A Bizarre Report on Campus Rape


As “rape culture” activism heats up, reporters are demonstrating a startling credulity on the subject.  One case in point is the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s recent investigation of Title IX complaints from 2003 to 2013. The piece, entitled “Promise Unfulfilled?,” illustrates the faulty assumptions driving many journalists who cover campus sexual assault .

The nearly 3000-word article, by Jonah Newman and Libby Sanders, advances the following thesis: the fact that only 10 percent of Office of Civil Rights complaints filed in the past decade led to settlements is evidence of “a process that…can be fraught with confusion and conflicting expectations, and often brings unsatisfying outcomes.” It makes that argument, however, in an unusual fashion.

First, and most obvious, the article never mentions–not even once(!)–the  OCR’s 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter which demanded that colleges lower the threshold for convicting accused rapists , even as the piece addresses the years both before and after the OCR unilaterally, and dramatically, reinterpreted federal law. This oversight is particularly baffling given that many Title IX accusers wish to force adoption of new policies that increase the likelihood of colleges branding some of their students rapists. A pre-2011 complaint (when the OCR still respected due process on sexual matters) would obviously yield a different outcome than a filing made after 2011 filing, the period in which the agency has all but declared war on due process.

It seem obviously relevant that the OCR now interprets Title IX as requiring colleges to use the lowest threshold to establish guilt and to allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings; and that the agency strongly discourages colleges from allowing an accused student (who often is forbidden access to counsel) from cross-examining his accuser (even when the accuser is the only witness). But readers of this article would have no way of knowing that the basic definition of Title IX has transformed in the last couple of years.

Second, Newman and Sanders include this passage, regarding a Title IX complaint against Amherst: “Amherst had strong policies in place, the team concluded. But in some cases, like hers, those procedures hadn’t worked very well.”

The linked report doesn’t use the phrase “strong policies”; rather, this appears to be Newman and Sanders’ own description. And what precisely are these “strong policies“? As with virtually all Title IX articles, Newman and Sanders don’t explain Amherst’s actual policies, which include: a biased jury pool (“all Hearing Board members will have prior experience in, and will receive annually training regarding, the dynamics of sexual misconduct”); a minimal standard of guilt (preponderance-of-evidence); an inability of the accused student to cross-examine his accuser (“The Respondent’s questions must be directed through the Chair. The Chair will ask the Complainant those questions that are deemed relevant.”); and no legal representation for the accused student during the hearing (“Attorneys cannot participate in the Hearing Board process.”)

Does a “strong” policy mean one that denies basic due process? This sort of “hard-news” editorializing might be expected from Katie Baker in BuzzFeed.

Third, consider the jarring manner in which Newman and Sanders start their article: “In a recent surge of demands that colleges step up their response to rape, students have put their faith in the federal civil-rights law known as Title IX.” Yet as Newman and Sanders surely know, colleges define sexual assault far more broadly than the criminal definition of “rape.” While Yale’s assertion that intimate partner violence includes such offenses as “economic abuse” might be extreme, few if any colleges define sexual assault as simply “rape.”

If, however, colleges need to “step up their response to rape,” perhaps the more appropriate question might be one left unasked by Newman and Sanders. None of the accusers in their article appear to have filed a complaint with the police. Is there something wrong with college culture that is discouraging victims of violent crime to seek support from law enforcement? Perhaps colleges should address this issue first.

(Photo credit: ThinkProgress.)


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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3 thoughts on “A Bizarre Report on Campus Rape

  1. It probably doesn’t matter what the definitions are or whether or not the staff involved are biased. At least where I work ( a university in the Southern Tier of NY, there is little chance that there will be a written record or a report of violations or civil rights violations.
    Why? Because the Affirmative Action Officer (now called Chief Diversity Officer) goes to great lengths to dissuade those reporting violations from filing any formal written grievance. Using a range of techniques from subtle dissuading to overtly telling people they will end up more damaged with a formal grievance than her informal process (which entails chatting with her for weeks, months with no potential for resolution because she is not even chatting with all parties involved). Anyone reporting anything to this Officer is truly a victim because he/her is victimized by the Officer who obstructs any attempt at justice by withholding the grievance process from those seeking help.
    But that is not all! There’s more. Most unfortunate is the fact that the university knows the officer is corrupt but has done nothing but give her more responsibility. How do we know that the university knows she is corrupt? Because it is public. Read “The Kaye Report” (Google it). The report details how she used her position as an Affirmative Action officer to pressure admissions to admit students who were not qualified academically. By asking questions, and by virtue of her position as the Affirmative Action Officer, she knew that interjecting herself into the admissions process implied that not accepting the students would be (in this case) racist/discriminatory. It implied that there were complaints alleging discrimination she knew and was using to get her way.
    Now that is dishonest which is bad enough but that isn’t all it is. It is egregious unethical conduct and hurtful to everyone else who has experienced true discrimination. Somebody who hurts people who have experience discrimination should not have a position where she is charged with oversight of civiil rights. Anyone who has actually experienced racism or discrimination fears that others will think it is a trumped up excuse to get something-to game a system. In fact, discrimination is under-reported because people don’t think they will be believed. They worry others will think they are doing exactly what this Affirmative Action Officer knew she was doing. So we have this Affirmative Action Officer who was caught implying discrimination to get her way when she knew that was a flat out lie.
    Her conduct makes reporting actual violations so much harder for those who have actually already been harmed. She contributes to that notion that civil rights complaints are simply ways for people who are not qualified for something to get their way. The other way she makes things more difficult for those who have been harmed already is by dissuading them from filing a report that would initiate a grievance. And she has one more trick up her sleeve for brave souls who do file. If she hasn’t scared the heck out of the victim already, she simply doesn’t act on written reports. Bet when she retires they will find a stack of unread grievances.
    Can you believe that an Affirmative Action Officer who uses her position to imply discrimination when she knows there is no such thing happening-but does so in order to pressure staff to accept specific basketball players she want accepted, would retain her job-would be promoted?

  2. “The poisoning of faction, that mortal disease that popular governments everywhere have perished”. JM, Fed #9, 1787.

  3. One of the most telling points about proponents of the new sexual assault policies is that they have vastly extended the definition of sexual assault but, as you point out, still begin their advocacy with
    “In a recent surge of demands that colleges step up their response to rape, students have put their faith in the federal civil-rights law known as Title IX.”
    This is not a small detail. If the number of confirmed cases of rape at a college is four with two of them off campus and by strangers, it takes a great deal of license to push the number to five hundred.
    When confronted they simply equate all instances of what falls under their greatly expanded definition of sexual assault. Such instances range from the case of a stranger dragging the victim into an alley at 1 am, beating the victim to a pulp and raping her at gunpoint, to the case of a male student who continues to ask out a woman who has made it clear she is not interested. It follows that since all assaults are equivalent, that means the latter case falls under the category of rape.
    Unfortunately, this insanity is not self-correcting as the most likely university response is to hire more sexual violence investigators and rape crisis counselors. This only necessitates more wild claims of sexual assault to justify their increased budgets.

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