A More Complex Picture Of College Rape


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.”

Why Should Colleges Adjudicate Rape Cases?

As several commentators noted when the UVA rape story broke (and before it unraveled), the campus rape reporting system mandated under Title IX clearly isn’t working properly, as universities tend to prioritize covering their own asses over ensuring that charges are handled justly. As UVA is hardly the first university to make a mess of this process, it seems like a no-brainer that these cases should be investigated by the police, not college administrators. Libby Nelson, however, argues that colleges should have at least some role in responding to rape allegations:

Imagine a college sexual assault case that is reported to authorities — both to local police and to campus officials. On campus, the investigation takes around 60 days, according to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. In the local justice system, it can drag on even longer. In the meantime, the student who filed the complaint might have to sit next to the student she accused in class or run into him in the dining hall. A victim of sexual assault might fail a class or want to take part of the semester off.

Police departments can’t do anything about any of this. But colleges can. They can shift students’ housing assignments, campus jobs, or class schedules. They can offer free counseling services. They can give students who say they were assaulted a break from a midterm exam, or let them retake classes that they failed because they were emotionally upset in the aftermath of an assault. And they can do these things immediately, before a hearing or even an investigation is concluded. That’s one reason why colleges have a role to play when sexual assault happens on campus. Colleges can, and are supposed to, take those actions even if the police are already investigating.

It’s one thing to shuffle housing assignments and class schedules, and quite another to expel accused rapists without solid evidence of wrongdoing. The problem arises when universities are called upon to render what are essentially criminal verdicts and punishments, which only the justice system can do. But Max Ehrenfreund suggests that forcing universities to report rapes to the cops might not be such a great solution:

At the University of Virginia, the key problem appears to have been unresponsive school officials — not unresponsive cops. The victims described in the Rolling Stone account could have sought the police’s help if they wanted it, but they did not.

Now, many are saying that police should be involved in every alleged case of sexual violence. But some advocates for victims suggest that mandatory reporting to police could have unintended consequences — while ignoring the real issues of college administrators not doing enough to stop sexual assault. It could make campuses even more dangerous, they say, by discouraging students from reporting sexual assault and preventing administrators from getting the information they need to keep students safe.

Some victims of rape say they would not have notified their university if the school officials had been required to report the incident to police. Victims, some say, might not want the attention and scrutiny that comes from a criminal investigation. Others may be uncomfortable with the idea of repeatedly describing in detail what happened to them to law enforcement officers.

Alexandra Brodsky and Elizabeth Deutsch make another case for why universities need to also be involved in handling sexual assault cases, looking back at the case that established this requirement back in the 1970s:

What Alexander [v. Yale] helped to establish … is that campus rape is not just a crime but also an impediment to a continued education—and to subsequent success in the workplace and public life. That means that Title IX’s protections are necessary for an individual student’s learning opportunities and for gender equality throughout American life. If sexual violence goes unaddressed at universities, women will face unconscionable obstacles to education, professional success and full citizenship. …

Many of those who say criminal law is the single best way to handle campus sexual assault believe that bringing in the cops is the only way to put a stop to gender-based violence at colleges. Yet the gravity of these harms cannot be understood through the lens of criminal law alone. If we are truly to take sexual violence seriously, we must, as Title IX does, acknowledge that rape and harassment serve to maintain a regime of inequality in which, decades into widespread coeducation, women still cannot learn and thrive as equals to their male classmates. Yes, rape is a horrible crime. But it is also part of systemic inequality in education that we still need to fight.

The UVA Story Unravels, Ctd

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.

Would You Report Your Rape? Ctd

Several readers open up:

You didn’t ask for answers to your question, but I’ll give you one, since McArdle’s doesn’t really do that. You can try to relate, but you can’t put yourself into the mind of someone who has been traumatized by sexual assault. I often reflect on why I didn’t report being raped by two men 15 years ago and what I would do differently if it happened today. I’ve thought a lot about this recently, as the story told in Rolling Stone bore some striking resemblances to my own. There are many reasons why I didn’t report my rape:

I just wanted it to go away, to forget it, to not talk about it. I felt ashamed, I blamed myself. While I was in shock from the trauma I had experienced and talking myself out of telling anyone outside my close circle of friends, those same friends helped to reinforce my decision. They reminded me that I had been drinking the night before and that I had kissed one of the men, willingly, earlier in the evening. These things were true and I would have to explain them to cops, lawyers, judges, my family, possibly my employer and I would be judged by them.

One comment from a friend that day haunts me still. She said, “You can’t go to the cops, T is on probation and could go back to prison”. It haunts me because it made perfect sense at the time, in the mental state I was in, I didn’t want to be responsible for someone going to prison. I was already blaming myself for their crime and its consequences.

Couldn’t this kind of reaction also help explain why a person’s memory of an assault could become warped over time? Just as forgetting key details is said to be the result of a coping mechanism, so could exaggerating details as a way to overcome feelings of guilt and shame. You were scratching your head over this yesterday, so it’s one possible explanation.

I’d like to think that if faced with the same decision today, I would be stronger, that I would “be the girl reporting it, sitting on a witness stand and pointing a finger”, that I would know that what mattered was what they did to me against my will and not what I did to deserve it – because I didn’t deserve it, and no one deserves to be violated in that way.

It’s been very difficult to read your blog lately, and I think that’s okay. Some of your posts on feminism and the Rolling Stone story have weighed on me in a way that those on other topics in which we disagree do not. Ultimately I appreciate your perspective, even as I dissent, because it forces me to check my biases, especially the ones that I know are emotionally driven and (hopefully) it helps me see with a bit more clarity.

Another reader:

I wrote once before (in the context of race and criminality) about being sexually assaulted by a man who was later convicted on multiple counts and sentenced to a long prison term.  What I didn’t mention was the attitude of the police when I first reported it.  They were extremely skeptical that I’d actually been attacked in my own apartment at 3 a.m.  They asked if I was in a relationship, and I said I’d recently ended one but was still friends with my ex – whereupon they tried to convince me that he (the least violent of humans) was the man who’d “showed up” in my bed, and therefore it couldn’t be rape, so it really wasn’t a matter for the police.

It was only months later, when the pattern of a serial rapist became blindingly clear (with a dozen victims in my area) that they finally took me seriously.  If being raped by a stranger at knifepoint can be spun away by police, think how they might treat an eighteen year-old who was drunk when she was raped by her date.  If police believe you when you report your car stolen, shouldn’t they extend the same benefit of the doubt to a woman who reports a rape?  Her claim may or may not hold up under investigation, as with any reported crime, but that’s no reason to assume a woman is lying or exaggerating.  Yet all too often police do.


I completely agree with Megan McArdle’s comments: I have never been sexually assaulted, but I find it 100 percent easy to believe that a victim of a traumatic sexual encounter (even one that might not rise to the level of rape) would not report it or report a somewhat confused story with lots of second-guessing herself.

At the wedding of some friends several years ago, I had the surreal experience of being weirdly groped by a married friend of mine while we were in the middle of a conversation with another friend: the three of us were talking, and friend A kept running his hands up and down my thigh (I was on  a barstool) and I was just drunk enough and just confused enough by the weirdness of what was happening that all I did was push his hands away each time (but he kept coming back!) and friend B didn’t do or say anything.

In my retelling of it to a friend who knew all the parties, I kept second-guessing myself: why would anyone do that?? He seems like such a normal guy! Maybe I was imagining it? Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed? Maybe I’m making too much of this super weird situation. Especially when you’re a little buzzed, or tired, or whatever, I can completely understand not wanting to subject your brain and psyche – which are already confused and traumatized enough – to the skeptical questioning of some cop or campus security who might just see some drunk, slutty girl who’s angry at some guy.

Always Believe The Accuser?

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.

Did Jackie Lie? Or Misremember? Ctd

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.

Just How Common Is Campus Rape?

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.

Would You Report Your Rape?

Danielle Campoamor shares her own experience:

I always thought that if I ever became a victim of sexual assault, I’d say something. I’d be the girl reporting it, sitting on a witness stand and pointing a defiant finger, just like the actresses on SVU. There wouldn’t be a second thought or a deliberate pause; I’d simply speak up because that’s, of course, what you do. And then I became a victim of sexual assault.

When the police officer was standing in front of me, a pad of paper in one hand and an overworked pen in the other, and asked me if I wanted to file charges, I paused. Tears were running down my cheeks and my legs wouldn’t stop shaking and my best friend’s hand, honorable in its intentions, failed to comfort me. The officer had already asked me how many drinks I had consumed. In fact, he asked me on three separate occasions. He had already asked what I could have possibly said or unintentionally inferred, prior to being forced onto a bed. He had already raised his eyebrows and tightened his lips and wrinkled his brow.

And a part of me already knew. So, I said no. I just wanted it over.

She did eventually report the assault, only to be met with condescension:

The detective explained to me that women get “confused” rather regularly. He explained that many a woman sat in my chair, defiantly lying until they couldn’t lie anymore. He told me that drinking and judgment and embarrassment, even boyfriends, can contribute to a woman continuing to cry wolf. He asked me if this was what I was doing. Was I confused? Was I ashamed? After all, I had been drinking.

I said no.

The detective nodded, almost annoyed that I didn’t save him the extra paperwork. He told me he would do what he could, but often times the “he said/she said” cases don’t go anywhere. He assured me that even if it didn’t, a report would be on record. I guess he thought that would be comforting.

That was almost two years ago. Nothing has happened. The evidence is backlogged and the detective is out of contact and the monster is still hiding.

McArdle tries to relate to such stories:

When I was in college, I was the victim of someone who stole a bunch of money from me. I knew who it was, and I didn’t report it to anyone except a couple of friends. Why not? Years later, I’m not sure I can say. I can cite a deeply ingrained aversion to asking for help from authorities, which is certainly a part of my character, or point out that the accusation would have been hard to prove, even though, for tedious reasons I won’t go into, I was quite certain who had committed the theft. But that could just be post-hoc rationalization; what I actually remember is that it happened, and I didn’t report it. Instead, I stopped buying food for about a week. And I wasn’t even faced with having to rehearse hours of unimaginably gruesome trauma over and over to investigators.

So I find it extremely easy to believe that a girl stumbled out of a fraternity house, bruised and humiliated, and just wanted to go home and pretend it never happened. But even if I couldn’t, that wouldn’t be evidence of much of anything, except the contours of my imagination. People do crazy, insane, unaccountable things all the time — if you found it hard to believe that fraternity brothers committed a premeditated gang rape, why was it so easy to imagine that a girl made up a rape story to recount to a national magazine, where she risked humiliating exposure? Whichever you believe, the explanation for this seemingly insane behavior is the same: Sometimes, people aren’t very good at counting the consequences of their own actions.

Did Jackie Lie? Or Misremember?

Maya Inamura defends the alleged UVA rape victim from those who would label her a liar:

While Rolling Stone undoubtedly should not have published an article that had inconsistencies, the fact that Jackie got some details wrong is not reason for the rest of us to throw out her entire story. Victims of trauma often have trouble remembering the exact nature of their assault, including the date on which it occurred, for which my own story of sexual assault should serve as a case in point. This is the nature of trauma: It makes forgetting easy, because forgetting is exactly what a traumatized person wants to do. It’s a coping mechanism.

As I’ve said before, I think it’s highly likely that Jackie was raped – and it’s worth noting that neither Jackie nor her friends have claimed that she was not assaulted. But, to my mind, that could lead to minor inconsistencies, or a mixed up time-line, or lots of details being wrong. But remembering that you were pinned down on a pile of broken glass, referred to as “it” and repeatedly raped with quite precise details filled in leads me to scratch my head. Anne J. Jacobson stresses that Jackie’s memory of that night could have been severely warped by whatever trauma she actually endured:

Ordinary people often enough take the fact that we have memories to show that we have recording devices inside us that somehow secure most of the details of our experiences. There are several reasons why this is false. If nothing else, calling up a memory and then restoring it alters it a bit. And memory follows vision in getting the gist of things better than getting the precise details down. There was a recent NY Times OpEd by two top researcher on memory and its fallibility. Given what we know about memory, we should expect this young woman’s memory to be gappy and to have errors. And even more so considering the trauma of the experience she was reporting. Because an organization was named by her, it may be that a reporter aware of recent memory research should have checked it.

The evidence of some trauma happening to Jackie is strong, as a former roommate explains:

I fully support Jackie, and I believe wholeheartedly that she went through a traumatizing sexual assault. I remember my first semester here, and I remember Jackie’s. Jackie came to UVA bright, happy and bubbly. She was kind, funny, outgoing, friendly, and a pleasant person to be around. That all notably changed by December 2012, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Our suite bonded that first semester and talked many times about the new troubles we were facing in college. Jackie never mentioned anything about her assault to us until much later. But I, as well as others, noticed Jackie becoming more and more withdrawn and depressed. …

Sometime that year I remember her letting it slip to me that she had had a terrible experience at a party. I remember her telling me that multiple men had assaulted her at this party. She didn’t say anything more. It seemed that was all she’d allow herself to say. I wish I had done something sooner. I wish I had known how to help. But I applaud Jackie for telling her story, now two years later. It was a story that needed to be told.

But if the story is not true, does it still deserve to be told? And do the people inevitably incriminated by it not have a right to respond?

Illiberal Feminism Strikes Again, Ctd

Judith Levine has a must-read on the intellectual climate that prompted some to attack any early skepticism of the Rolling Stone story:

On Jezebel, Anna Merlan expressed her opinion with characteristic Jezebelian eloquence: “‘Is the UVA Rape Story a Gigantic Hoax?’ Asks Idiot” And typically, readers chimed in with gender-baiting: “But never mind Erdely’s months of work. Two guys who have no idea what they’re talking about don’t believe it. Case closed.”  “Newsflash: Most libertarians are misogynist/racist white men.”

Lovely, innit? The way in which these individuals use race and gender as ipso facto damning aspects of people’s identities does not seem to jolt them into any self-awareness. These crusaders against bigotry are awfully fond of it when it can be used to dismiss critics. But what I see most acutely is the sense – prevalent on the left these days – that there are no fair-minded people out there, that all men are potential rapists or rape-denialists, that patriarchy is so powerful there’s no chance at all that someone could actually believe, say, that there is a serious rape crisis on many campuses but that the Rolling Stone story is too flawed a piece of journalism to defend:

Which is to say that these writers are not liberals in any meaningful sense of the word. Deep down, they simply don’t believe people are open to persuasion. Which is why they need to rely on graphic exaggerations, emotional blackmail or endless circles of victimology to make their case. So anyone who might question the specific details of an alleged rape are “rape-denialists” or “rape-truthers” rather than, you know, journalists. And that particularly includes women who may not tow toe the party line:

Vanquished bodies litter the blogosphere. Canadian journalist Anna Duckworth knew CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi well; he’d been her generous mentor for years. So when accusations began to surface that he had sexually brutalized numerous women, she spoke up. She stressed that she didn’t think his accusers were lying. All she asked was that her friend be assumed innocent until proven guilty.

Duckworth’s attackers “made me feel great shame for coming to Jian’s defense,” she wrote on Huffington Post. “Some went as far as to call people like me misogynists, victim blamers and perpetrators of rape culture.” In a short piece, the word “shame” appeared six times.

Over the years, Cathy Young, a Newsday columnist and contributor to Reason, has written and spoken widely on false accusations of rape and the threats to justice in a kind of overzealous feminist jurisprudence. Young is a feminist who also cherishes individual liberty (you can’t blame her; she grew up in the Soviet Union). Her reporting is meticulous. She never claims that rape is not real, though she is interested in why someone might lie. But Young’s work is repeatedly twisted and she is tarred as, among other things, an “anti-feminist victim blamer.”

I also feel that this climate subtly makes errors like the Rolling Stone story more likely. And Lizzie Crocker fears that culture of victimhood is making it more difficult to find the truth behind stories like Jackie’s:

The problem with valorizing the victim, as a “victim culture” does, is that anything that runs contrary to the victim’s narrative is cast as an attack on that person. Question them, and you are colluding in exacerbating the awful effects of their trauma. Question their actions or motives and you are “victim shaming” and “victim blaming.”

Of course, the flip-side of a victim is a bully, and it is notable that today, everyone rushes to be a victim—the right wing under attack from the left, the left under attack from the right, bigots still seeking to attack gay people, and claiming they cannot voice their bigotry. “Playing the victim” used to be a term of scorn, now it’s a daily modus operandi to score any number of political and cultural points. Question those taking on the mantle of victimhood and you are immediately cast as some kind of aggressive, unfeeling oppressor.

The sad consequence of a culture of victimhood is that it obscures real victims and obscures the genuinely felt experiences of those victims, whatever they have endured.

Couldn’t put it better myself. Previous Dish on illiberal feminism here. Update from a reader, who notes the classy apology from Merlan (which we highlighted last week) and makes some key distinctions:

I appreciate this discussion, I really do.  But as a person who has voraciously consumed everything I could find on the UVA story, I feel it important to note that once the Rolling Stone story was retracted, Anna Merlan offered a sincere apology to both Richard Bradley and Robby Soave.  I think all of us have gone off half-cocked at some point in our lives, and Merlan showed some class by owning up to her mistake and apologizing.

I will add that that while there has been some of the usual illiberal ranting and raving (see e.g. Marcotte), there has also  been a lot of great writing on the RS piece by feminists and liberals at DoubleX, TNR, Feministing, and the New Yorker, among others.  It seems that quite a few liberals, leftists, and feminists still care about the truth.   That has been an enormous relief and so gratifying to see.  I had begun to wonder if the left believed the narrative really was more important than the truth.   I’m relieved to see that many people on the left still think the facts are important, and are still dedicated to getting those facts right.

I was one of your first subscribers, and I’ll be the last one to bail. Just keep doing what you’re doing.