TIME campus sexual assault

Setting the Record Straight on ‘1 in 5′

students running on campus
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Christopher Krebs and Christine Lindquist are Senior Research Social Scientists at RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute. They are both in the Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience at RTI, and they directed the Campus Sexual Assault Study, which was funded by the National Institute of Justice and completed in 2007.

There are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the number as a baseline when discussing rape and sexual assault on campus.

If you’ve followed the discussion about sexual assault on college campuses in America, it’s likely you’ve heard some variation of the claim that 1 in 5 women on college campuses in the United States has been sexually assaulted or raped. Or you may have heard the even more incorrect abbreviated version, that 1 in 5 women on campus has been raped.

As two of the researchers who conducted the Campus Sexual Assault Study from which this number was derived, we feel we need to set the record straight. Although we used the best methodology available to us at the time, there are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the 1-in-5 number in the way it’s being used today, as a baseline or the only statistic when discussing our country’s problem with rape and sexual assault on campus.

First and foremost, the 1-in-5 statistic is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault, and we have never presented it as being representative of anything other than the population of senior undergraduate women at the two universities where data were collected—two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest.

Second, the 1-in-5 statistic includes victims of both rape and other forms of sexual assault, such as forced kissing or unwanted groping of sexual body parts—acts that can legally constitute sexual battery and are crimes. To limit the statistic to include rape only, meaning unwanted sexual penetration, the prevalence for senior undergraduate women drops to 14.3%, or 1 in 7 (again, limited to the two universities we studied).

Third, despite what has been said in some media reports, the 1-in-5 statistic does not include victims who experienced only sexual-assault incidents that were attempted but not completed. The survey does attempt to measure attempted sexual assaults, but only victims of completed incidents are included in the 1-in-5 statistic.

Fourth, another limitation of our study—inherent to web-based surveys—is that the response rate was relatively low (42%). We conducted an analysis of this nonresponse rate and found that respondents were not significantly different from nonrespondents in terms of age, race/ethnicity or year of study. Even so, it is possible that nonresponse bias had an impact on our prevalence estimates, positive or negative. We simply have no way of knowing whether sexual-assault victims were more or less likely to participate in our study. Face-to-face interviewing tends to get higher response rates but is considerably more expensive and time-consuming. That said, given the sensitive nature of the questions, the anonymity and privacy we afforded respondents may have made women comfortable with responding honestly. Overall, we believe that the trade-offs associated with low response rates were overcome by the benefits of cost-efficiency and data quality.

To back up, it makes sense to explain exactly how a woman responding to our web-based survey—conducted in 2007 and funded by a grant from the National Institute of Justice—would get counted as a victim in the 1-in-5 statistic. In the survey, all 5,446 randomly sampled undergraduate women who participated were presented with a prompt explaining that subsequent questions would ask them about “nonconsensual or unwanted sexual contact” including:

* forced touching of a sexual nature (forced kissing, touching of private parts, grabbing, fondling, rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes)

* oral sex (someone’s mouth or tongue making contact with your genitals or your mouth or tongue making contact with someone else’s genitals)

* sexual intercourse (someone’s penis being put in your vagina)

* anal sex (someone’s penis being put in your anus)

* sexual penetration with a finger or object (someone putting their finger or an object like a bottle or a candle in your vagina or anus).

Among other items, the students, after being told they were going to be asked about their experiences with unwanted sexual contact, were asked these two key questions:

Since you began college, has anyone had sexual contact with you by using physical force or threatening to physically harm you?


Since you began college, has someone had sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, or asleep? This question asks about incidents that you are certain happened.

To be counted as a victim of sexual assault or rape and included in the 1-in-5 statistic (19.8%), a woman would have to be a senior and answer “Yes” to one or both of those questions.

In our reports, sexual-assault victims who selected only “Forced touching of a sexual nature” in a follow-up question asking about the type of contact that happened were classified as victims of sexual battery only, whereas victims who selected any of the other response options (oral sex, sexual intercourse, anal sex, or sexual penetration with a finger or object) were classified as victims of rape.

Our survey had limitations, as outlined above. However, we believe the results have value for several reasons.

First, all research of this kind faces methodological and logistical challenges, but we approached the study objectively and implemented it with as much methodological rigor as possible given the budget we were given and the state of the field at that time.

Second, our results are not inconsistent with other studies that surveyed undergraduate students about their sexual-assault experiences, and surveying students directly about their sexual-assault experiences using behaviorally specific language remains the most scientifically valid way to measure the prevalence of sexual assault. Survey data have limitations, but they are universally believed to be more accurate than official law-enforcement or campus crime data on sexual assault. A large majority of sexual-assault victims do not report their experiences to law enforcement or other authorities, so official crime statistics dramatically underestimate the prevalence of sexual assault.

Third, the study results are helping fuel a conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, a problem that likely exists at most colleges—not just the two with which we collaborated—and it negatively impacts many thousands of students every year. We are pleased to be part of this conversation and to see attention being paid to this issue, especially since there seems to be ample room for improvement in terms of how universities, service providers, law enforcement and the justice system go about trying to prevent victimization, encourage reporting, meet the needs of survivors and respond to reported incidents.

What we are perhaps most excited about is that additional research is currently being conducted that will build and improve upon what has been done to date. For example, at RTI, we are working on a new study with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Office of Violence Against Women, and the White House to develop a survey instrument and methodology for collecting valid and reliable data on campus climate and sexual assault.

Although there will never be a definitive estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault, these new research efforts are larger in scale and are employing scientific best practices, which will result in methodological improvements that should increase the validity and utility of the findings. With these methods and the knowledge we gain along the way, we can begin to envision a meaningful research agenda, which could involve collecting data from students at many universities, perhaps on an annual or ongoing basis, creating nationally representative as well as university-specific estimates.

Christopher Krebs and Christine Lindquist are Senior Research Social Scientists at RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute. They are both in the Center for Justice, Safety, and Resilience at RTI, and they directed the Campus Sexual Assault Study, which was funded by the National Institute of Justice and completed in 2007.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

These Are the Women Forgotten in the Sexual Assault Crisis

Focus on campuses obscures young women not in school

There’s a new wrinkle to the ongoing debate about campus sexual assault: Non-students are actually more likely than students to be victimized, according to new federal data.

The finding, in a Justice Department report released Thursday, comes amid a fierce focus over the last several months on campus sexual assault and the federal government’s efforts to address it. This new data indicates that just as much—if not more—needs to be done to protect young college-aged women who aren’t in school. College-aged women, whether or not they are in school are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault than other age groups.

“I think the data shows that all the attention to college rape over the last year has been appropriate because it’s a problem there, but it has been too narrow a focus because we want to make sure we are not leaving out the huge number of people who don’t go to college,” says Scott Berkowitz, president of Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

For the period of 1995 to 2013, non-students aged 18-24 were 1.2 times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than their student counterparts, according to the report.

The report contained other interesting findings about the similarities and differences between these two groups of victims. Students and non-students were equally likely to know their attacker (80% in both cases), but non-students were more likely to report it to the police. Eighty percent of student rapes and sexual assaults went unreported to the police compared to 67% for non-students. The finding is particularly interesting because of the debate raging among advocates, public officials and administrators over how best to involve police in campus assault.

“Much of the reform attention has been on the college judicial process,” adds Berkowitz, “but this data really points out that we cannot focus on that at expense criminal justice system, because that would mean abandoning the great many victims who never attend college.”

TIME Crime

Christian University Apologizes to Sexual Assault Victims

People cross over the walkway near the fountains on the campus of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. on March 1, 2000. Patrick Collard—AP

"We failed to uphold and honor our own core values"

A prominent Christian university in South Carolina apologized to victims of sexual assault and abuse Wednesday ahead of a report released Thursday that documented the school’s failure to adequately respond to their needs.

“On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault,” university president Steve Pettit said in an address to students Wednesday. “We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values.”

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

The apology came in advance of a 300-page report published Thursday, drawn from interviews with some 40 victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault at Bob Jones university over four decades. The report paints a picture of an administration that failed to offer them appropriate counsel, and in some instances even made them feel at fault for their abuse.

The report was conducted by an independent organization, GRACE, a non-profit Christian group dedicated to helping the Christian community respond to abuse. “This comprehensive report contains painful disclosures by sexual abuse victims and strong language when describing the impact of the institutional responses to abuse disclosures,” GRACE said.

The report comes after months of scrutiny of colleges and universities across the country, as they try to grapple with mounting calls to reform the institutional response to campus sexual assault.


TIME campus sexual assault

Lena Dunham’s Publisher to Alter Her Book After Threat of Litigation Over Rape Story

Random House

Publisher will indicate that the name of a student who sexually assaulted her is a pseudonym.

In her recent essay collection, Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham recounts being sexually assaulted as an undergraduate by a fellow student named Barry whom she portrays as Oberlin College’s “resident conservative” at the time. He wore cowboy boots and sported a moustache, hosted a radio show and worked at the library. This description, it turns out, is very similar to an actual student named Barry, who, since the book’s publication, has denied he raped Dunham. According to the Hollywood Reporter, his attorney, Aaron Minc, has requested that Dunham’s publisher, Random House, alter the passage to indicate that the name is a pseudonym, and the publisher has agreed to comply.

Random House told Minc that his client is not the rapist Dunham writes about in her book. The publisher has also offered to pay Minc’s client’s legal fees, although Minc says, “Ideally, we were looking for something from Miss Dunham.” Minc says he believes his client is a victim of libel, but hoped that remedial action from Dunham and her publisher would ease Barry’s suffering and prevent the decision to take legal action.

Lena Dunham responded to the debate over her essay and her decision to include details in her book about her alleged assailant in an essay published by Buzzfeed on Tuesday evening. In the piece, she apologizes for any harm she may have caused the ‘real-life’ Barry:

To be very clear, “Barry” is a pseudonym, not the name of the man who assaulted me, and any resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence. I am sorry about all he has experienced.

Speaking out was never about exposing the man who assaulted me. Rather, it was about exposing my shame, letting it dry out in the sun. I did not wish to be contacted by him or to open a criminal investigation.

Following the book’s publication in September, the conservative news site Breitbart.com launched an investigation into the specifics of the alleged assault as described by Dunham. And on Tuesday, Kurt Bardella, a spokesperson for Breitbart.com, had this to say about the site’s investigation and Dunham’s apology:

The investigative piece published by Breitbart was never about trying to prove if Lena Dunham was raped or not–that’s absurd and impossible–rather the piece was about a real-life person named Barry who, regardless of her intentions, found himself at the center of a story he was never a participant in and doing him the courtesy of due diligence that he wasn’t afforded prior to the publication of Lena Dunham’s book. By her own admission, the “resemblance to a person with this name is an unfortunate and surreal coincidence” but also illustrates the unintended consequences that can reverberate when chronicling such a sensitive story. The story of real-life Barry and of Leah Dunham’s rape are not mutually exclusive–one doesn’t have to be right for the other to be wrong–they can both be right and in Breitbart’s eyes, they should both be told.

The debate strikes a sensitive chord at a time when discussions about rape on college campuses are more charged than ever.

Dunham appears to have predicted some of the fallout from the story. She told Howard Stern back in October, “This was an essay I was very anxious and self-conscious about putting in the book because we are in a current culture where everything is turned into a game of telephone and it turns into a headline.” Still, she says she hopes speaking out would make an impact on the many young women who blame themselves for being sexually assaulted.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to reflect Lena Dunham’s apology regarding the portion of her book about sexual assault.

TIME College Sports

Accuser’s Attorney: Jameis Winston Violated Confidentiality Instructions

Florida Florida St Football
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston warms up prior to an NCAA college football game against Florida inTallahassee, Fla. on Nov. 29, 2014. John Raoux—AP

Winston's statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations

The attorney for the woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in 2012 alleges that Winston and his attorney have violated confidentiality instructions given by retired Florida State Supreme Court Chief Justice Major Harding.

Winston’s two-day hearing, which was heard by Harding, ended on Wednesday. The quarterback reportedly did not testify, but he did read a five-page statement denying the allegations against him. The statement was obtained by both ESPN and USA TODAY.

The woman’s attorney, John Clune, issued a statement on Thursday in response:

“It apparently took about one hour for Mr. Winston and his lawyer to violate Justice Harding’s confidentiality instructions by emailing out one of the exhibits to the media. Jameis Winston’s crude new recollection of events is as disgusting as it is implausible. He just keeps digging himself deeper. For now we will trust in the strength of our client’s repeated and consistent interviews. The time for Winston, [Chris] Casher, and [Ronald] Darby to fully explain this new story will come.”

Winston had the right to not answer any questions at the hearing. His teammates, Casher and Darby, reportedly refused to testify on Tuesday.

Winston’s statement marked the first time he publicly gave his side of the story pertaining to the sexual assault allegations. He had previously denied the allegations through his attorney.

The purpose of the two-day hearing was to determine if Winston violated up to four school student conduct codes.

Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012. In November 2013, the state’s attorney announced that it was investigating the accusation. The investigation was completed a month later, and no charges were filed. Authorities have been criticized for being slow to act on the woman’s claim. In October, a FOX Sports report alleged that university administrators and Tallahassee police took steps to “hide and then hinder” an investigation.

After the hearing, Winston’s lawyer, David Cornwell​, told ESPN there was no evidence in the hearing to suggest the quarterback did anything wrong, while Clune said he expects Winston to be found responsible for sexually assaulting his client.

Harding has up to 10 class or exam days to submit his decision, meaning a decision does not need to be made until January.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Education

Time to Call the Cops: Title IX Has Failed Campus Sexual Assault

Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014.
Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

Robert Shibley, an attorney, is Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Though based in compassion, the reality is a system that encourages silence or the avoidance of law enforcement

A recent article in Rolling Stone has related a horrifying account of an on-campus gang rape allegedly committed by University of Virginia students in 2012. Third-year student “Jackie” told her story of how, as a freshman, she was brutally raped for three hours by seven men in a darkened, upstairs room at a fraternity party after being lured there by “Drew,” an upperclassman. Jackie’s account of her subsequent run-ins with Drew only add to the chilling nature of the crime: Weeks and months after the incident, Drew acted as though nothing unusual had happened, even thanking her for the “great time” he’d had.

This is criminal, predatory, and sociopathic behavior. If Jackie’s account is accurate, the perpetrators deserve lengthy prison sentences. Yet they reportedly graduated from UVA and remain at large. Why? Did police and prosecutors drop the ball?

No. Nobody ever even called the police. UVA handled the case internally, which is entirely normal on today’s college campuses. For everyone’s sake, this must stop—and the sooner the better.

The cause and extent of the problem of sexual assault on campus is hotly debated. But there’s no dispute that the broken way colleges handle these cases is a result of the federal government’s current interpretation of Title IX, the civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs (including nearly all colleges, public or private). Regulations from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights encourage schools to allow victims to decide how and whether to go to police, while demanding that schools conduct what amount to rape trials in campus kangaroo courts, even if the crime is never reported to law enforcement. This has proved to be a mistake.

The motivation for this “police optional” approach is based in compassion. Advocates argue that law enforcement is skeptical or dismissive of accusers’ claims, that a police investigation will “revictimize” those who have already been through a traumatic experience they’d rather not revisit, and that the evidentiary standards maintained by the criminal justice system means that it’s likely their attackers will go free.

Yet the huge costs of this approach are too often ignored. Foremost is the fact that many campus sex crimes are never subjected to professional forensic investigation, leaving perpetrators unpunished and free to commit further crimes. Part of the horror of Jackie’s story is the sense that this was not the perpetrators’ first crime—and probably not their last. One oft-cited study suggests that serial predators commit around 90% of campus rapes, with an average of nearly six rapes per perpetrator. If this number is anywhere near accurate, each rape not reported to law enforcement is a missed opportunity to protect future victims from harm.

No rape victim, on campus or off, should be required to report what happened to them to the police or to anyone else. But designing a system that encourages silence or the avoidance of law enforcement is unconscionable. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes, “How can a felony offense be kept out of the police’s hands, and how can victims be presented with a menu of choices that includes, and even encourages, doing nothing?

We cannot reduce the incidence of rape by giving up on the only system that can actually remove dangerous people from society. If police have retained outmoded or simply uninformed attitudes towards victims of sexual violence, the solution is to educate and train them to properly handle victims and investigate these crimes, not to outsource the job to self-interested, underqualified campus administrators. For those concerned with issues of class and privilege, this should be an especially high priority. Nothing we do on campus can help people who don’t and won’t attend college—a cohort disproportionately composed of the poor and minorities. Improving police response to sexual crimes is the only way to help victims universally.

Campuses have a role to play when their students are victimized. They can separate accusers and the accused, provide counseling and protective services, and help guide them to the resources they need, including resources to navigate and cope with the police and legal process. They can also maintain clear memoranda of understanding with local police departments that facilitate the quick, thorough, and professional investigation of all felony crimes committed on campus.

Neither accusers nor the accused will get justice if Title IX continues to be interpreted to force colleges to investigate and adjudicate these crimes themselves. That system has failed. As the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network wrote in a letter to the White House last February, “It would never occur to anyone to leave the adjudication of a murder in the hands of a school’s internal judicial process. Why, then, is it not only common, but expected, for them to do so when it comes to sexual assault?”

Robert Shibley, an attorney, is Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Crime

Report of Gang Rape at Virginia University Reignites Debate on Campus Sexual Assault

"Jackie began to scream"

A chilling new account of a gang rape of a freshman girl at University of Virginia fraternity house serves as a fresh reminder that much of campus sexual assault is not just confused drunken sex between teenagers, but real violent crime.

MORE: The sexual assault crisis on American campuses

The story by Rolling Stone opens with the following disturbing first hand account by a girl called Jackie, who says she was raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house while two other men watched, just four weeks into her freshman year at UVA in 2012.

“Shut up,” she heard a man’s voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn’t some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they’d return to the party.

“Grab its motherf—ing leg,” she heard a voice say. And that’s when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

The story is graphic, disturbing, and may be traumatizing for anyone who has experienced a sexual assault. Beyond the horrific account, the story goes on to use Jackie’s experience, other assaults at UVA, and observations from experts to show the ways in which UVA seems to cover up sexual assault. UVA president Teresa Sullivan denied the school was involved in any cover up of sexual assault, telling Rolling Stone: “If we’re trying to hide the issue, we’re not doing a very good job of it.”

Read more at Rolling Stone

TIME Sexual Assault

The Troubling Statistic in MIT’s Sex Assault Survey

MIT Campus Sexual Assault
The main entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. Rick Friedman—Corbis

Many students were uncertain about what qualified as sexual violence -- even the ones who experienced assault

A new survey of student experiences with sexual assault at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is an encouraging step for schools working to put an end to the shamefully widespread problem of campus rape.

That the prestigious school released the study publicly is helpful in erasing the stigma surrounding sexual assault. And the numbers show that even an institution far better known for Fields Medals than frat parties has an incidence of campus rape comparable to other colleges. Roughly 35% of MIT’s 11,000 graduates and undergraduates took the anonymous survey. Of the undergrads, about 17% of women and 5% of men reported experiencing sexual assault while at the Massachusetts school.

But a deeper look at the numbers points to a more troubling statistic. Even though 17% of female undergraduates reported an experience that fits the survey’s definition of sexual assault (“unwanted sexual behaviors … involving use of force, physical threat, or incapacitation”), only 11% of female undergraduates checked “yes” when asked directly if they had been “raped” or “sexually assaulted.” Despite a concerted effort by the Obama Administration, state officials and campus leaders, MIT students were uncertain about what qualified as sexual violence — even when reporting that they had experienced assault.

Sadly, that’s not exactly surprising. Experts say there are numerous reasons students struggle to understand the definition of sexual assault, including denial about the experience and and the hesitation to apply the label to attackers or those who experience it. “There is still such a stigma to be a ‘rape victim’ or a ‘rapist,'” says Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire researcher and expert in sexual assault prevention.

The MIT survey also indicated a tendency among undergraduates to blame victims, including themselves, for assaults that had taken place. Fifteen percent of female undergraduate respondents and 25% of male undergraduates said that a drunk person who is assaulted is “at least somewhat responsible” for what happened, while 31% of female undergraduate respondents and 35% of males said they believed that sexual assault and rape “happen because men can get carried away in sexual situations once they’ve started.”

Of students who said they had been assaulted, many blamed themselves, which may explain why so few of them decided to report the incident. Of the assault victims, 72% said they didn’t think it was “serious enough to officially report” and 44% said they “felt they were at least partly at fault or it wasn’t totally the other person’s fault.”

These attitudes are somewhat incongruous with the fact that assault victims also reported having felt a great deal of trauma because of the assault–35% reported being unable to complete assignment and 30% reported being unable to eat. Only about 5% of respondents to MIT’s survey reported the experience to someone in an official capacity.

MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart says part of the challenge in reducing assault is educating students about all the forms it takes. “We can’t prevent what is not agreed upon by everyone,” she says.

Barnhart says that MIT has had an increase in reported sexual misconduct since the survey was advertised last spring, a sign that awareness is growing.

Still, as Stapleton says, “it’s going to take time to change the culture.”

TIME Education

Ban Frat Parties—Let Sororities Run the Show

man drinking four beers
Ingolf Pompe—Getty Images

Michael Kimmel, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, is the author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.

This simple change will not eliminate sexual assault on our nation’s campuses. But it's a start.

As college students settle into the fall semester, they are probably worried about whether they’ll get along with their roommates, and how they’ll fare in Organic Chemistry—and probably (along with their parents) about sexual assault. Recent media reports have exposed terrifying stories amidst heightened scrutiny of the Department of Education, which is currently investigating 55 schools’ administrative responses to sexual assault on their campus.

And those students (along with their parents) are right to worry: it’s during these first weeks on campus that sexual assault rates are highest. Right now is called the “Red Zone” – it refers to those beginning of the year parties where young women are eager to please and young men have a lot to prove, where alcohol is flowing freely, and everyone is eager to break out of their helicopter parents’ ambit. The atmosphere is steamy and soggy, peering out from behind beer goggles makes nearly everyone’s vision blurry. Words like “consent” and “resistance” lose precision.

At least that’s the prevailing idea. But lets look a little more closely at those parties. While researching my book, Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, I probably spent more time as a grown-up observer at these parties than I ever did as a student. On the surface, it looks pretty equal: guys and girls having fun, drinking themselves silly, dancing as long as they can stand up (or sometimes beyond). But many campus parties are arenas of dramatic gender inequality.

This is pretty ironic, because during the day, there is probably no institution in America that is more gender equal. At night, well, not so much. Take a look at how everyone’s dressed. It is a sociological axiom that you can observe dynamics of inequality by looking at who dresses up for whom: Those with less power almost invariably dress up for those who have more. So, by day, in class, women and men dress pretty much the same: t-shirts, sweatshirts, jeans and running shoes or flip-flops. At parties, though, the guys will still be dressed that way, while the women will be sporting party dresses, high heels and make up.

And just who is hosting the parties? Did you know that national Greek-letter sororities are prohibited from serving alcohol at parties? Fraternities, by contrast, are permitted to do so (in accordance with state alcohol laws). The Interfraternity Council has no national policy, but focuses instead on vague advice on alcohol education.

Thus the frats hold the parties. Walk up to the door and there are always a few brothers who act as gatekeepers, admitting those women who appear to dress, drink, dance, and party in the ways that the fraternity guys most want, and excluding those who don’t.

Let’s be clear: Sexual assaults take place at all hours of the day and night, in every location on campus, including dorms, classrooms, libraries, and off-campus residences. But the fraternity party has been singled out for special attention, not because fraternity men are more likely to be sexual predators, but because the research makes clear that fraternity parties are, to be blunt, the most likely site for sexual assault to occur.

Guyland by Michael Kimmel

So, at a time when 55 colleges and universities are being investigated over how they handle claims of sexual assault, a first step might be to simply reverse this alcohol policy.

Imagine if, just for 2014-2015, only sororities were permitted to serve alcohol at the parties (in accordance with state law) and fraternities were expressly prohibited from doing so. Now party gatekeepers would be the sorority sisters who will determine if the men who seek entry are dressed well enough, behaved well enough, and responsible enough to be there.

Of course, it would be impossible for the sisters to prevent sweet looking nicely dressed predators from entry. But policing doesn’t have to stop at the door. Act like a jerk? The women will ask you to leave. Resist, and that’s where the legions of men who complain that they, the “good guys,” are unfairly tarnished with such broad brushes come in. Eager to show the women they are, in fact, good guys, they show the lout the door, and burnish their reputation – and get invited back.

At fraternity parties, when a young woman is so drunk she can barely stand up, some enterprising young predator will try to take her upstairs. Where will he go at the sorority party? Some will ask their friends “can I use your room?” And just as surely, some women will say yes. But others will be alerted, and assault would be far less likely.

It has the drawback of throwing the burden of preventing sexual assault back on women, who’d have to staff, police, and procure for the parties, and clean up the messes afterwards. But I suspect most women would happily trade Sunday morning cleanups for a lower likelihood of sexual assault. And guys wouldn’t exactly be prohibited from helping out.

This simple change will not eliminate sexual assault on our nation’s campuses. Nor, however, will strategies that focus only on changing individual behavior. It’s a start, and it can accomplish two things, one concrete and one abstract. It will reduce assault by reducing opportunity, increasing peer surveillance, and leading young men to think before they act. And abstractly, it begins a conversation about the causes of sexual assault on campus, and that there need to be both institutional and individual responses.

Let’s see just one campus try it for a year and see what happens. Because transforming the “rape culture” will require institutional changes. While you are fighting for your right to party, as the Beastie Boys sang, you shouldn’t also have to fight someone off.


Michael Kimmel, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University, is the author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

Campus Sexual Assault: What Ever Happened to Common Sense?

Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014.
Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

Parents, don't let your daughters grow up to think they have no agency

According to much of the media, there is an “epidemic” of sexual assault, including rape, on our college campuses. The problem is apparently so bad that California recently passed a “yes means yes” law that requires “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” on campus, and President Obama announced a new national initiative to put a stop to it. Not to mention the countless rallies, awareness sessions, YouTube videos, and so-called SlutWalks aimed at telling men to keep their parts in their pants and their paws to themselves unless otherwise directed.

There’s been an ocean of ink spilled on this subject, most of it falling into two camps: the first reasons that no matter what language or set of rules colleges and universities adopt in an effort to curb sexual assault, most cases of alleged abuse comes down to “he said, she said.” This camp also tends to assume that, in any given case, the male party will be found guilty by default, fairly or not. The second set of voices points to a culture of male dominance — one that all too often leaves young victims of sexual assault without recourse to justice (especially on campuses where certain members of the student body, especially prized athletes, aren’t held accountable for their crimes), such that action from the top needs to be taken immediately to stop the assaults.

Both sides of the debate have validity. However, what neither seems to recognize is that much of the time, young women have agency. There are of course exceptions — the football player who pushes a girl into a closet and rapes her, the drunken frat boy who doesn’t stop at “no,” the ex-boyfriend who, allowed into the confines of his ex-girlfriend’s dorm room, forces himself on her. Even so — at least in my view — women are not, and certainly don’t need to be, helpless victims of a misogynistic endgame.

This is the point at which I think the debate has gone powerfully stupid. Where, in all this spillage of verbiage and amping-up of anger and outrage, is female agency, the ability of young women to make their own fates and claim their own power? What’s feminist about teaching our daughters that, as victims of a sexist culture, there’s no use in taking control of their own bodies, not only in terms of using birth control, but also when it comes to drinking, dressing, and representing themselves? What’s pro-female about ignoring the reality of non-verbal communication, of nuance and gesture and expression?

I have a personal interest in all this because of my own undergraduate twins and their older brother. My oldest son’s freshman year roommate had a different girl in the room with him every night — a major source of misery for my son — and was eventually booted off campus after being charged with sexual assault. My younger son, currently at a college in Massachusetts where frat life is minimal, claims that campus assault is a real problem, and anyone who thinks otherwise is being willfully ignorant. And yet my daughter, in South Carolina — where Greek life dominates — says that she has never known anyone, or of anyone, who has been assaulted. “But if you get completely wasted at some frat party,” she said, “and you wake up naked with some guy next to you, you might not even remember what happened.”

Yup: that’s college all right. If memory serves, college is a time when that heady brew of youthful idiocy, curiosity, and horniness is likely to result in at least one misadventure between the sheets. Just add copious amounts of alcohol or drugs and, voila, a potentially potent brew of disinhibition, peer pressure, confusion, desire, and even memory loss (with alcoholic blackout). Thus my own memories, garnered both from my own and my friends’ experiences, of trying it on, acting it out, experimenting, bowing to peer expectations, having a one-night-stand, disregarding the inner voice that’s telling you to get out of there, indulging in a quickie and waking up with a morning-after hangover of regret and perhaps shame? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. But assault? Not so much.

Not that sexual assault is something to take lightly. In my view, sexual assault is a crime and needs to be treated as such, period, end of story, no matter how scantily clad, or wasted, the victim. But if there is in fact an explosion of sexual assault on campus, why now, after decades of feminist consciousness raising and “take back the night” marches?

My daughter-in-law thinks that in fact there isn’t an uptick of sexual assault on campus, just a greater willingness to report it. Perhaps. But that equation leaves out the cultural swings toward even greater confusion (and instant gratification) that her generation was raised on, as compared to my own desperately confused generation. Because at least in my own desperately confused generation — during which the “three date rule” stipulated that you owed it to the guy to sleep with him after three dates — we had grown up with parents who, more often than not, themselves grew up with notions of what was then called virtue: i.e., good girls and good boys waited (or at least didn’t spread it around).

Compare that to today’s college students, whose parents grew up with easy access to birth control and may themselves never have figured out that the anything-goes culture of our own youths was less than ideal.

What keeps coming up for me is the old song “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” except in my version, it’s “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Stupid,” with additional lyrics, including a refrain, that exhort fathers to accord their daughters both love and respect and teach their sons that real masculinity lies in restraint.

Take back the night? I’m all for it. But while all the conferences are being held and the marchers are marching, it wouldn’t hurt to stop ignoring the complexity of human interaction, the birds and the bees, and the remarkable power of alcohol to make otherwise intelligent people stupid. Young people who find themselves in sexually confusing situations might want to emulate their grandparents and resort to common sense. And if, God forbid, they are victimized, they need to report it immediately, and get help.

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

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