How Should We Respond to the UVA Case?

The Rolling Stone exposé of an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia (and the university’s indifferent response) has received enormous attention. Three pieces analyzing events in Charlottesville and recommending solutions are particularly worthy of note.

First, writing in Slate, Dahlia Lithwick (one of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s favorite legal commentators) noted that the case showed a problem in his colleges handled sexual assault questions: the school’s associate dean of students, who oversees UVA’s disciplinary process, “was tasked with handling sexual assault in a non-criminal, survivor-centered, confidential, internal setting, and she is now on the hook for not having run a crack Special Victims Unit.” Lithwick approvingly quoted from FIRE’s Samantha Harris and from an excellent earlier piece by Michelle Goldberg in The Nation, and expressed doubt that “universities are moving toward solving the campus rape problem.” She further demonstrates at least some skepticism about a system in which a felony offense can “be kept out of the police’s hands,” one in which accusers are “presented with a menu of choices that includes, and even encourages, doing nothing.”

While Lithwick didn’t carry her questions to their logical point—a query of why Title IX has been interpreted to order universities to investigate this and only this felony offense, and whether the approach serves anyone’s best interests—the article continues the liberal skepticism about due process matters on campus.

That pattern was also reflected in Judith Shulewitz’s excellent commentary in the New Republic. Like Lithwick, Shulewitz cautioned that the UVA case illustrated the troubling impact of campus fraternities. But Shulewitz added that those outraged by what occurred at UVA should also direct their outrage to the federal government, which has mandated a system that—at the very least implicitly—discourages victims from reporting crimes to the police. (Far better, it seems, to go through the sympathetic campus disciplinary process.) If campus bureaucrats (and the federal government) are concerned that police will not treat victims with sufficient respect, they should work with local police departments to improve service.

Shulewitz also approvingly quoted from the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which noted that “it would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process . . . Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault?” Why, indeed?

In Reason, Robby Soave expressed this point a bit more bluntly: “Treating rape as akin to plagiarism, or copying off someone else’s test, trivializes violence against women.” Soave also noted, again correctly, that if universities really wanted to do something to meet the scourge of campus rape, they’d start lobbying to lower the drinking age, to discourage binge drinking and the kind of social life structure that the Rolling Stone article profiled.

Finally, in National Review, UVA professor W. Bradford Wilcox argues that the right needs to do more on the issue than simply say that the police, rather than university disciplinary boards should adjudicate sexual assault. Some of Wilcox’s arguments—that colleges should strongly encourage accusers they believe to be truthful to report crimes to police—strike me as absolutely correct.

I’m more dubious of Wilcox’s other recommendations, which seem to envision a return to a more socially conservative campus, an approach resembling that of Times columnist Ross Douthat. But the more traditional university celebrated by Wilcox and Douthat was also one where a host of other students (most obviously openly gay and lesbian students, but also students from non-mainstream religious backgrounds) were not exactly welcomed. A major theme of my writing on this issue has been to oppose the (far more common) efforts of the campus left to exploit rape allegations to advance an unrelated agenda; there should be similar skepticism toward those on the right who seek to accomplish the same goal.


  • 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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18 thoughts on “How Should We Respond to the UVA Case?

  1. The base problem is the broad definition of “rape” used by the Titile IX bureaucrats. When that word is used to describe everything from unwanted kiss or a pat on the butt through drunken half-remembered sex to Whopie’s “rape-rape”, the college administration is caught between a rock and a hard place. Referring *all* allegations to the cops would result in many failed cases, and probably a lot more lawsuits against them. So they established star-chamber proceedings where they can punish the accused with impunity, which gets the gov’t SJW’s pushing this off their backs.

  2. When the “1 in 5” claim was first made, I had a daughter attending an enormous state university. I quickly went online to see if the claim held true at her university, using Clery reports and university crime reports. Her university had 2 in 100 women reporting sexual assaults over 5 years, not 20 in 100.

    I then looked at the same data for my alma mater, another enormous state university. Even lower numbers of criminal reports.

    I then looked at Harvard, which included unwanted verbal aggression and unwanted touches in its reports. Still nowhere near 1 in 5 over 5 years.

    I then looked at the entire Univ of California system. Nowhere near 1 in 5 over 5 years.

    The whole thing is a power grab by leftists, based on a Big Lie.

    To hell with them.

  3. But the more traditional university celebrated by Wilcox and Douthat was also one where a host of other students (most obviously openly gay and lesbian students, but also students from non-mainstream religious backgrounds) were not exactly welcomed.

    You’re never going to assemble a collection of human beings where all are ‘equally welcomed’. You did not have it in 1948 and you do not have it today. You merely have variation over time in who’s expected to suck it up.

  4. If the sexual assault epidemic on campus is as bad as President Obama and others say it is; an order of magnitude worse, in other words, than the very worst crime center in any American city, then isn’t it time to take really effective steps to fix it, like separate dorms or even separate schools? I don’t understand the lackadaisical attitude toward the problem. It’s almost as if these people tacitly think that the statistics are lies, that the problem is nowhere near that bad.

  5. The “rape” is utter nonsense. UVA, which has eleven female undergrads for every nine men, and (speaking as a Marylander who hates them) an almost Ivy-League reputation, somehow has been hosting secretive gang rapes as part of an initiation for years. This latest case involved a girl violently penetrated by seven men, and one beer bottle, while lying atop a bed of broken glass. For three hours. And there was no medical account, no hospital visits, no police report.

    Nonsense. All of it.

    I hope the frat in question has lawyers in house who are ready to sue the crap out of the reporter, Wenner Media and RS for defamation.

  6. I wish some enterprising journalist would skip the rape allegations and investigate Jackie’s story about being assaulted in a public street. According to her account, a man shouted slurs at her (Feminazi! C*%t!) and then smashed a bottle against her head, leaving her bruised.

    That’s nonsense.

    Charlottesville is a fairly genteel place. That kind of behavior in public would certainly draw witnesses. Surely there’s a police report? A hospital report? A witness or two? (And here’s a hint: many of the bars along the Corner have cameras.)

    The absence of any witnesses to this public assault really is suspicious. And why not report that attack to the police?

    This whole thing is quite obviously a hoax, but I fear we have to destroy the lives of young men, dismantle the fraternity system, and fund a whole new layer of feminist bureaucrats before that truth is allowed to become self-evident.

  7. A general observation: why is there so much emphasis regarding campus rape. Surely there are as many or more rapes within the non-University cohort. Apparently those women don’t count.

  8. Looks like Steven Glass meets the Duke lacrosse team. Don’t be surprised when this story turns out to be bogus.

  9. “also students from non-mainstream religious backgrounds) were not exactly welcomed.”

    Wait, you’re suggesting these are welcomed on typical public or elite private campuses today? That wasn’t my experience.

  10. This story seems to be falling apart. A half century ago, I was a fraternity member and am well aware of the hostility toward them by university administrations. If the alumni of fraternities were not substantial donors eventually, they would probably be outlawed before this.

  11. Like others, I’m perplexed by the story.RS didn’t seem to be very interested in being more than an echo chamber.I guess all I can say is a lot more will leak over the next several months
    Reading my post,it seems kind of vapid,but both sides are so horrific ( a planned gang rape vs a fraudulent reporting of same ), I am just frozen in despair

  12. The whole university kangaroo court for campus rape allegations is ridiculous. All these allegations should be reported to law enforcement and investigation and trial should be left up to the criminal justice system, which doesn’t have a vested interest in hushing things up and also provides due process protection to the accused.

    There is no need to expel or suspend someone who is in prison.

  13. “it would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process . . . Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault?”

    It’s all about victim status and punishing the accused. Keeping it out of the judicial system; which must rely on such trivial things as due process, burden of proof, and evidence; allows “victims” to claim whatever they want without having to provide anything more than an accusation.

  14. One can only imagine what would have happened in the 2006 infamous Duke Lacrosse rape case had the new Title IX procedures been in effect. Students were involved, albeit not the complainant, but the resulting atmosphere on the Duke campus would have ended (moreso than it did) the accused students futures had they faced the Title IX hearing – as opposed to being charged by a DA with an election to win.

  15. Wondering why you chose not to write about the rush to judgment that has been going on and that resembles the Duke Lacrosse case so very much given that the article presents no evidence that the allegations are true other than Jackie’s word.

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