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Contrary to the conventional wisdom, new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest that college women are actually less likely than their non-student peers to become victims of sexual assault:

The report estimates that 6.1 of every 1000 college students are raped or sexually assaulted every year; assault is slightly more common among college-age nonstudents (7.6 per 1000). Those rates are lower than other studies of college women, including federal studies, have found. The BJS says this is probably a difference of methodology: the crime victims study, which this report is based on, simply asks women about “unwanted sexual activity,” while other studies list specific behaviors or scenarios women might have experienced.

However, the BJS data also confirm that most rapes go unreported, as the above chart illustrates:

Sexual assault victims are typically much more likely not to go to the police than victims of other crimes … But reporting rates are especially low among college students.

Among young non-student women, according to the new report, 67 percent didn’t report their assaults to the police — that’s a little higher than the average for all sexual-assault victims (which is about 65 percent) but it’s about comparable. Among college students, however, 80 percent of victims didn’t go to the police.

Furthermore, it doesn’t look like college students are reporting assaults to college officials, either. 14 percent of nonstudents said that they didn’t report their assault to the police, but did report to another official (which the survey doesn’t define). But only 4 percent of students said they went to another official or administrator.

As Brandy Zadrozny observes, the data also show that college-aged men are significantly more likely to get assaulted than non-students in the same age group:

Though fewer college-age men are raped or sexually assaulted than women, it happens to about 9,400 men annually. Men ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college were more likely to become a victim. Men in college were raped or sexually assaulted at a rate of 1.4 per 1,000, almost five times the rate of non-students (0.03 per 1,000). Men made up 17 percent of rape and sexual assault victims in college and just 4 percent for nonstudents.

Libby Nelson explores why different surveys turn up such markedly divergent numbers on rape:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s study on intimate partner violence finds much higher rates of sexual assault in the general population than the crime victimization survey does. The difference lies in how the questions are worded. Researchers in other surveys, including the CDC’s, don’t necessarily use the term “rape” or “sexual assault” at all. Instead, they ask much more specific questions about what happened, such as “when you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?”

Christopher Krebs, the lead researcher on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, a study of two colleges that led to the widely cited “1 in 5” statistic, says the term “rape” carries heavy baggage. “Women often think of rape as something perpetrated by a stranger, someone they don’t know, someone jumping out from behind a bush or behind a car,” he says. “They think of something that happens that’s violent: they had to be hit or kicked or threatened. They think of it as something that happens when you’re around people you don’t know.”

A reader adds a new angle to the thread:

I was convicted in 2001 of embezzling more than a million dollars, for which I served 1-1/2 years in prison. I may come at this from a different angle, being a gay man who was raped in prison, rather than a straight women raped in college. I didn’t report my rapes (there were three). I didn’t even discuss them with friends.

First, if you think reporting a rape in a college environment is hard on the reporter, it is pure hell in prison.

The very first thing that happens is you’re transferred from your housing unit, so you lose your job and program. I was in a terrific program with one of the greatest teachers of my life, so the loss would have been substantial.

Second, why one was moved becomes common knowledge very quickly (in prison, gossip travels faster than the speed of light), so you will be a target, an known easy mark, wherever you’re put next. Third, the accused, at worst, suffers the loss of a few days good time. Most of the time, the event is found to be consensual sex (because I was gay, so of course I’d want to have sex with a man) and both are punished. I wouldn’t even be able to get medical care to ensure I did not seroconvert (I am HIV-). There was very little upside to reporting. So, I kept quiet and found ways to keep myself out of the situation.

I am sad to say that being raped was not the most traumatic thing to happen in prison. But even now, ten years later, every so often, I still wake in the middle of the night shaking with fear because of my stay there. On the other hand, I wouldn’t now report either. It is over with and done. I’ve moved on and don’t want to be involved in anything there. If this places others in danger, so be it. I don’t think the report would be fair to me or to anyone I accuse. After so long, even I don’t trust my memories of the events.

Thus, I don’t blame people for not reporting – it is a very personal decision. But I also don’t think accusations long after the rape are helpful either. Either go forward at the time, letting the chips fall where they may, or let it go.

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 12 2014 @ 10:41am

From the reader who shared in August her story of rape:

I’m writing you back on the topic of rape once again, but it’s important and I’m glad you continue to have this conversation and that you are focusing on the real issues, and dissecting them, especially now that the UVA story has muddied the waters for so many.

I also didn’t report my rape. If I could explain why in one simple sentence, I’d say this: because my brain didn’t have space for a fight, or a crusade, or a trial. It was too busy dealing with having just been raped. Believe me, that’s plenty to absorb. Living quietly in shame felt like the default, not going straight to the police.

To put it another way, I’ll refer you back to the marvelous essay “No. No. No.” you posted from the reader recounting her horrific rape:

Rather than openly confront what had happened, I tried to bury it. I couldn’t say anything. I wasn’t worried about what would happen to him; I was worried about what would happen to me. … I never wanted to be a victim, even though that’s what I was. It’s why so many of us don’t tell a soul, especially initially. You figure if no one knows they can’t look at you differently or treat you differently than they had before. You won’t receive their looks of pity, or even worse, some sense of skepticism or disbelief. They won’t see you as damaged, somehow less than the woman you were before. Even though that’s how you feel.

That’s exactly right. Or think about it in terms of cost vs benefits. The benefit of putting your rapist in jail, or at least getting him thrown out of school, is not small. It means knowing he will pay for what he did to you and that he will be less likely to do the same to another woman. That’s not nothing.

But the costs are also great, and it’s all of the things mentioned above and more. Add in the less than 50/50 chance you have of getting a conviction, or even having people believe you. The prospect of going through all of that (in my case, while I tried to get through my freshman year of college) without much of a chance of success, knowing it would turn into a he said/she said, tilted the balance for me – even if we pretend I was making calm, rational decisions at that point!

Then add in how the people around you, especially the men but also the women, will perceive you once you go public, how their opinions will change and how they need to treat you will change, and it tilts the balance toward not reporting further. I didn’t want to be “the girl who’d been raped.” I knew that I would be. So, from two bad options, and at a horrible, vulnerable time, I choose not to report.

To put it more accurately, it chose me. That brings with it another level of pain. Or as that woman put it:

And yes, part of the shame is knowing I did nothing to hold him to account, and that I may have put other women at risk by not doing so. …So, add that on to the shame of something I’m not guilty of, that I didn’t ask for.

Right again. Let’s not pretend that not reporting is some great weight off our shoulders. It wasn’t for me, and I know it isn’t for other women in these situations. Not reporting, not standing up, adds another layer of shame on to what’s already happened. It made me feel weak all over again. It still does. Do I sometimes wish I’d made a different choice? Yup, I do. I try not to second guess myself because it hurts too much, and because it’s over. Mostly.

Hope that helps. It’s one more story anyway. Much love to you guys. You’re the best site on the Internet!

We just have the best readers. More of their stories here.

The UVA Story Unravels, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 11 2014 @ 1:58pm

Mollie Hemingway reacts to the revelations we noted earlier today:

Yes, the latest shocking revelations about Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone’s journalism are stunning. They really, really messed up. Even more than we previously realized. They should receive every bit of oppobrium coming their way.

Margaret Hartmann takes stock of everything we know about the unraveling mess so far. Robby Soave keeps his focus on the real offenders – Rolling Stone, not Jackie:

The friends quoted in the latest article still say Jackie’s changed behavior that first semester is evidence of some trauma she sustained. That may be true, although it is difficult to say what, exactly, that might have entailed. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest such a trauma bears any resemblance to the incredible story told by Rolling Stone.

Lest anyone think that this debacle is solely the fault of someone who falsely claimed rape, keep in mind that these fraudulent charges were put forth by a national magazine that made no effort to verify them, and ignored every red flag in its haste to publish the story of the century—even when Jackie refused to name her attackers and attempted to withdraw her story. Whatever the truth is—whatever the excellent reporters at WaPost manage to uncover next—the fact remains that Rolling Stone and Erdely should have known better.

Meanwhile, Max Ehrenfreund and Elahe Izadi dig into research on false rape reports:

Much of the research into false allegations examines police cases. A 2010 peer-reviewed study published in the journal Violence Against Women reviews the scholarship to date, while assessing the flaws in existing studies. The authors estimate the prevalence of false allegations of rape is 2 to 10 percent of cases reported to police. The researchers also examined 136 rape cases at a major university in the northeast that had been filed between 1998 and 2007. The process took about two years, said lead author David Lisak. They classified complaints as false if there was “a thorough investigation” that resulted in evidence showing the assault never occurred — such as video evidence. Of the 136 cases on that college campus, eight were deemed false, or a rate of 5.9 percent.

Marcotte attempts some myth-busting on fabricated rapes:

Not only do people overestimate how many false rape reports there are, they often don’t even have the right idea of what happens when false rape reports do happen. Many people believe that false reports happen when a woman, angry about not getting a phone call after a one-night stand or ashamed of having had drunken sex, decides to accuse her consensual sex partner of raping her. This belief is rooted in long-standing misogynist stereotypes of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

The reality is a little different, according to a report for the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, which is part of the National District Attorneys Association. “Despite the stereotype, false reports of sexual assault are not typically filed by women trying to ‘get back at a boyfriend’ or cover up a pregnancy, affair, or other misbehavior,” authors Kimberly Lonsway, David Lisak, and Joanne Archambault write. Instead, “the vast majority are actually filed by people with serious psychological and emotional problems” who lie for “the attention and sympathy that they receive.”

Back to the subject of real and credible rapes, Susan Dominus works through her own experience with sexual assault, pondering why some victims don’t resist their attackers the “right” way and are made to feel shame for that:

In 1993, one year after I graduated from college, Katie Roiphe published an incendiary op-ed in The New York Times called “Date Rape’s Other Victim,” in which she suggested that the issue of sexual assault on campus was overblown, that some feminists were casting women as passive victims in need of protection. She offered one way I could look at what happened to me that evening: “There is a gray area in which one person’s rape may be another’s bad night,” she wrote. I was no ingénue, and had had “bad nights”; and yet the night of the red cup stood out as something significantly more troubling than that.

The language we use for a given experience inevitably defines how we feel about it. I could not land on language that felt right — to me —about that encounter. I still cannot. Struggling to find language to define that experience after the fact left me longing for more words that could have been used in the moment. What I wish I had had that night was a linguistic rip cord, something without the mundane familiarity of “no” or the intensity demanded in “Get off or I’ll scream.” … What if every kid on every college campus was given new language — a phrase whose meaning could not be mistaken, that signaled peril for both sides, that might be more easily uttered?

Dish readers share their own experience with rape and sexual assault here and here. Update from a reader, who misreads our earlier post‘s comparison of Erdely to TNR editors, not to Glass:

I have to dissent from the comparison of Sabrina Rubin Erdely to Stephen Glass and your and others’ assertion that the “real offenders” are “Rolling Stone, not Jackie.” The comparison to Glass is very specious. Glass fabricated stories himself. He was a liar. Erdely may have been sloppy and unprofessional. She should have interviewed Jackie’s friends and the accused men. She should have considered not printing the story after Jackie asked her not to do so. But the lie at the center of the story is not Erdely’s, it’s Jackie’s.

Jackie has told multiple versions of this lie to several people over the last two years, and continued to tell the lie as recently as last week (to the Washington Post), when the story was already beginning to unravel. She has defamed innocent men. The men were defamed to Erdely, to Jackie’s friends, to campus anti-rape activists, to the university administration, and ultimately to the world, now that the real names of at least some of the men have been published online.

I find it maddening that the media want to treat this sorry series of events as a story about bad journalism. This is a story about a young woman who fabricated a rape allegation, first to induce empathy from a boy she liked, and later (I guess) to fit in with or be a star among other anti-rape activists.

Jackie had several opportunities to shut all of this down. She could have avoided repeating the lie to her roommate two years ago. She could have declined to repeat the even more embellished lie to campus activists. She could have told the truth when Erdely initially approached her. She could have told the truth when she asked Erdely to not print the story. And finally, she could have told the truth when she was interviewed by the Post. But she just kept lying.

Contra Marcotte, whatever the nature of “vast majority” false reports of rape, I find it very difficult to believe that Jackie suffers from “serious psychological and emotional problems.” She lied with motive and purpose, repeatedly over the course of two years, and then stuck with the lie to save face.  She lied without any regard to the way she was hurting other people.

When Erdely went to Charlottesville she did uncover an important story that goes something like this: Women on college campuses are sometimes raped. Colleges often do a very bad job of investigating alleged rapes and need to do better. But some of the rape allegations are false, which is why any investigation needs to be done professionally and with fairness to both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator.  That is not the story Erdely told, and it is not the story being told in the media even now.

We still don’t know exactly what happened, despite Jackie’s dropping credibility. She very well could have been raped. According to one of her three key former friends, even now:

“She had very clearly just experienced a horrific trauma,” Randall said. “I had never seen anybody acting like she was on that night before, and I really hope I never have to again. . . . If she was acting on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, then she deserves an Oscar.”

Let’s see what else the WaPo reports and how the rewrite of the Rolling Stone piece pans out before making any final judgments.

Always Believe The Accuser?

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 10 2014 @ 8:00pm

Zerlina Maxwell makes the dubious argument that alleged rapists should be presumed guilty until proven innocent, at least in the court of public opinion:

We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist. Even if Jackie fabricated her account, U-Va. should have taken her word for it during the period while they endeavored to prove or disprove the accusation. This is not a legal argument about what standards we should use in the courts; it’s a moral one, about what happens outside the legal system.

The accused would have a rough period. He might be suspended from his job; friends might defriend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching his shows, consuming his books or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. But false accusations are exceedingly rare, and errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.

Freddie is aghast at Maxwell’s belief that public opinion is entirely separate from the judicial system and that such an attitude won’t lead to serious miscarriages of justice:

I find it particularly disturbing that, in a country with a long legacy of using spurious claims of sexual aggression as a weapon against black men, many of those who consider themselves the most committed opponents of racism are endorsing a deeply simplistic and idealistic notion of how the pursuit of justice actually happens in the non-ideal real world we live in. A brief consideration of American history will show you some examples of rape claims that were automatically believed, and the consequences are a terrible stain on our country.

When we talk about carceral feminism, this is what we mean:

allowing the great moral duty to oppose rape to allow us to develop credulous attitudes towards the police state. People keep insisting to me that this doesn’t happen, but how can Maxwell’s assumption of a necessarily impartial judicial system, unmoved by public opinion, represent anything else? We’re living through righteous, mass protests of an unchecked, deeply racist police system. That so many are failing to apply that analysis consistently and thoroughly is deeply discouraging. We owe support and attention to the victims of rape. Developing a false credulity to the notion of judicial impartiality does neither them nor the rest of us any favors.

McArdle piles on, adding that Maxwell’s “always believe” approach would actually result in making all rape victims less believable:

One cost of minimizing false negatives is to the false positives who get hurt. But another cost is to the credibility of all rape reports. People who responded to the problems with the Rolling Stone story by saying that this didn’t have anything to do with the real problem — the culture of rape on college campuses — were missing something important. Actually, two important things.

First, that deciding what to do in the face of these trade-offs between false positives and false negatives is actually a vital matter of public debate in all areas of policy, and this story cast important light on how those trade-offs may have been made outside of the public eye.

And second, that by declaring that this story, which just a week before was a grave matter demanding the urgent attention of the nation, somehow became trivial and irrelevant when it started to look as if it might be false, writers and activists were suggesting that they simply didn’t care about false positives. Which undercuts the very public trust they need to advance their cause.

Brendan O’Neill sees an emerging culture of credulity gone haywire:

If Erdely nodded along to Jackie’s story while robotically thinking “I believe,” she isn’t alone. Automatically and uncritically believing allegations of rape is all the rage today. Where for most of the Age of Enlightenment it was considered civilized to believe that those accused of a crime were innocent until proven guilty, now it appears the way to show that you are a good and caring person is to do pretty much the opposite. You should believe instantly the alleged victim’s every word, and by extension to believe instantly that the accused is guilty as hell.

So when Dylan Farrow claimed she was sexually abused as a child by Woody Allen, the meme “I Believe Dylan” spread like a pox across the internet. #IBelieveDylan trended on Twitter. At IndiewireMelissa Silverstein said “There are a few fundamental beliefs that I hold, and one of them is that I believe women.” All women? All the time? Including, say, Condoleezza Rice when she said Saddam had loads of weapons of mass destruction?

This is silly. Women are just as capable as men of making stuff up.

But Maya Dusenbery, a former fact-checker, argues that it was the biases of journalism, not feminism or advocacy, that led Rolling Stone to do Jackie the tremendous disservice of not fact-checking her story:

One of the main purposes of fact-checking is to correct journalism’s bias toward a “good story” above all else. … [I]f Rolling Stone was so eager to keep Jackie’s story in the piece that they were ready to run it against her will, that suggests their willingness to bend their fact-checking standards may have had less to do with some feminist “sensitivity” to a survivor’s request and more to do with not wanting to risk losing a particularly shocking tale of a gang rape that would help their article go viral in the way it ultimately did.

I do not know if that’s the case — perhaps Rolling Stone genuinely, if very mistakenly, believed they were doing the right thing for the right reason — but I think it’s plausible, and I’d like to see all the journalists rushing to pontificate about how to do “good reporting” on sexual violence acknowledge the possibility that it was journalism’s bias towards a good story that’s to blame here. That in chasing the “perfect victim,” Rolling Stone pressured a traumatized rape survivor to tell her story, ditched their fact-checking standards, and then threw her under the bus when the account — totally predictably — was challenged.

But, of course, the one thing that journalism refuses to question is its own ability to reveal the truth. It clings fast to its central conceit: that it has no biases of its own, and if followed correctly, its standards and conventions are enough to magically correct our cultural biases and lead us to some “objective” truth — or at least get us closer than anything else will.

Back to your regularly scheduled Dish:

Touching on the disjunction between how victims remember their rapes and how they are expected to remember them, survivor Katie Klabusich reminds us that survivors’ accounts often contain discrepancies – and not because they’re making shit up:

Despite having a public platform and a degree of credibility that a private citizen doesn’t enjoy, I’m not a good victim. My story isn’t airtight or unchanging. Even now, when I talk about what happened to me during my four-year abusive relationship, my story has alternate versions. Depending on how much I can handle on any given day, I will leave out details or add them back in. Depending on what aspect of my story can be helpful to another survivor or current news, I will emphasize that part of my attacker’s behavior.

Does this mean I am lying? Certainly not; it means I am a human being with a complicated psyche and lived experience. …

Because I didn’t report, I didn’t have to endure the process of retelling my story the way survivors who come forward in the hopes of prosecuting their attackers must. Most sexual assault survivors tell their story around a dozen times the first day they report — to the responding officer; to the triage clerk at the hospital; to the nurse at the hospital; to the doctor at the hospital; to their best friend who took them to the hospital; to their partner; to the detective. Having to tell your story dozens and dozens of times to dozens and dozens of people leads to discrepancies. Of course it does; how could it not?

She rightly blasts Rolling Stone for making it even harder for survivors to be taken seriously:

When a respected investigative journalism outlet incites a national discussion about what a victim is supposed to do, how and when they’re supposed to report, and whether we should even bother believing them, they are actively choosing to support rape culture and silencing survivors. As our “justice” system only sees fit to punish 3% of prosecuted attackers, most victims will only ever have the court of public opinion (should they seek it out) to vindicate them. Rolling Stone has taken that away as well.

Julia Belluz turns to memory science to point out that even non-traumatic memories can easily be warped, manipulated, or even invented:

In a British study on false memories, adults were led to imagine that they underwent a medical procedure that never took place: it involved a nurse removing a skin sample from their fingers. They then asked the participants about the surgery, as well as other events that were common in childhood (i.e. a tooth extraction). Study participants who imagined the events — as opposed to just reading about them — were more likely to believe they occurred, with about 30 percent reporting that they underwent the impossible surgery in detail such as, “There was a nurse and the place smelled horrible.” Through imagination, the study authors concluded, people can create vivid memories.

This is a question on which I am utterly unqualified to offer an opinion. My sex life at college was zero; my sex with women at grad school was not mainly (ahem) at my instigation; and all my boyfriends were off-campus. I knew of no alleged rapes when I was at either place; and have minimal knowledge of the whole heterosexual thing. So what actual solid data do we really have of a crime that is notoriously under-reported and thereby very difficult to assess? Emily Yoffe – in a piece that shows how long-form journalism has a real and vital future online – unpacks it for us. As well as providing chilling evidence of kangaroo courts and procedures, designed to eviscerate any due process for the accused, Yoffe reveals the very thin statistical base on which the left-feminists have launched their crusade. Here, for example, is the author of the study that is used to claim that one in every five female students is raped:

“We don’t think one in five is a nationally representative statistic.” It couldn’t be, he said, because his team sampled only two schools. “In no way does that make our results nationally representative,” Krebs said.

Then this:

The Sexual Victimization of College Women, a 2000 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, is the basis for another widely cited statistic, even grimmer than the finding of CSA: that one in four college women will be raped. The study itself, however, found a completed rape rate among its respondents of 1.7 percent.

They got to 25 percent by extrapolating that number for five years and doubling it because the survey was conducted in the spring semester:

In a footnote, the authors acknowledge that asserting that one-quarter of college students “might” be raped is not based on actual evidence: “These projections are suggestive. To assess accurately the victimization risk for women throughout a college career, longitudinal research following a cohort of female students across time is needed.” The one-fifth to one-quarter assertion would mean that young American college women are raped at a rate similar to women in Congo, where rape has been used as a weapon of war.

Are American campuses as dangerous for women as war-torn Congo? To express any skepticism about this is to be a rape-denialist or a rape-truther. But the inviolate truth of one in five women raped on campus requires no skepticism at all.