Those who handle reports of campus sexual assault at colleges and universities know quite a bit about their own policies and procedures, but some of the things they believe about sexual assault should worry parents of incoming students — mainly parents of incoming male students.
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire conducted a survey where they posed as students and asked campus police and Title IX offices (the offices that handle sexual assault claims) a series of questions about sexual assault. The first five questions dealt with campus procedures (e.g., where do students report sexual assault, does a report automatically trigger an investigation, etc.), but the sixth and seventh questions were designed to find out if these professionals believed “rape myths.”
The sixth question asked: “If the student who filed the report had a lot to drink before the assault, like how would that be treated by the school? (rape myth).” Notice the question only said “a lot to drink” and did not differentiate between incapacitated and merely intoxicated.
The researchers determined that if schools said “alcohol would not affect the investigation or if there is an amnesty policy at the institution” for underage students reporting sexual assault, those answers “refuted rape myths.”
Fine so far. Seventy percent of the respondents interviewed said alcohol would have no impact on the student’s claim. What’s disturbing is that 25.3% “stated that a person cannot consent if they are intoxicated.” School policies often say that a person cannot consent if they are incapacitated, not simply intoxicated. Having a single drink would mean a person is intoxicated, but they can still give consent.
If school administrators believe this, then students who drink and have sex (no matter how little either party has had to drink) are at risk for accusations of sexual assault. How many of these administrators could say they’ve never had consensual sex while drinking?
The seventh question asked: “Do students who report sexual assault to our school ever lie and maybe just regret the sex or want attention or something? (rape myth.)” This question included a potential follow-up: “How common is it for people to lie or something like that?”
A “rape myth refuting response” for this question included answers explaining that “a small proportion of sexual assaults are false reports.” If respondents said false reports were common or that the “school deals with them regularly,” they were considered “rape myth supporting comments.”
This should frighten parents. Title IX administrators are taught that false reports are rare. The takeaways from this is that they’re safe to assume the accusation is true and to conduct their investigation accordingly. But statistics are just that — statistics. One can’t know what side of the statistic any particular case falls on unless they properly investigate. If one already believes they’re safe to assume that kicking an accused student off campus means they’ve kicked out a rapist, then their investigation is going to be biased. Who cares if they get it wrong?
Further, the commonly cited statistic for false reports is wildly misleading, as I’ve discussed previously. The statistic comes from reports to police, which theoretically carry a punishment if found to be false (no such punishment exists on campus). Further, those who use the statistic to mislead ignore that it comes from a range of classifications from police. The statistic only applies to reports that are proven false, which is difficult to do. Because the statistic is just one classification, one can’t say that means all other reports are true. Other classifications on the range include: “unfounded/baseless,” “closed as an informational report” (meaning the person reported something, but it wasn’t actually a crime), “suspended/inactivated,” “exceptionally cleared” (meaning there was enough evidence but no arrest was made for some reason), and “cleared by arrest.” So while only one category — “unfounded/false” gets used to claim false reports are rare, at least two categories actually deal with false reports. Two other categories could not be considered true or false reports, and the final two categories might be able to be considered true reports.
So, while people claim only 2% to 10% of reports are false, it doesn’t actually mean that 90% to 98% are true, because that’s not what the studies show.
If we break down the “cleared by arrest” category down further, we find that just 5.9% went to trial where the accused was found “guilty” by a jury.
So, if one wanted to flip the script on this “rape myth,” one could say that only 5% to 6% of rape accusations are true, and ignore all the other categories, implying that 95% to 94% are false. See how this works?
Of course, there are caveats to that 5% to 6% numbers. Rape and sexual assault are notoriously difficult to prove, leading to potential rapists going free, but also innocent men are found guilty, hence the existence of groups like the Innocence Project.
The UNH study found that 69% of respondents “explicitly stated that students rarely lie about sexual assault.” Another 12.1% said “lying about a sexual assault happens but did not state that it was low or rare,” which appears to have been counted against them. Just 12.1% “said that it was up to them (as police or Title IX coordinators) to investigate/proceed as normal in all sexual assault reports.” Another 9.2% said they didn’t know if reporting students were lying.
The researchers came in with a bias, citing debunked “studies” claiming 20% of college women would be sexually assaulted as an undergraduate.