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
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.

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

The Most Game-Changing Part of the ‘Affirmative Consent’ Law

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

Quinn Cummings is a writer of three books, Notes From the Underwire, The Year of Learning Dangerously and Pet Sounds.

Consent and lack of consent can look the same

If you’re interested in women’s safety in general and, specifically, women’s safety on college campuses, it’s been a noteworthy week. On Monday, the Huffington Post looked at data from 125 schools, from fiscal year 2011 through 2013, and determined that a “conservative estimate of the cases shows 13 percent of students found responsible for sexual assault were expelled; at most, 30 percent were expelled.”

Stated without the arithmetic: over the past two years, people found guilty of sexual assault – which includes rape, harassment and stalking – were, by a wide margin, allowed to continue their education on the same campus with their victims. In one case where the assault was caught on videotape, the assailant’s punishment was “expulsion after graduation.”

The policies that govern how some schools deal with rape are created and modified by the Association of Student Conduct Administration, a group that describes itself as “the premier authority in higher education for student conduct administration and conflict resolution.” The ASCA recommends that “legalistic language,” such as “rape,” “judicial,” “defense” or “guilty” should be yanked from policies and procedures. To my knowledge, the ASCA doesn’t offer suggestions about what words should be used instead.

If those responsible for student welfare were known to work in tandem with local law enforcement, semantic arguments like these would be just another example of academic nitpicking. In a recent study, however, 73% of schools surveyed had no protocols in place for working with the police and of those that do, the systems are inadequate to the task. Often, a rape victim’s one shot at justice is through a system created by ASCA, an organization whose president-elect, Laura Bennett, is quoted as saying “‘Rape’ is a legal, criminal term,” a harmless enough assertion if she didn’t go on to say, “We’re trying to continue to share we’re not court, we don’t want to be court – we want to provide an administrative, educative process.” Sadly, the “educative” outcome seems to be how to get away with raping a schoolmate.

Having a bad system in place is probably better than having no system, but that’s only from the perspective of the institution, not the victim. It’s easy to suggest that a porous response to rape allegations serves the reputation of any school where these crimes occur – or allegedly occur. Local law enforcement has to make these statistics a matter of public record, while university administrations are under a different set of rules, and, in most cases, no set of rules.

In one survey, 40% of the schools surveyed hadn’t conducted a single sexual-assault investigation in five years, which, not surprisingly, can lead to low numbers of reported sexual assaults. One theory is that an entire generation of women students believe that, as with their sisters in the armed forces, reporting sexual misdeeds is a risky and futile undertaking. A more troubling corollary is that school administrators downplay this criminal behavior as a matter of course, that anything that might smear a school’s reputation needs to be minimized for the good of all involved. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Anyone looking at the current state of administrative response to rape and sexual assault on campus could make an easy leap from benign negligence to silent conspiracy. Everyone simply understands what needs to be done, and why. A look back at how Jim Crow was allowed to fester for decades in the United States speaks to the effectiveness of this approach. As with Jim Crow, the killing of any deep-rooted collusion requires increased public awareness, individual outrage and political courage.

This week, California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB967, a bill that could substantially change the nature of sexual conduct on campus and, we can only hope, across the nation. Instead of “No means no,” the new definition of consent will require “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” In short, “No means no” will be replaced with “Yes means yes.” Also, please note the word “conscious.” Anyone drugged, drunk, unconscious or asleep cannot, by definition, consent.

What’s astonishing about this legislation is not that we finally have a law to address the fundamental nature of sexual consent; what’s astonishing is that we needed a law to clarify this in the first place.

Yes, this law isn’t perfect. Unless every dorm room comes equipped with a court reporter, there will continue to be miscommunication. Still, the most important, most game-changing part of this new law may be a single phrase: Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.

This is huge. It should be the beginning of every conversation with college freshmen. High-school freshmen, while we’re at it. As Dr. Deborah Davis, J. Guillermo Villalobos and Dr. Richard Leo have written in a recent publication for the Oxford University Press:

“…the most commonly reported signal to indicate consent, used roughly equally by both men and women, was simply not resisting the sexual advances of the other person (i.e., expressing no response). Nevertheless…lack of resistance to sexual advances could have very different meanings for the two interacting individuals. It might be reflect reactions such as shock, confusion, shame, fear of repercussions of refusal, and others.”

Consent and lack of consent can look the same. A gesture or comment might seem like nothing, but it might be the one chance a woman has to stop something she no longer feels comfortable doing. And it’s important to understand that this new standard also protects men ­– men who may have thought their partners were consenting and genuinely shocked to learn otherwise. The law, and the public, must demand a new conversation for our children and for everyone’s children. When asked why so few expulsions were given out for sexually based offenses, ASCA’s Bennett said, “The worst thing we can do is tell someone they can’t go to school at our institution.”

She’s wrong. The worst thing we can tell someone is that if they’ve been sexually assaulted on campus, they’re on their own.

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 White House

Kerry Washington and Jon Hamm Star in Sexual Assault Prevention PSA

The "It's On Us" spot was produced by the White House and will air during college football games this weekend.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will announce a new public awareness and education campaign Friday designed to change the culture on college campuses and prevent sexual assault before it happens.

The campaign is the next phase in the White House’s multi-pronged effort to reduce the rate of sexual assault on campuses and to support survivors. The campaign, called “It’s On Us,” will be aimed at changing the culture by inspiring every person on a college campus to take action, big or small, to prevent sexual assault.

The campaign’s first public service announcement, which features President Obama and Vice President Biden and celebrities like Kerry Washington, Jon Hamm, and Connie Britton, will air on Saturday on the big screens in several college football stadiums during games. Though senior White House officials declined to give further details of the PSA during a call with reporters, the White House said the campaign would be particularly focused on getting young men involved. That theme began with a PSA the White House launched in April called “1 is 2 Many,” featuring male celebrities like Steve Carell and Daniel Craig.

The campaign will draw from a popular trend in sexual assault prevention: bystander intervention, a public awareness and training philosophy that encourages members of the community to intervene when they see sexual violence about to happen. Many colleges have adopted such training programs on campus, and a recent CDC report found that bystander intervention has great potential to drive change.

“The campaign reflects a belief that sexual assault isn’t just an issue involving a crime committed by a perpetrator against a victim, but one in which the rest of us also have a role to play,” the White House said.

In addition to the PSA, with the help of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, private companies, collegiate sports organizations like the NCAA, and the student body leadership from 200 colleges and universities, many different platforms will carry the logo and the “It’s On Us” message. To get the word out further, Electronic Arts, a leading video gaming company, will carry the “It’s On Us” message to its players, Viacom will promote the “It’s On Us” message through its online properties, including MTV, VH1, and BET, and popular media personalities will create “It’s On US” content and promote it on their platforms.

The White House efforts will also include recommendations for three new best practices for colleges and universities to improve their sexual assault response, such as model policy information to include in their sexual misconduct policies. The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women will also award over $6 million to 18 colleges with grants to develop sexual assault response and prevention programs.

TIME feminism

5 Feminist Myths That Will Not Die

If we're genuinely committed to improving the circumstances of women, we need to get the facts straight

Much of what we hear about the plight of American women is false. Some faux facts have been repeated so often they are almost beyond the reach of critical analysis. Though they are baseless, these canards have become the foundation of Congressional debates, the inspiration for new legislation and the focus of college programs. Here are five of the most popular myths that should be rejected by all who are genuinely committed to improving the circumstances of women:

MYTH 1: Women are half the world’s population, working two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receiving 10% of the world’s income, owning less than 1% of the world’s property.

FACTS: This injustice confection is routinely quoted by advocacy groups, the World Bank, Oxfam and the United Nations. It is sheer fabrication. More than 15 years ago, Sussex University experts on gender and development Sally Baden and Anne Marie Goetz, repudiated the claim: “The figure was made up by someone working at the UN because it seemed to her to represent the scale of gender-based inequality at the time.” But there is no evidence that it was ever accurate, and it certainly is not today.

Precise figures do not exist, but no serious economist believes women earn only 10% of the world’s income or own only 1% of property. As one critic noted in an excellent debunking in The Atlantic, “U.S. women alone earn 5.4 percent of world income today.” Moreover, in African countries, where women have made far less progress than their Western and Asian counterparts, Yale economist Cheryl Doss found female land ownership ranged from 11% in Senegal to 54% in Rwanda and Burundi. Doss warns that “using unsubstantiated statistics for advocacy is counterproductive.” Bad data not only undermine credibility, they obstruct progress by making it impossible to measure change.

MYTH 2: Between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are pressed into sexual slavery each year in the United States.

FACTS: This sensational claim is a favorite of politicians, celebrities and journalists. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore turned it into a cause célèbre. Both conservatives and liberal reformers deploy it. Former President Jimmy Carter recently said that the sexual enslavement of girls in the U.S. today is worse than American slavery in the 19th century.

The source for the figure is a 2001 report on child sexual exploitation by University of Pennsylvania sociologists Richard Estes and Neil Alan Weiner. But their 100,000–300,000 estimate referred to children at risk for exploitation—not actual victims. When three reporters from the Village Voice questioned Estes on the number of children who are abducted and pressed into sexual slavery each year, he replied, “We’re talking about a few hundred people.” And this number is likely to include a lot of boys: According to a 2008 census of underage prostitutes in New York City, nearly half turned out to be male. A few hundred children is still a few hundred too many, but they will not be helped by thousand-fold inflation of their numbers.

MYTH 3: In the United States, 22%–35% of women who visit hospital emergency rooms do so because of domestic violence.

FACTS: This claim has appeared in countless fact sheets, books and articles—for example, in the leading textbook on family violence, Domestic Violence Law, and in the Penguin Atlas of Women in the World. The Penguin Atlas uses the emergency room figure to justify placing the U.S. on par with Uganda and Haiti for intimate violence.

What is the provenance? The Atlas provides no primary source, but the editor of Domestic Violence Law cites a 1997 Justice Department study, as well as a 2009 post on the Centers for Disease Control website. But the Justice Department and the CDC are not referring to the 40 million women who annually visit emergency rooms, but to women, numbering about 550,000 annually, who come to emergency rooms “for violence-related injuries.” Of these, approximately 37% were attacked by intimates. So, it’s not the case that 22%-35% of women who visit emergency rooms are there for domestic violence. The correct figure is less than half of 1%.

MYTH 4: One in five in college women will be sexually assaulted.

FACTS: This incendiary figure is everywhere in the media today. Journalists, senators and even President Obama cite it routinely. Can it be true that the American college campus is one of the most dangerous places on earth for women?

The one-in-five figure is based on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and conducted from 2005 to 2007. Two prominent criminologists, Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox and Mount Holyoke College’s Richard Moran, have noted its weaknesses:

“The estimated 19% sexual assault rate among college women is based on a survey at two large four-year universities, which might not accurately reflect our nation’s colleges overall. In addition, the survey had a large non-response rate, with the clear possibility that those who had been victimized were more apt to have completed the questionnaire, resulting in an inflated prevalence figure.”

Fox and Moran also point out that the study used an overly broad definition of sexual assault. Respondents were counted as sexual assault victims if they had been subject to “attempted forced kissing” or engaged in intimate encounters while intoxicated.

Defenders of the one-in-five figure will reply that the finding has been replicated by other studies. But these studies suffer from some or all of the same flaws. Campus sexual assault is a serious problem and will not be solved by statistical hijinks.

MYTH 5: Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns—for doing the same work.

FACTS: No matter how many times this wage gap claim is decisively refuted by economists, it always comes back. The bottom line: the 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week. When such relevant factors are considered, the wage gap narrows to the point of vanishing.

Wage gap activists say women with identical backgrounds and jobs as men still earn less. But they always fail to take into account critical variables. Activist groups like the National Organization for Women have a fallback position: that women’s education and career choices are not truly free—they are driven by powerful sexist stereotypes. In this view, women’s tendency to retreat from the workplace to raise children or to enter fields like early childhood education and psychology, rather than better paying professions like petroleum engineering, is evidence of continued social coercion. Here is the problem: American women are among the best informed and most self-determining human beings in the world. To say that they are manipulated into their life choices by forces beyond their control is divorced from reality and demeaning, to boot.

Why do these reckless claims have so much appeal and staying power? For one thing, there is a lot of statistical illiteracy among journalists, feminist academics and political leaders. There is also an admirable human tendency to be protective of women—stories of female exploitation are readily believed, and vocal skeptics risk appearing indifferent to women’s suffering. Finally, armies of advocates depend on “killer stats” to galvanize their cause. But killer stats obliterate distinctions between more and less serious problems and send scarce resources in the wrong directions. They also promote bigotry. The idea that American men are annually enslaving more than 100,000 girls, sending millions of women to emergency rooms, sustaining a rape culture and cheating women out of their rightful salary creates rancor in true believers and disdain in those who would otherwise be sympathetic allies.

My advice to women’s advocates: Take back the truth.

Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author of several books, including Who Stole Feminism and The War Against Boys, and is the host of a weekly video blog, The Factual Feminist. Follow her @CHSommers.

TIME

Bipartisan Bill Aims to Reform Campus Sexual Assault Investigations

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

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would require an annual survey of students' experiences with assault at college to be published online

Eight Senators on Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at curbing on-campus rape that will include an annual survey of students about their experience with sex assault.

“We should never accept the fact that women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus. But today they are. And it has to end,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in a statement about the Campus Safety and Accountability Act. “ We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer. Students deserve real safety and accountability instead of empty promises.”

Gillibrand, who has been at the forefront of efforts to combat sexual assault, was a part of a bipartisan group of Senators supporting the bill including Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The proposed legislation came just weeks after a Senate subcommittee survey revealed that 41% of 236 American colleges had conducted no investigations of alleged assaults in the last five years. Under the new rules, colleges would be required to assign on-campus “Confidential Advisors” with the task of being a trusted resource for victims of assault. The goal of the advisors would be to encourage victims to come forward while reducing the likelihood that cases would be swept under the rug due to poorly executed, or non existent investigations.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Education is investigating 55 colleges and universities that may have violated federal law in their flawed handling of accusations of assault. (An estimated one in five women are sexually assaulted in some way while in college, though the bulk of victims fail to report to authorities.)

The Campus Safety and Accountability Act would require not only a uniform process for disciplinary proceedings; it would also colleges to coordinate with law enforcement throughout investigations. If schools fail to comply they could also face penalties affecting 1% of their total operating budgets and a $150,000 fine per violation.

Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) said in a statement Wednesday that the proposed legislation “will help improve the way that colleges deal with sexual violence, and will give more victims an opportunity for justice.”

The bill also takes a historic approach to campus transparency by administering an annual survey of students to gage their experiences with assault. The results would be published online as a benefit to parents and current and prospective students.

“This bill represents a rare thing in Washington—a truly collaborative, bipartisan effort—and that bodes well for our shared fight to turn the tide against sexual violence on our campuses,” said Sen. McCaskill, who recently released a survey on college’s approach to sexual assault. “To curb these crimes, students need to be protected and empowered, and institutions must provide the highest level of responsiveness in helping hold perpetrators fully accountable. That’s what our legislation aims to accomplish.”

Read more about the campus rape crisis in TIME’s cover story here.

 

This post was updated to include a statement from Sen. Claire McCaskill.

TIME Education

Colleges Are Breaking the Law on Sex Crimes, Report Says

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

New survey amid push for congressional action

Many American colleges and universities are bucking federal law in their handling of campus sexual assaults, according to a survey released Wednesday by a top lawmaker on the issue.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the results reveal a broad failure by many schools but also offer possible solutions as she and a bipartisan group of lawmakers draft legislation to address the problem. They’re likely to produce a bill around the time students head back to campus this fall.

The survey results come as pressure grows on higher-education institutions to improve their handling of sexual assault from the White House, Department of Education and student advocates. Schools are legally required to address sex crimes and sex harassment under Title IX, a law that prohibits schools that receive public funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. In May, the Department of Education began publicly listing the schools under investigation for violations of Title IX, and the number recently reached 64. The scrutiny has colleges scrambling to improve their policies and procedures.

Colleges and universities are not following even the most basic rules already required of them, according to the survey. Results from the 236 schools that responded to the survey revealed that even though colleges are legally required to have a Title IX coordinator (a staff member responsible for managing the school’s compliance with the laws on sexual harassment and sex crimes), 10% of schools did not. And 41% of schools surveyed had not conducted a single sexual-assault investigation in the past five years.

“That means that they are saying there have been zero incidents of sexual assault on their campuses,” McCaskill said in a call with reporters. “That is hard to believe.”

Schools are required by law to investigate when they know or reasonably should have known about a sex crime on their campus. But more than 21% of “the nation’s largest private institutions” surveyed conducted fewer investigations than they reported to the Department of Education, with some schools reporting as many as seven times the number of incidents of sexual violence than they investigated, which “on its face is violating the black-letter law in this country,” McCaskill said.

Other results revealed a lack of professionalism inherent in the process of handling sex crimes at many of the institutions. Even though most schools, 73%, had no protocol for how to work with the local police, many schools nonetheless had not adequately trained personnel on how to deal with these serious crimes internally. Twenty-one percent of the schools provided no training on sexual-assault response for members of faculty and staff, and 31% provided no training to students. A third of schools failed to provide basic training to the people adjudicating claims, 43% of the nation’s “largest public schools” let students help adjudicate cases, and 22% of institutions gave athletic departments oversight of cases involving athletes — a stat McCaskill called “borderline outrageous.”

The lack of police involvement combined with the institutions’ broad-based failure to handle these crimes adequately, means there is little deterrent for perpetrators on campus.

“We will ultimately have a system that is more of a deterrent than we have now,” McCaskill said. “The folks preying on college students — they have little to no fear of serious consequences.”

TIME Education

Watch The Daily Show Get Hilariously Real About Campus Sexual Assault

"But not all men are bad..."

The Daily Show
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Daily Show on Facebook

 

Jon Stewart was surprised to find out that three students at James Madison University who allegedly sexually assaulted a classmate—and filmed themselves doing so—were punished by being expelled after graduation. Yep, that’s right: after graduation. James Madison is just one of 55 schools being investigated by the federal government for mishandling cases of sexual assault on campus.

So Daily Show correspondents Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper (dressed in typical college garb) took it upon themselves to give students some safety tips. The way they take on gender-related injustice is hilarious: they even get a “not all men” reference in there.

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