Why do high-profile campus rape stories keep falling apart?

A page from “A Rape on Campus,” published in the December 2014 issue of Rolling Stone. (Reuters)

A page from “A Rape on Campus,” published in the December 2014 issue of Rolling Stone. (Reuters)

An excerpt from this article in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/06/02/why-do-high-profile-campus-rape-stories-keep-falling-apart/

At Slate, Emily Yoffe digs into the one of the poster cases for the anti-campus rape advocacy film “The Hunting Ground” and finds some devastating flaws in how the movie portrays what happened.

[Kamilah] Willingham’s story is not an illustration of a sexual predator allowed to run loose by self-interested administrators. The record shows that what happened that night was precisely the kind of spontaneous, drunken encounter that administrators who deal with campus sexual assault accusations say is typical. (The filmmakers, who favor David Lisak’s poorly substantiated position that our college campuses are rife with serial rapists, reject the suggestion that such encounters are the source of many sexual assault allegations.) Nor is Willingham’s story an example of official indifference. Harvard did not ignore her complaints; the school thoroughly investigated them. And because of her allegations, the law school education of her alleged assailant has been halted for the past four years.

I’ll let you read Yoffe’s article to understand why the allegations against the man don’t hold up.

But this all raises an important question. I think the activists on this issue are mistaken when they say that we’re in the midst of a campus rape crisis. The data just don’t support the notion. And the studies that do have some serious flaws. The results produced by this debate are also troubling: Colleges and universities are essentially pulling an end-around the criminal justice system, adjudicating sexual assault cases on their own, on terms more favorable to the accusing party. The punishment isn’t as severe, but it can still be pretty devastating for the wrongly accused. And the guilty aren’t put away to protect society, but merely banished from campus to protect the students who pay tuition.

That said, there’s obviously no doubt that campus rape happens. The nature of the crime makes it extraordinarily difficult to assess its frequency. From the studies I’ve seen, it seems safe to say that it isn’t nearly as frequent as the one-in-five figure often raised by activists, but it happens often enough that there are likely thousands of assaults on campus every year. It’s also easy to sympathize with frustrations over how difficult rape can be to prove, especially those assaults that don’t produce any physical injury. And because rape can be so hard to prove, there’s no doubt that there are thousands of cases in which a rape actually occurred and for which the perpetrator was never disciplined, criminally, administratively or any other way.

So here’s my question: Given that there are so many legitimate incidents to choose from, why have so many high-profile cases ultimately fallen apart?

If you were to ask an average person today to name a prominent story about rape on college campuses, odds are pretty good that among the top four or five replies would be the Duke lacrosse case, the Rolling Stone cover story about Jackie and the University of Virginia, Columbia University “mattress girl” Emma Sulkowicz and one of the stories from “The Hunting Ground.” Yet in all of these stories, either the accusations were later shown to be a complete fabrication or at least serious questions were raised about them.

Each time a new high-profile story falls apart, a larger portion of the public becomes less likely to believe the next one. (It would be nice to think that we’d evaluate these stories on their own merits. But that isn’t how we tend to process contentious issues.) The anti-campus rape activists often claim that false accusations of sexual assault are practically nonexistent. (“Anti-campus rape activists” is a necessary but admittedly clumsy term. Every sane person is obviously opposed to campus rape. And even among activists who have made campus rape their issue, there is dissent and disagreement about strategy, priorities and reform.) But that so many of the accusations that they themselves have chosen as emblems of the cause have been proved false or debatable suggests that they’re either wrong about the frequency of false accusations or that the movement itself has had some extraordinarily bad luck.

Read the entire piece HERE

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