The Center for Public Integrity has launched a major new investigative series on the dangers of unpunished sexual assault on the nation’s college and university campuses. The basic thesis of the series: “One national study funded by the Justice Department found that one in five women who attend college will become the victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. But students reporting sexual assault routinely say they face a host of institutional barriers in pursuing the on-campus remedies meant to keep colleges and universities safe, according to a nine-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. The result, say experts, is a widespread feeling that justice isn’t being served, and may not even be worth pursuing.”
This isn’t investigative reporting: it’s advocacy journalism at its most blatant. The series uncritically accepts the finding of the (unnamed) “national study funded by the Justice Department” (of which the CPI website does not provide a copy) claiming that one in five women are victims of a violent crime (either rape or attempted rape) during their four years on campus.
To provide some perspective on the dubious nature of this figure: as of 2005, 57% of all college students were women. If 20% of them are victims of violent crime by the time they graduate, that means over a four-year period, around 11.5 percent of all students on the typical college campus will be victims of rape or attempted rape. On an annual basis, the figure would be around 2.7% of students.
How does that rate of violent crime compare to that of Detroit, generally considered the most high-crime city in the United States? Based on 2006 figures, around .06% of the women in Detroit were victims of rape. Around 2.2% of the citizens of Detroit were victims of violent crime (the majority of these crimes were aggravated assault)
Did the CPI consider it at all odd that its “investigative” series uncritically accepted a report claiming that the average annual rate of rape and sexual assault on college campuses is higher than the rate of all violent crimes in Detroit? Or that its articles suggest that a woman is around 45 times more likely to be the victim of rape or attempted rape on a college campus than in a high-crime city like Detroit? The CPI website doesn’t include contact information for series reporters Kristin Jones and Kristen Lombardi or the editors of the series.
It’s possible, of course, that the centers for violent crime in our society are, in fact, not very poor urban areas but elite college campuses. This trend, alas, appears to have been missed by virtually every police department, politician, and media figure in the United States—except, of course, for the CPI, and for “victims’ rights” advocates nationwide.
Most of the CPI series consists of interviews with current and former college students who say they were raped, along with various “victims’ rights” advocates and (generally sympathetic) college deans who accept their stories. The CPI series does not contain quotes from any defense attorneys, or from representatives or organizations such as FIRE, which have great experience with the flaws of campus judicial processes.
Each CPI article features quotes from accusers (who are, at least, named, contrary to normal media procedure) suggesting that they were treated unfairly by college judicial processes. There’s virtually no way to independently corroborate these claims (in virtually its only credible argument, the CPI series notes there should be greater transparency in college judicial processes), yet there’s reason to take them with a grain of salt. As any reader of The Shadow University knows, these “judicial” processes are heavily tilted in favor of the accuser: they generally require a lower burden of proof than in criminal cases; they almost always prohibit the accused from having legal representation in the hearing; and they often inappropriately limit the type of format of questions that can be asked of accusers.
Perhaps, as the CPI articles suggest, we need to tilt these processes even further in favor of accusers. (That’s what Duke currently plans to do.) But it’s certainly biased journalism not to take into account the due process problems that have been exposed with college judicial processes.
The CPI’s series seems to envision college judicial processes as a fallback option for rape accusers who aren’t satisfied with the criminal justice system, or for instances when police or prosecutors conclude that insufficient evidence substantiates a rape accuser’s version of events, or even for occasions when a jury finds a college student not guilty of an on-campus rape. Writes Lombardi, “Experts [who Lombardi doesn’t name] say the reasons are simple: Most cases involving campus rape allegations come down to he-said-she-said accounts of sexual acts that clearly occurred; they lack independent corroboration like physical evidence or eyewitness testimony. At times, alcohol and drugs play such a central role, students can’t remember details. Given all this, says Gary Pavela, who ran judicial programs at the University of Maryland, College Park, ‘A prosecutor says, “I’m not going to take this to a jury.’ Often, the only venues in which to resolve these cases are on campus.”
Can the CPI seriously suggest that we need a back-up “venue” to “resolve” cases for which a prosecutor has concluded that no physical evidence exists and for which the accuser “can’t remember details”?