Five Myths and Outright Lies About Campus Sexual Assault

A potential draft of new federal campus sexual assault policies was leaked this week, so expect a new round of false and misleading statistics to be shared by those who claim due process “protects rapists” and “hurts victims.”

Rape and sexual assault are serious offenses and shouldn’t be watered down to create a narrative that America is somehow the rape capital of the world, nor should we pretend that non-offenses are offenses. That hurts real victims.

I’ve taken down every one of these statistics before — sometimes many, many times — but it’s time to debunk them all in one place. So here we go.

1-in-5 (or 1-in-4 or 1-in-3) Women Will Be Sexually Assaulted During College

Studies purporting to find such an astronomical amount of sexual violence on college campuses (numbers thousands of times higher than war-torn Congo or Detroit, America’s most dangerous city) suffer from many of the same flaws. They are often not nationally representative, are produced by women’s organizations determined to find women as oppressed victims in America and are self-reported — a notoriously unreliable form of data.

The studies are often voluntary, meaning response bias could play a role as those who believe they are sexual assault victims (rightly or wrongly) may be more inclined to participate than those who don’t think the survey is about them.

Researchers don’t ask students directly if they are sexual assault victims but ask about a broad range of behaviors, such as “unwanted” behaviors that are open to interpretation, as being asked out by someone one doesn’t like could be considered “unwanted” even though it is in no way sexual assault or harassment. The researchers then determine that if students responded “yes” to any of these questions, it means they must have been sexually assaulted. Keep in mind, the definition of sexual assault here lies outside the criminal definition. When students who answered “yes” to any of the questions are asked why they didn’t report, the vast majority say they didn’t think the incident was “serious enough,” meaning they may not have even seen the action as “assault.”

Even when a survey attempts to counter one of these flaws, the other problems still exist, rendering it meaningless. Yet damaging policies have been enacted based on these useless numbers.

For fun, start paying attention to how many other surveys find “1-in-5” as the headline conclusion. It appears more likely that researchers can find 1-in-5 anything to support their preconceived notions.

The Majority of Campus Rapes Are Committed By a Small Number Of Men

Sometimes known as the “serial predator” study, this one from David Lisak has been around for decades and was debunked just a few years ago. It claims that “90%” of rapes on campus are perpetrated by a few men.

For starters, Lisak didn’t conduct the study himself but used data from studies conducted by his former grad students, who didn’t limit their data to college students. As in the 1-in-5 stat above, this one was also not nationally representative, as the surveys were conducted near a commuter college with participants who didn’t live on campus and may not have even been students.

The surveys were anonymous, yet Lisak has claimed he conducted follow-up interviews with men who admitted to committing multiple rapes (one questions whether such admissions would be so freely given to a stranger in the first place). Lisak did conduct 12 interviews during his dissertation research three decades ago, but he then combined those cherry-picked interviews into a single character — called “Frank” — which he used to tell school administrators how dangerous their campuses were. No such monster as Frank actually exists, nor is he a common problem across the country.

False Accusations Are Rare

The truth is, we don’t know how many accusations are truly false, and even if we did, one can’t walk into an investigation assuming they already know the answer.

We’re often told that “just” 2% to 10% of rape accusations are false. College administrators are told this when “trained” on how to handle accusations of sexual assault. The implication is clear: Women just don’t lie about rape, so nine times out of ten, you’d be safe in assuming the accused is guilty.

But that statistic is wildly misleading, as it only applies to accusations made to police that are proven false. Proving a negative is often impossible, especially in a “we had sex but it was consensual” situation. On college campuses, there is no punishment for a false accusation and thus no fear, as there is with lying to the police.

Further, the proven false statistic is one category of sexual assault classifications. The other categories do not all equate to “true,” so implying that 90% to 98% is true is downright false and prejudicial. Other categories include “baseless,” wrongly reported as sexual assault, cases without enough evidence for an arrest, cases with enough evidence but for some reason outside police control an arrest is not made, and cases where there is enough evidence for an arrest. Of the cases that lead to an arrest, a small percentage actually go to trial and result in a “guilty” finding.

Using the same logic as the peddlers of this statistic, one would only be able to say that 3% to 5% of rape accusations are true since that’s how many return a “guilty” finding.

It’s Bad That 91% Of Colleges And Universities Said They Received No Rape Reports

I include this one because while one would think it would be a good thing that reports of sexual assault aren’t rampant on college campuses, the “scholars” at the American Association of University Women think it’s a bad thing. Because they’ve thoroughly bought into the debunked statistics above, no reports must mean that schools are somehow discouraging victims from coming forward or are sweeping reports under the rug. It’s hard to believe either of these is the case when the media, lawmakers, federal institutions, and Hollywood are constantly claiming huge swaths of the female population are sexually assaulted on college campuses and begging people to come forward.

1-in-3 Men Would Rape If They Could Get Away With It

This statistic was quickly debunked as soon as it appeared in 2015. A woman who admitted to me at the time that she was seeking grant money (a good motive for finding alarming statistics in one’s survey) claimed her study found that a whopping one-third of surveyed men had “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse.”

Wow, right? Except, as I’ve pointed out with previous misleading statistics, this one suffers from many of the same flaws. It’s not nationally representative, and the answers of just 73 men were used to arrive at the 1-in-3 number blasted out by the media and women’s groups. Of those 73 men, 23 were found to have those intentions, based on the researchers own definition of what constituted bad intentions. Just nine guys said they would rape a woman. Nine guys do not an epidemic make.

These guys may not have been taking the survey seriously or they were answering a question from Plato’s Republic: How many people would commit a crime if they knew they wouldn’t be caught? One would believe many people would answer affirmatively to such questions about various laws, but that doesn’t mean they’d commit them. One can never know if they will get away with it.

This article, originally published at The Daily Wire, is published with permission.


  • Ashe Schow

    Ashe Schow is a reporter and columnist with bylines at the Federalist and the New York Observer. She also co-hosts a weekly podcast, The Snark Factor. She has previously worked for the Washington Examiner and the Heritage Foundation.

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6 thoughts on “Five Myths and Outright Lies About Campus Sexual Assault

  1. Great summary.
    I work on a very large campus. What I’ve seen in the past twenty years is the growth of an absolutely hyper-sexualized “culture”, equally shared between both men and women. All young, and all of them bound to behave in ways one would expect in those determined to embrace their newfound ‘freedoms.’ Add to this the sheer miasma of gender politics, and we get a perfect storm of hyper-emotional chaos. As we would expect. While many of the (formerly known as adults) in the picture have dropped the ball. I’m referring to your very last sentence. That criminalization you speak of pushes a very predatory agenda. The kids don’t stand a chance.

  2. Big fan of Minding the Campus and new fan of Ashe Schow.
    I find it curiously ironic that such a notoriously vigorous information-gathering social convention as Academia has come to such a blissfully withering ineptitude of accuracy, as these “statistics” portray in their evidential ineptitude.
    Pursuit of truth, my left foot.

  3. Yes, absolutely yes.
    And let me add some more.

    Clery Stats — the statistical accumulation of all reports of sexual assault on campus, by campus, mandated by the 1990 Clery Act — reveal NOT 20% of all women being sexually assaulted during their four years in college….NOT 5% of all women assaulted….NOT 1%….but rather a per year sexual assault risk of .05%. (This is calculated across 1500 schools and 12M students). This yields a 4 year probability that a woman WILL NOT be sexually assaulted on campus of 99.79%. In other words the myth that the rape rate runs at 20% inflates the actual risk probability by almost 10,000%. This is incredible. And the lie has been incredibly damaging.

    We believe that a report of a sexual assault is either right or wrong, true or false. This is a horrible mistake. In truth what we see in any human interaction (displayed masterfully by Kurosawa in “Rashomon”) is that every event is seen / can be seen in two entirely different ways — each legitimate — by each of the two participants. That one person says Event X was consensual and enthusiastic and the other asserts it was non-consensual and indifferent proves only that two people had two differing perspectives on the exact same event. As each then describes the preceding evening and what occurred and what they concluded from each occurrence underlines that same conclusion — without an objective, outside observer what we witness after the fact is only the “fog of war”, filled with rumors, miscommunications, misunderstandings, and uncertainty.

    The presumed ‘fact’ that an action was unwanted does not mean either that it was unwanted at the moment of occurrence OR that the condition of ‘unwanting’ was effectively communicated. Without both conditions being true, an assault cannot be said to have occurred. Unfortunately the new definitions of Assault (driven entirely by feminist agenda) remove both the obligation of communication (the man should simply know…and obtain affirmative proof) and the compulsion of timing. Again, in reality, in the fog of human sexual ‘collision’, what is known, unknown, presumed, obvious, or not obvious is all highly variable and highly dependent upon the perspective of each observer. Complicate that perspective with a six pack or collection of jello shots and you have what we inevitably see: disappointment, anger, frustration, hope, desire, lust, anxiety, optimism, pessimism…you name it, the typical assortment of human emotion which is particularly displayed after an intimate sexual encounter.

    When we define ‘assault’ as anything unwanted we empty the definition of all meaning AND we bury beneath an avalanche of hurt feelings and dumped relationships the real victims of what is, in fact, a horrendous crime of violence. Hearing a dirty joke that makes you uncomfortable is not the same as rape. Fending off an unwanted kiss is not the same as rape. The morning-after “walk of shame” does not mean a rape has occurred. A too enthusiastic suitor is not a rapist. Regret does not equate to rape. Anger does not equate to rape. Learning that you’ve been used and objectified does not mean you’ve been raped. All that only means you’re human living, working, and playing (pleasantly or not) with other humans. This is how we learn.

    That we have criminalized normal adolescent sexuality is inexcusable.

  4. The Guardian has a different view.

    “Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, is planning to water down sexual misconduct rules. This is yet another sign of hostility towards survivors.”

    1. And then there is this from Inside Higher Ed:

      “The circumstances surrounding Professor Todd’s death have been much discussed, and judging by some emails I have read, misleading and false statements have been promulgated with the sad patina of truth,” Pelton said in remarks to Emerson’s faculty that were later shared online.”

      In other words, the victim of the star chamber didn’t survive.

      And you are talking about hostility to survivors???

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