Georgetown’s Survey Stokes the Rape Panic

Both campus rape activists and their political allies—such as Kirsten Gillibrand—have consistently championed “campus climate surveys,” which they claim are necessary to provide more data about the purported epidemic of violent crime sweeping the nation’s campuses. It’s hard to argue against more data. But these surveys always are incomplete—they never ask about campus attitudes toward due process or what rights accused students should have. Moreover, their vague questioning seems designed both to confuse attitudes as to what sexual assault is, and to intensify the panicked attitude on campus. A recent survey at Georgetown accomplished both goals.

Related: Campus Surveys Inflate Rape Statistics

The survey’s topline, stressed by Georgetown president John DeGioia: “Thirty-one percent of female undergraduate students report having experienced non-consensual sexual contact.” If true, this finding, which would represent around 780 undergraduate students alone (although nearly one-third of this total indicated their victimization occurred off-campus at a location not affiliated with the university), would suggest that the Georgetown campus is the center of violent crime in DC’s Second Police District (the area within 1500 feet of Georgetown’s campus had only 19 reports of violent crime in the last two years).

Surely President DeGioia and the DC Police are engaged in intensive discussions to address the threat; perhaps a task force will be appointed? If so, the press release from Georgetown contains no indication. In fact, there isn’t a single known case of a campus climate survey leading to a university leader demanding an increased police presence to protect his or her institution’s students. This approach doesn’t fit the agenda of a movement that wants “#copsoffcampus.”

From this survey, Georgetown has promised multiple levels of action—including focus groups, a task force, required annual training for all students, and a new resource campaign. Presumably this will all cost (including staffing) hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

As often occurs in surveys on this topic, female respondents outnumbered male, roughly 3-2. Georgetown weighted the survey for the actual total of Georgetown students without taking into consideration that the gender skew might have led to skewed results. Indeed, as occurred with the AAU surveys, internal data suggests such skewing. 22.8 percent of female undergraduates who say they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by force say they reported this incident to the university.

The figure for female undergraduates who say they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by force was 13.9 percent. According to the survey, that would mean just under 100 students made such a report. Yet according to the Clery Act database, only 25 students made such a report in the 2011, 2012, and 2013, and 2014 calendar years. This data would suggest that students who made a sexual assault report to Georgetown were substantially over-represented in the survey.

Related: Education Dept. Rules on Campus Rape Called Illegal

The data on the non-reporters was equally revealing. Around 77.2 percent of students who say they experienced nonconsensual sexual contact by force say they did not report the incident to the university. Of that total, more than 60 percent said they didn’t report because they believed what happened to them wasn’t serious enough. Perhaps large numbers of Georgetown undergraduates don’t believe sexual assault is serious. Far more likely: these students don’t consider themselves victims of sexual assault.

So what does the survey contain?

Some of the questions Georgetown asked students reflected the normal pattern of the campus sexual assault movement—framing the offense as far broader than its legal, or cultural, understanding, as a way of jacking up the final numbers. For instance, consider a question asked under the heading of “Bystander Intervention upon Witnessing Sexual Assault or Sexual Misconduct by Gender and Enrollment Status.”

77.1 percent of female undergraduates said they had “witnessed [a] drunk person heading for sexual encounter.” Consider the oddity of this question—part of a survey, recall, that’s producing enormous activities by the school. First, it asks students (who, given the context, might well have been somewhat drunk themselves) to judge the intoxication level of another student. Second, it then asks these students to anticipate what another student might or might not do. Finally, sex while drunk likely doesn’t constitute sexual assault, unless the student was incapacitated. So why is Georgetown classifying this question under “witnessing sexual assault”?

Did You Witness a Criminal Act?

At another stage, Georgetown asked whether respondents had “witnessed someone acting in sexually violent or harassing manner” (just under one-third of female undergraduates, listed as 2508 in the survey, said yes).  But these are two entirely different things—witnessing sexually violent behavior means asking whether the student witnessed a criminal act. Sexual harassment, while deplorable, isn’t criminal. Why did Georgetown choose to combine these two concepts?

The survey shows that some students appear to place themselves in very dangerous positions quite often. 1.3 percent of female undergraduates (which would translate to 32 or 33 students) say they have been the victim of “nonconsensual sexual penetration” four times or more as Georgetown students. Victims never deserve to be raped. But surely any responsible student life staff would want to know how so many students could have been victimized by violent crime so many times? This sort of question doesn’t appear to interest Georgetown.

Assaulted by a Faculty Member?

Likewise, more than 40 female students (1.7 percent) say they were sexually assaulted (extrapolating from the survey’s language, which always is risky) by a faculty member. Nothing in the current obsession with depriving accused students of due process rights will address this problem—which, if true, is very serious.

Around 27 percent of those who say they were victims of sexual assault (extrapolating from the survey’s language, which always is risky) were victimized by someone without any affiliation with Georgetown. Nothing in the current obsession with depriving accused students of due process rights will address this problem.

More than a quarter of those who say they were victims of sexual assault (extrapolating from the survey’s language, which always is risky) say they were victimized by the person they were dating. Did they continue dating this person? The survey doesn’t ask.

In about seven of ten cases involving those who say they were victims of sexual assault (extrapolating from the survey’s language, which always is risky), the alleged victim had been drinking. A similar figure exists for the alleged perpetrator. Nothing in the current obsession with depriving accused students of due process rights will address the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault.

Seven of eight female undergraduates who say they experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration by force experienced no physical injuries in the process.

The Saddest Thing

Perhaps the survey’s saddest finding, however, is the following. Georgetown asked students to assess the “likelihood of experiencing sexual assault or sexual misconduct off campus at university-sponsored events.” (Leave aside the vagueness of “sexual misconduct” in the question.) Many students—at Georgetown or anyplace else—never will be “off campus at university-sponsored events.” Others will be so only in very restricted capacities—say, as a member of a (single-sex) athletics team—in ways that would make the opportunity for any type of sexual misconduct seem remote.

Yet according to the survey, 39.6 percent of female undergraduates said it was somewhat, very, or extremely likely that they would experience “sexual assault or sexual misconduct off campus at university-sponsored events.” This figure is quite likely higher than the percentage of female undergraduates who will even be “off campus at university-sponsored events.” And for most of those who do participate in such activity, it’s unlikely that more than 1 percent of their time at Georgetown would be spent “off campus at university-sponsored events.”

There’s no reason to doubt the genuine nature of this response. But the fear is an irrational one. The chances of four-in-ten Georgetown females being victims of sexual assault “off campus at university-sponsored events” would seem to be infinitesimal. The logical response of a university leader to signs of panic among his student body would be to soothe his students. Instead, DeGioia, like almost all other university presidents, has chosen to stoke the panic.


  • 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.

3 thoughts on “Georgetown’s Survey Stokes the Rape Panic

  1. And ……

    No questions regarding male victims. Nope – can’t have the narrative upset. Can’t have the ideology threatened by a balanced survey.

    As KC mentioned (great work as always sir) – no questions as to due process. No questions about “what protections should be provided to the accused” – nope, can’t have Pandora’s box opened.

  2. It’s roughly estimated that 100,000 women in Berlin were raped at war’s end by invading Soviet troops. Described by historian Antony Beevor as the “greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history” the Reich’s armageddon rape rate ran perhaps as high as 5% + of the female population then living in the doomed city.

    The Democratic Republic of the Congo, itself described as the “rape capital of the world”, is estimated to experience @ 365,000 rapes annually. That would be the equivalent of .9% of the female population being raped every single year. This is an unbelievably horrific number which yields a 5 yr. probability of being raped (in “the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman”) of 3.5%.

    But obviously those women who lived through such horrors have not come close to experiencing the hell on earth which is the American college campus and more specifically, in this instance, Georgetown University in which 31% of all female undergrads report non-consensual sexual contact. That is a sexual assault rate more than 500% higher than Berlin’s in the deadly summer of ’45 and 700+% higher than what is experienced in the DRC today.

    And yet….somehow…. despite this abominable sexual assault rate, American parents send their daughters to Rape U. in record numbers, year after year after year (11.5M in 2015). How could this be?

    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that 77% of the “Yes I’ve experienced non-consensual sexual contact” didn’t even bother to report the event to the University.? Perhaps it’s connected to the fact that 60% didn’t feel the event was serious enough to warrant a report. Or perhaps this is related to the Clery Stats on Georgetown which indicate that across a campus of 17K students there were only 5 incidents (.06%) reported annually (2010 – 2012).

    [This last, of course, produces an interesting arithmetic dilemma: if, as the survey indicates, only 23% of all “unwanted sexual contacts” are reported…and Clery tells us only 5 were reported….then that tells us that there were only 21 TOTAL incidents across a campus of @ 8M women. This yields an incident rate of .2% (nowhere near, of course, the survey-reported rate of 31%). And again we ask, how could this be??

    The truth is that the Rape Epidemic is a myth. The Survey numbers are massive because they include, by definition, any and every sexual contact or attempted contact which is perceived (then or later) as unwanted: A kiss, an attempted kiss, a dance-floor embrace, a drunken grope, a dirty joke, a rude comment, a sexual pass, a come-on,…the list is endless.

    Adolescent sexual expression has always been marked by confusion, misunderstanding, mistakes, lust, loneliness, awkwardness, & significant miscommunication. Add to that hormonal mix, the fact that at least half of all such sexual incidents involve significant alcohol consumption and of course 31% of all undergraduate women say they’ve experienced an unwanted sexual contact (most of which is far too trivial to report). The only thing surprising about the 31% is that it’s so small.

    The Sexual Climate Survey Dance is farce. And the more we confuse drunken regret, and a dance-floor grope with actual rape…the more we bury the true victims of that unspeakable crime beneath an avalanche of little more than angst & exaggeration.

    We should know better. Despite the media-hyped squawks of our Congressional Chicken Littles & Professional Rape Epidemiologists, the sky definitely is NOT falling.

    And neither has the American College Campus become the most dangerous place on earth to be a woman.

  3. This is obviously another of those hobgoblins about which H.L. Mencken wrote, imaginary scare stories intended to make the populace clamor for government to protect them. The Obama administration and its leftist allies cooked this up to make women think that they had better keep the administration in power or else campuses would be overrun with rapists. The prospective Clinton administration similarly wants to capitalize on this make-believe crisis.

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