be branded a rapist if a campus tribunal finds that he “manipulated” his accuser into having sexual relations.
C. TRUTH! Even though students accused of sexual misconduct face life-altering consequences and serious reputational damage, many college sexual misconduct tribunals deny such students the opportunity to question their accusers or to submit evidence, such as text messages, that may demonstrate consent. Such proceedings not only undermine our basic notions of due process, they have resulted in many miscarriages of justice.
Bottom line: Sexual assault is one of any number of dangers faced by today’s college students, many of whom are living away from home for the first time. Unfortunately, colleges simultaneously exaggerate the risk to students of campus sexual assault an invest few resources in prevention. Instead, most colleges divert resources to massive Title IX bureaucracies that police and discipline all manner of sexual behavior – — lawful and unlawful — after the behavior has occurred. In so doing, they have created a climate of fear and suspicion, trivialized sexual violence, and done little to make college campuses safer. For more information, read IWF’s policy focus on Title IX here.