Not So Credible Analysts of Campus Rape

One striking element of the debate over sexual assault on campus is the almost complete lack of credibility for those whose predictions or observations have failed to stand the test of time. Two examples:

The first came in a piece from anthropologist Barbara King, a blogger for NPR. King delivered a pretty standard “rape culture” posting, praising California’s notorious “affirmative consent” bill and recommending a Wesleyan proposal to move away from single-sex fraternities. Somewhat typically for this type of item, King also dismissed Christina Hoff Sommers’ concerns with the assault on campus due process as placing “primary attention on exactly the wrong thing” and “a stunning dismissal of the statistical realities.”

To bolster her arguments, King cited the opinions of Peggy Reeves Sanday, who rejoiced that “enforceable legal guidelines favoring evidence of affirmative consent on some campuses” would help “to make campus sexual cultures more equitable and by so doing change the broader understanding of the meaning of sexual equality.”

Reeves Sanday has experience in writing about the relationship between due process and campus sexual assault. But her experience would seem to make her uniquely unsuited to serve as a credible analyst on the question. The NYU Press describes the most recent edition of her book (2007) with the following blurb: “Sanday updates the incidences of fraternity gang rape on college campuses today, highlighting such recent cases as that of Duke University and others in the headlines.”

Of course, the lacrosse case was not an incident of “gang rape,” or any type of rape. (And the lacrosse team wasn’t a fraternity.) Yet despite Reeves Sanday’s willingness to mistakenly frame the case as a rape–and her unwillingness to reflect on the reasons for her erroneous judgments–she still is seen as credible to comment on campus sexual assault. She gives, it appears, the answers that the politically correct want to hear.

The second example came late last week, from Washington Post columnist George Will. Will published a passionate defense of campus due process, suggesting that the assault on due process flowed from the “progressive” groupthink at too many schools. The piece triggered an expected wave of outrage from “activists” and their sympathizers among the commentariat. Less expectedly, Will’s column also generated a sharp attack from four U.S. senators.

Will’s reply to the senators speaks for itself–he noted the absurdity of their criticizing his column for misusing statistics when he used the administration’s own statistics to debunk the claim that 20 percent of college women will be raped.

It’s hard to imagine, however, that the senators had any credibility to challenge Will in the first place. Here are policymakers who purport to believe that college campuses are facing an unprecedented crime wave–with a higher violent crime rate than that of the most crime-ridden areas of Baltimore or Detroit–and yet do not appear to have recommended any increased presence of law enforcement on campus. If they truly believe their figures, as their response to Will suggests, how do they justify their apparent position that this wave of violent crime requires noincreased presence from law enforcement?


  • 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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