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The Other Campus Rape Epidemic

campus rape

Over the last two weeks, the most prominent narrative stories in the media regarding campus rapes, which liberals have deemed an ‘epidemic’ have crumbled in front of our eyes. Lena Dunham, star of the HBO show Girls is about to be sued, along with her publisher, by a man she pinpointed as her rapist while Dunham was at Oberlin. Every day a story which appeared in Rolling Stone regarding a violent gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia unravels further. While conservatives like Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner were some of the first to call the story into question, now even liberal publications like Salon and the Washington Post are picking the story apart.

In Slate Emily Yoffe chronicled the other victims of campus rape accusations: the wrongly accused. While liberals in the media have proclaimed an epidemic, Yoffe takes that assertion to task as well,

The Sexual Victimization of College Women, a 2000 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, is the basis for another widely cited statistic, even grimmer than the finding of CSA: that one in four college women will be raped. (An activist organization, One in Four, takes its name from the finding.) The study itself, however, found a completed rape rate among its respondents of 1.7 percent. How does a study that finds less than 2 percent of college women in a given year are raped become a 25 percent likelihood? In addition to the 1.7 percent of victims of completed rape, the survey found that another 1.1 percent experienced attempted rape. As the authors wrote, “[O]ne might conclude that the risk of rape victimization for college women is not high; ‘only’ about 1 in 36 college women (2.8 percent) experience a completed rape or attempted rape in an academic year.”

But the authors go on to make several assumptions that ratchet up the risk. The study was carried out during the spring and asked women to describe any assaults experienced during that academic year. The researchers decided to double the numbers they received from their subjects, in order to extrapolate their findings over an entire calendar year, even as they acknowledged that this was “problematic,” as students rarely attend school for 12 months. That calculation brought the incidence figure to nearly 5 percent. Although college is designed to be a four-year experience, the authors note that it takes students “an average” of five years, so they then multiplied their newly-arrived-at 5 percent of student victims by five years, and thus they conclude: “The percentage of completed or attempted rape victimization among women in higher educational institutions might climb to between one-fifth and one-quarter.”

Could this be the end of the hysteria over an imaginary campus rape epidemic? With potential lawsuits against Dunham and Rolling Stone in the works, it might actually be a possibility. In the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway narrows down the media’s ongoing problem with unraveling rape story lines, “The real problem doesn’t seem, at this point, to be about journalistic invention so much as adoption of narratives at the expense of facts.” Lawsuits might stop media outlets from rushing to publish rape accusations and universities from playing fast and loose with punishments without due process, but the overall love of narrative over fact-checking likely won’t end any time soon.

Do you think there’s a campus rape ‘epidemic?’