New Data Refutes ‘Rape Culture’ Activists

The Washington Post has helpfully compiled a table, using Clery Act statistics, of allegations of campus sexual assaults in 2012 (the last year for which figures are available, including all schools with 1000 or more students). To put it mildly, the data do not substantiate White House claims of a virtually unprecedented violent crime wave on today’s college campuses. The data also, as Reason has observed, suggest that reports of sexual assault are on the decline, further calling into question the “rape culture” panic that has emerged since the 2011“Dear Colleague” letter.

First, consider the schools with the most forcible sex offenses per 1000 students. Most of the schools that ranked the worst were small, residential, liberal arts colleges: Grinnell, Reed, Amherst, Hampshire, Swarthmore, and Connecticut College. Only one school in this list (Grinnell, 1.1 percent) had more than 1 percent of the student body reporting a forcible sex offense. The percentage of students at the other institutions—again, schools with the highest percentage of reported cases—ranged anywhere from 0.6 percent to 0.9 percent. (Note that these figures apply to reported cases, not to convictions.) Assuming that female students are 50 percent of the student body (underestimating the actual total) and that every reported instance actually was a crime, these figures would range from 4.8 percent to 8.8 percent of female students subjected to sexual assault—far below the 20 percent claimed by the administration. And, again, these totals come from the handful of schools with the highest reported percentage of cases.

Beyond the percentages, consider the schools with the most total forcible sex offenses in 2012. By far the highest was Penn State (56), followed by Michigan (34), Harvard, Indiana, Emory, Stanford, UNC, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Apart from Emory and Stanford, each of these schools has more than 28,000 students, suggesting that their rate of violent crime is not dissimilar from that of the general public—which, the current rhetoric implies, is not facing a comparable wave of violent crime.

Nor is there much evidence of a major uptick in violent crime. At a handful of schools (Penn State, Grinnell, BYU), the number of offenses rose considerably between 2010 and 2012. But at other schools (UCLA, Virginia, Kentucky), the number of offenses dropped considerably. At other schools (Wisconsin, Cal-Berkeley), the number of offenses rose between 2010 and 2011, but then dropped in 2012.

In addition, dozens of schools reported fewer than 10 total forcible sex offenses between 2010 and 2012.

There obviously are caveats here. Some percentage—though, of course, no one can know how many—of sexual assaults aren’t reported, and thus never would reach Clery Act stats. (That said, as AEI’s Mark Perry has explained, based on this data to reach the administration’s 1-in-5 claim would require an underreporting percentage far larger than even the White House Task Force claimed.) Moreover, given the efforts of some schools or activists (Yale’s “informal complaint” procedure, Stanford’s Michele Dauber with her celebrating of a system that seeks to channel accusers away from law enforcement) effectively discourage accusers from filing police reports, which would get offenses into the Clery Act pipeline. And some schools (such as UNLV and UNC-Greensboro, as the Post’s Nick Anderson pointed out) have hard-to-believe figures of zero offenses in a three-year period, suggesting that these institutions might not be diligent in reporting requirements.

But the gap between these figures and an emergency that requires decimating due process protections for accused students is so wide that it’s hard to ignore. Yet another reason to doubt the good faith of the Task Force effort.


  • 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.

10 thoughts on “New Data Refutes ‘Rape Culture’ Activists

  1. I’m afraid that the “culture of rape” nonsense amalgamates too many liberal shibboleths to be allowed to fall. Plus, let us never forget, it’s an election year, and it’s hard to pander to the downtrodden if there aren’t any!

  2. One month ago, Harvard conducted a survey of graduating seniors that showed 12% of women were victims of sexual assault, 2% of men were victims of sexual assault and 16% reported their sexual assault. In the details of the survey, it appears that by “sexual assault,” the survey was referring to “rape,” which makes sense given the high level of reporting.

    The presidential task force cites something like 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted (rape + other unwanted sexual behavior) and 1 in 9 will be raped. This equates to 11%, which is in line with Harvard’s very recent statistics.

    IMO, the above article is of poor quality. The Clery reports as nearly everyone (but the Washington Post) knows are incredibly inaccurate. The Clery statistics are so bad that in general, the higher the rape incidents, the better the school when it comes to reporting. The lower the rape incidents, the worse the school is when it comes to encouraging students to come forward.

    IMO, to use the gap between the Clery reports and the task force data as a reason to question the task force data is indeed poor logic. There are certainly people with an agenda of minimizing the campus rape problem who will write poorly researched articles that will call into question the quality of an entire online journal.

    1. You should bother to read where the “Presidential Task Force” gets its numbers. Go to, find the appropriate link, pull up the task force paper, find their use of the stat, look at the footnote. Now, pull up an academic database and find the article, the article will then link to a survey. The survey was done in 2006 on the web with an 11% response rate, they were paid in gift cards. The survey included as “sexual assault” (not rape btw) being “pestered” into sex, any attempted sexual assault, unwanted touching, and all years preceding college. It’s bogus, it’s wrong, it’s conflated. Do the minimum amount of research before you cite it, seriously. Do you think this meme is anything but political?

  3. The Clery Act statistics are complete garbage from a social science perspective, and there are absolutely no conclusions that can be drawn from them. Most notably, the Clery Act only covers on-campus property, along with some adjacent public space and private property (of recognized Greek houses). So a student raped in an off-campus apartment by another student doesn’t count in the stats. That’s one reason why residential colleges have higher reported crimes rates than commuter colleges. And it makes comparisons between colleges and with other forms of reporting impossible. So, you can’t just give a few caveats, you really have to admit that the Clery Act data is worthless.

    1. As dubious as the Clery Stats quoted in the Post might be….they can’t be any worse than the NIPSVSurvey Stats which provide the foundation for both the proposed CASA legislation and recent White House “Not Alone” hysteria.

      But let us push on those Clery Stats… see where we end-up.

      There were, in 2012 @ 3500 alleged, forcible sex offenses reported across @ 1500 higher ed institutions with a total enrollment of @ 11.8M students. That is an incident rate (alleged) of .29 for every 1000 students…or @ 1 incident for every 3400 students.

      “But Wait!”, someone might say, “Sexual Assault is a horrible, traumatic crime and is typically significantly under-reported.”

      Absolutely right… So let’s say the actual assault count was not 3500, let’s say it was 500% larger than that. Let’s assume there were actually 17,000 incidents, spread across that same student population. That would give us an alleged incident rate of 1.47/1000 students …. or @ 1 incident for every 680 students.

      Well… that’s still far, far below the rates quoted by McCaskill, Blumenthal, and Grassley (to name but a few)…so let’s boost the presumed assaults all the way up to @ 104,000. That would represent a 3000% increase over the number of alleged assaults actually reported. That’s a mammoth number. And If that outrageous assumption were actually true, that means there would be 1 assault for every 113 students. And that would be terrible.

      So…since 55% of those 11.8M students are female, that means that any given female would have @ 1.6% chance of being sexually assaulted in a given collegiate year. Taken across 4 years, that would then generate an approximate 6.3% chance of being sexually assaulted sometime during a woman’s college career. But Wait! The figure being quoted by the key studies behind the McCaskill/White House hysterics tells us that there is a 20% chance of being sexually assaulted in those same 4 years.

      How is such a discrepancy possible?

      Let us consider… if the 20% chance is correct, then there would have to be NOT 3500 sexual assaults in a calendar year but rather @ 330,000. That is an insanely, horrible number. BUT is it believable? By any reasonable measure, does that make sense? Does anyone honestly believe that we are actually experiencing real sexual assaults, on campus, at a rate 100X larger than the reported rate (of alleged assaults)? The FBI reported @ 85,000 rapes nationwide in that same timeframe, does anyone actually honestly believe that 4X that number are occurring invisibly on campus? Is it even possible to believe — in this day and age, after years and years of effort specifically directed at ‘uncovering’ the hidden epidemic of sexual assaults…specifically focused on empowering women — that 327,000 women are still too intimidated, too frightened, too traumatized to tell anyone that they were so victimized?


      Rape is a horrible crime. Those who are guilty of such horrendous, felonious behavior should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest measure of the law. But… if we are not careful, the real victims of this unspeakable act will be lost in this fog of false numbers and politically-motivated outrage. And that would be the real tragedy. But it’s hard to get primetime media coverage if we restrict ourselves to reality.

  4. Does the Clery Act data distinguish between student-on-student vs stranger-on-student encounters? I ask because of the inclusion of Emory (I’m College ’02). Emory is located in an urban area and unfortunately has had incidents of non-student criminals enter campus and sexually assault women, particularly at night. I recall when I was an undergrad there were several sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults that were attributed to a serial rapist. Over the last year or so, there has been at least one more.

    This kind of criminal encounter is clearly very different than the type of sexual assault that would lead to the “dear colleague” letter. Is the government keeping this level of data or simply assuming that all college student sexual assaults are student-on-student?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *