Interview Undercuts ‘Rape Culture’ on Campus

Catherine Lhamon ESPN interview

With the possibility of new Title IX regulations looming, defenders of the now-rescinded Obama-era guidance have aggressively sought to defend their years-long crusade against campus due process. But in several remarks last week, ex-Obama officials and their supporters provided unintentional insight on why the administration’s Title IX policy was so unfair

In an interview with ESPN, ex-Office for Civil Rights head Catherine Lhamon commented on a study showing that in Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Big XII, ACC, Pac 12, and SEC) male athletes are disproportionately accused of sexual assault. She noted that absent the high attention such allegations received, the campus sexual assault movement “would be largely nonexistent.” Lhamon added, “The capturing of the hearts and minds of the American public is what has moved this issue. The response of student communities to sexual violence among athletes has been really important.”

Related: Should We Believe Whatever a Woman Says About Sexual Assault?

Lhamon thus conceded that “the hearts and minds of the American public” were captured by highly atypical cases. If, in fact, the typical accused student was a Baylor football player, or ex-Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, perhaps Lhamon’s crusade—built on the assumption that university Title IX tribunals were tilted toward the accused—would have made sense. But the vast majority of accused students aren’t high-profile athletes from universities that make millions of dollars off some of their athletics programs—and thus have an incentive to whitewash allegations against athletes. Lhamon surely knows this; her willingness not to have used her position to correct the public’s misimpression speaks poorly of her integrity.

Lhamon’s comments also raise profound concerns about the argument—common among accusers’ rights organizations—about the prevalence of a campus “rape culture” necessitating accuser-friendly procedures. If the movement would be non-existent but for cases involving athletes at Power Five conferences (people who not only have received special procedures but also have special circumstances—housing, tutoring, other logistical support—on campus), it’s hard to fathom a nationwide “rape culture” on campuses that explains the activities of the overwhelming number of accused students who aren’t Power Five conference athletes.

After a Wall Street Journal scoop that the new regulations would prohibit the “single investigator” model and thus require some form of cross-examination, an ex-Obama Justice Department official, Anurima Bhargava, gave the view, as summarized by the Journal, that the Obama “administration discouraged the use of cross-examination because it could make sexual-assault victims reluctant to come forward.” Bhargava herself said, “If someone tells their story and then they need to be questioned on it, that can be an incredibly invasive and traumatizing experience.”

Related: This Is a Very Scary Time for Young Men

Bhargava deserves credit for her candor: while Lhamon and other Obama-era officials doubtless were hostile to cross-examination, they refrained from explaining why. The problem with Bhargava’s assertion, of course, is that it assumed that the “someone” wanting to tell “their story” is telling the truth, rather than recognizing that the purpose of the Title IX tribunal process is to determine the truth.

Meanwhile, last week several accusers’ rights organizations, the most prominent of which is SurvJustice, amended their complaint in a lawsuit against Betsy DeVos regarding the interim Title IX guidance. As part of their effort to prove that DeVos and her aides have turned a blind eye to gender discrimination, the groups criticized DeVos for contributing to FIRE. They also chastised former acting OCR head Candice Jackson for urging staffers to read Laura Kipnis’ book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, which received glowing reviews across the ideological spectrum.

The accusers’ rights organizations also criticized DeVos and Jackson for seeking to meet with groups such as SAVE or FACE. And while it’s true that Lhamon refused to meet with groups representing accused students during her tenure at OCR, it’s hard to argue that hearing from both sides suggests inappropriate behavior by a government official.

Without the power of OCR behind them, it’s striking how defenders of the Obama-era policies have struggled to defend their views.

Image: Catherine Lhamon – ESPN interview.


  • 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.

2 thoughts on “Interview Undercuts ‘Rape Culture’ on Campus

  1. For every Jameis Winston case there is a Grant Neal, Patrick Witt, or Jack Montague case. In the Montague case, a strong argument can be make that Yale misinformed and manipulated the accuser, and of the three cases I mentioned, it is perhaps the least outrageous one. Therefore, even if one confines oneself to athletes, one would have a difficult time defending the proposition that colleges and universities tilt toward the accused.

  2. All true….but there is nothing there to undercut.

    There is no “rape culture” on college campuses — there never has been. There has ever only been the myth of such a beast, itself fed constantly by the screeching Rape Epidemiologists: “Here there be Monsters!”, we are assured. And a multi-billion dollar industry (and thousands of very fat careers) blossomed overnight.

    “1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted! Let the Inquisition begin!” Who would not be outraged?

    But this is a lie. Clery…which measures all campus assaults (proven and not)…tells us that the actual count of all reported incidents (ranging from rape, to dance floor ass-grabbing) across 1500 colleges and universities (12M students) runs most typically not at 20%….not at 10%….not even at 1%….but rather at .05%, annually. This yields a cumulative probability of NOT being ‘sexually assaulted’ on campus during a 4 year college career of 99.8%.

    And though even one rape is one rape too many….still the Apocalypse has not come to State Tech.

    But of course this only makes sense.

    For if the “1 in 5” were true, then that would make the “most dangerous place on earth to be a woman” NOT the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which otherwise holds that title with a rape rate of 1000 women/day) but the American College Quad. It’d be impossible to imagine a more horrific place.

    [How strange, though, that American families continue to send their daughters to such hell holes at record rates!]

    Even Berlin, in 1945, as the 3rd Reich collapsed beneath the Soviet onslaught & occupation only experienced an estimated rape rate of 5% in the midst of that bloody anarchy. Obviously it’d be infinitely more dangerous to be a freshman female taking English 101.

    So of course “1 in 5” is absolutely not happening.

    But we create this myth in response to both a horrible ‘universalizing’ of the definition of ‘sexual assault’ (becoming anything of a sexual nature which is defined by the woman, at any point, to have been ‘unwanted’)…. and an agenda-driven set of surveys in which the ‘researchers’ recategorize responses according to their new, ‘enlightened’ understanding of male/female sexual interaction. There, we learn, that the survey count includes both non-consensual sexual contact — real & attempted…. AND consensual sexual contact in which the woman indicates that her consent was a function of persuasion (“You know you wanna!”) …psychological pressure (“Please…you know I love you!”)…. threat (as in, and I quote, a threat to “no longer love them”)…. or occurred after she’d consumed alcohol. Also included, is exposure to a sexual image, a joke, an overheard comment, or just general discomfort (associated with some sexual behavior). Thus, a so-called sexual assault becomes anything one of the survey authors define as ‘unwanted’ even if what occurred was entirely consensual…even if the respondent herself indicated it was NOT a sexual assault.

    This is insane.

    But by God it makes of every woman an infantilized Victim…and the Progressive Left loves infantilized victims (Can we get ’em a P***y Hat?!)

    The only surprise in the ‘undercutting’ of the Rape Culture Myth is that the undercuts were made – albeit unintentionally – by some of the chief acolytes of that Rape Culture Religion. But it probably doesn’t matter, as the pathetic mess which is the College Rape Industry rolls on down the road to learn.

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