Since 2011, as part of its settlement with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Yale has published biannual reports that provide brief summaries of each sexual assault allegation at the university. (Yale is the only university in the country to have such an obligation.) I’ve analyzed each of these reports, issued by the office of Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler.
Previous reports have revealed such items as: the “resolution” of a complaint against a professor, whose chair then would “monitor” him, even though he was never even informed of the complaint; odd investigations based on anonymous complaints—and sometimes with anonymous targets; concerns that Yale was using Title IX to trump university members’ free speech rights; the punishment of a student that even Yale’s due process-unfriendly system had found not culpable for the allegations against him; and students charged under a vague standard that included “emotional or economic abuse” by “roommates.”
The newest Spangler Report, covering all incidents in the first six months of this year, has just been released. The report is unusually bare-bones, even by Yale’s standards, but it does provide insight on two broader statistical debates about sexual assault on campus.
The 1-in-5 Claim
Between January 1 and June 30, six Yale undergraduates, or 0.2 percent of the 2678 female undergraduates at the university, filed sexual assault complaints with the school. (Three graduate students did so, and there were three complaints filed by non-Yale affiliates.) Of these complaints, only three were reported to the Yale Police Department. (None appear to have been reported to the New Haven Police Department.) Three more were formally handled through Yale’s University-Wide Committee (UWC), a due process-unfriendly procedure that I’ve written about previously. In sharp contrast to past years, zero cases were handled through informal complaints, a process that doesn’t promise an accused student the right to present evidence of his innocence. (This is the process that ensnared former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt.) But the newest Spangler Report suggests that the informal complaint procedure has effectively been replaced by the Title IX coordinator, from whom seven of the thirteen overall cases proceeded.
To place that statistic in context: the majority of sexual assault cases in the first six months of 2015 were handled by a Yale administrator whose job depends in part on keeping the university in OCR’s good graces, and without any procedural protections, of any type, for an accused student. (Under Yale procedures, an accuser can still file a formal complaint after working through the Title IX office.)
What of the sexual assault cases filed by undergraduate students? One of the six, the Spangler Report reveals, was simply withdrawn. So the university actually considered five undergraduate sexual assault cases in the first six months of 2015.
Of these five, one undergraduate was found culpable of “nonconsensual sexual activity.” His punishment? Probation and received a written reprimand—making it hard to believe the allegations he faced resembled what most people consider to be sexual assault. A second case couldn’t be substantiated by even the Title IX coordinator. A third accuser made a complaint (of “sexual touching”), identified the alleged party, but then withdrew the complaint—after which point the accused student nonetheless received a minor punishment (having to undergo “training on sexual consent”). A fourth case is still pending. The fifth involved a case in which the person accused, who was arrested by the Yale Police Department, wasn’t a Yale student.
This list confirms Spangler’s caution that Yale defines sexual assault in a way that “encompass[es] broad ranges of behavior,” since the university “uses a more expansive definition of sexual assault” than does the federal government (or the New Haven Police Department). Indeed, of the five January-June cases in which a Yale undergraduate alleged that another Yale undergraduate sexually assaulted her, none would appear to constitute “sexual assault” as the term is commonly understood.
According to the university’s own figures, then, the 0.2 percent sexual assault percentage is, if anything, too high for the January-June period. The commonly cited 1-in-5 statistic, on the other hand, would suggest that there should have been at least 67 complaints of actual sexual assault—instead of, at most, (depending on what precisely was charged in the case involving the non-Yale accused party) one. As we all know, sexual assault is an under-reported crime. But it would seem there are few environments nationally as favorable to victims filing complaints than the Yale University bureaucracy—which, after all, dramatically expands the definition of what constitutes sexual assault and still can’t get anywhere close to what would be expected from the 1-in-5 figure.
The Reports and False Rape Claims
A robust debate (from which I’ve largely abstained) exists over the question of what percentage of college rape reports are false. But clearly some percentage are false; even the now-discredited David Lisak conceded the falsity of around 6 percent of rape claims. It’s plausible to infer that the percentage of false claims on college campuses would be higher than in the general public. A situation in which communities of 18- to 22-year-olds living together might provide motives for false claims that are less common elsewhere. (Consider the Amherst case: making an almost certainly false claim gave the accuser an excuse for seducing her roommate’s boyfriend to the friends she lost, and an opportunity to fit in in with her new circle of friends, who were extreme victims’ rights advocates.) In any case, there’s no reason to believe that false rape reports occur at a lower percentage on college campuses than elsewhere.
Since July 2011, according to the Spangler Reports, there have been at least 92 sexual assault claims filed by Yale students (undergraduate and graduate), along with 18 cases of “intimate partner violence,” which the reports started distinguishing from sexual assault claims beginning in July 2013. With around 100 claims, therefore, it stands to reason that at least a few Yale students would have been found to have filed false reports. Instead, since July 2011, there have been zero students disciplined for filing a false report. There have been zero students who even faced a hearing for filing a false report.
The current Spangler Report does, however, contain a first: the disposition of false report allegation. The outcome? “The UWC found no factual basis for the respondent’s complaint and therefore did not accept jurisdiction.” In other words, the student didn’t even have the opportunity to present his evidence in a hearing. This is one of only five sexual assault-related claims since 2011 in which the Yale UWC has refused to “accept jurisdiction.” The other four involved two cases where the accused student had already withdrawn from the university; one where the accuser hadn’t provided sufficient information in her complaint; and one where an accuser appears to have refiled a claim that the UWC already had adjudicated and rejected. The current rejection, therefore, is the only one for which the UWC declined to proceed because it wouldn’t consider the specific allegations made by the student.
This result isn’t in any way surprising. Enormously powerful incentives exist for universities not to adjudicate false report cases, ranging from the benign (a fear that doing so might discourage actual victims from reporting) to the less defensible (an administration’s fear of almost-certain protests from certain quarters of the faculty, campus activists, or their allies in the media). But Yale’s handling of this issue provides a reminder that in the university environment, there’s virtually no possibility that a student who files a false rape report will be punished. That the system, on the other end, provides insufficient procedural protections for a falsely accused student to defend himself dramatically increases the chances of campus tribunals rendering unjust results on this issue.
Finally, the current Spangler Report contains an item that illustrates the potential danger to all in an environment like the current one on college campuses. An administrator informed the Title IX coordinator of a “rumor” that a graduate student inappropriately “engaged in personal relationships with undergraduate students.” Again: a rumor. The Title IX officer investigated and concluded that she “could not substantiate the allegations.” But she nonetheless “referred the matter to the respondent’s supervisor for additional oversight.”
Maybe the student behaved inappropriately. But it’s possible that this was an allegation leveled with ill intent. Either way, Yale’s Title IX office took an action that at least risked damaging the relationship between a graduate student and his supervisor—a relationship that’s critical to the student’s future career prospects—based on what the Title IX coordinator herself conceded was an unsubstantiated rumor.