No Touching

Review: KC Johnson & Stuart Taylor Jr., 'The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities'

The danger zone / AP

BY:

If you're male and 18 and waiting anxiously for your acceptance at a prestigious coastal liberal arts college or university, the authors of The Campus Rape Frenzy would undoubtedly have two words of advice: Don't go. That is, if you plan on any sexual M.O. other than abstinence.

If you do go and then have sex, your partner (let's say ze is a she) can, under current rules, accuse you of sexual assault or rape if you kiss her or reach for her hand without her permission, can say that she was afraid of you when she did give permission and so was coerced, can claim that after a single drink she was under the influence of alcohol and therefore unable to give consent (you can be way drunker, but that doesn't matter), and can make these claims months after the fact without you being aware that she has made them.

Think that's scary? What happens next is even worse. Following guidelines from the Obama administration Office of Civil Rights, you will likely be denied representation by a lawyer, forbidden from presenting exonerating evidence or asking questions of your accuser (who will invariably be referred to as the "victim" or the "survivor"), be subject to the decision of a college administrator who is under pressure to show that her (as it almost always is) institution is eagerly working with the federal government's esoteric understanding of Title IX, and found guilty if there is a 50.01 percent chance you failed to get consent, or lost it at some point unbeknownst to you. The press will rake you over the coals and your future, now that you're expelled and branded a sexual malefactor, will be compromised.

Gay guys, don't breathe a sigh of relief yet. You have it just as bad, arguably worse. A case at Brandeis University that the book highlighted involves two men, one of whom was found guilty of nonconsensual sexual conduct because he looked at the other man, who he subsequently had an affair with, in the communal shower without getting consent. The looking was the misconduct, not the affair.

This is the Brave New World of sex in college under the Obama administration. Well, some colleges. Reports of sexual assault, a spectrum of acts that range from looking to touching, to what one woman interviewed (an opponent of the current rules) calls a "test kiss," to actual rape of passed-out women or even penetration by force, are much higher at prestigious Ivy-level universities than other schools. That means it's a problem, if it is one, of rich kids. Or their invention.

What the authors ultimately want is to get accusations of rape (not hand-holding without permission) out of university kangaroo courts and back into the criminal justice system, which they insist does a good job of ensuring due process. Along the way, they tell dozens of excruciating stories. But they begin, as they should, by taking down what they call the five myths behind the current "witch hunt."

The first is the widely cited statistic that about 1 in 5 women on campus will be sexually assaulted before she graduates. It turns out the statistic was based on a single study of only two Midwestern schools that nowhere asked if women had been sexually assaulted or raped, but instead inferred the result from affirmative answers to questions about unwanted advances and sex under the influence. A 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser poll reached the same conclusion using the same dubious methodology. The assaults reported by colleges under the 1992 Clery Act, by contrast, are about 1/100th of this number. Advocates respond by saying that colleges are lying to protect themselves. The less evidence there is, the more certain the cover-up.

As the authors point out, this 1 in 5 statistic, if true, would mean that going to an Ivy-level school is as dangerous to women as living in eastern Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war by various groups of soldiers. (This part of the world is real to me, because I taught for two years across the border in Rwanda, and went frequently to this part of what was then Zaire.)

Another bedrock myth of the Brave New World is that there are virtually no unfounded or false accusations of sexual assault. Accusation, according to advocates, almost certainly means guilt. The authors show this notion is based on a small number of studies that define "false" accusations as having been actually proven wrong, opposed to the huge number of accusations that weren't even adjudicated, or the even larger number of he said-she said cases. The studies that give conflicting evidence  are not cited by advocates.

Why the push to expel college men accused of sexual assault? This rests on yet another of the five myths, which derives from a 12-page paper from 2002 by a retired psychologist named David Lisak, whose conclusion, advocates hold, was that most campus rapes are the work of a small number of serial rapists, who therefore need to be banished from campus. Johnson and Taylor have read this paper, as they conclude most of those citing it have not, and demolish its credibility, pointing out that it contains no data and does not refer to college campuses.

The elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of campus tribunals began in 2011 with the Obama administration's letter to colleges informing them they should be using a standard of proof vastly lower than that which had hitherto been operative to adjudicate accusations of sexual assault. The result was a Kafka-esque assumption of guilt, denying due process to the accused by refusing them access to legal counsel and eliminating the possibility of cross-examining accusers, bringing witnesses, or even seeing the charges against them.

So men: Don't go to a flossy East- or West-coast residential college. If you do, make sure you do not look at a woman with lust in your eyes, or touch her, or kiss her, or go further, without asking permission and getting it in incontrovertible form. Otherwise, you may be hauled before a court of extremists determined to find you guilty, expel you, and sully your name. So keep it in your pants, or just bag college and go do construction. Or sign up for courses with the University of Phoenix.

Bruce Fleming

Bruce Fleming   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Bruce Fleming has taught English at the U.S. Naval Academy since 1987; his books and articles are noted on his Web site www.brucefleming.net.

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