How Ideology Shapes our Understanding of Sexual Assault

rape_cultureby James A. Bacon

On January 22, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum announcing the formation of a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault. “The prevalence of rape and sexual assault at our Nation’s institutions of higher education is both deeply troubling and a call to action,” he said. “Studies show that about one in five women is a survivor of attempted or completed sexual violence while in college. In addition, a substantial number of men experience sexual violence during college. ”

In April, the task force published a report, “Not Alone,” spelling out recommendations for preventing sexual assaults on campus. “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college,” stated the report. “Most often, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. Many survivors are left feeling isolated, ashamed or to blame. Although it happens less often, men, too, are victims of these crimes.”

The “one woman in five” figure has become an article of faith, a mantra repeated endlessly without question by the anti-rape movement on campuses around the country. The conviction that universities are experiencing “an epidemic of rape” abetted by a “culture of rape” is driving a White House-led wave of so-called reforms to reduce the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses — including the University of Virginia, as I documented here.

In that post, I characterized the movement to transform college cultures across the country and at the University of Virginia as “ideologically driven.” By that, I meant that the White House is imposing a narrative upon the issue of sexual assault on campus, and that its recommendations for addressing the problem flow from that narrative. With today’s post, I back up that statement.

Sexual assault statistics. The best place to start unpacking the ideological biases of the anti-rape movement is the ubiquitously quoted “one woman in five” figure. The most authoritative source for that figure comes from a 2007 study, “The Campus Sexual Assault Study,” prepared for the National Institute of Justice and written by Christopher P. Krebs, Christine H. Lindquist, and Tara D. Warner.

That study was based upon a Web survey of 5,466 college women at two large public universities, one in the South and one in the Midwest. As the authors concede, a “limitation of the CSA Study, inherent with Web-based surveys, is that the response rates were relatively low. … lower than what we typical achieve using a different mode of data collection (e.g. face-to-face interviewing).” The authors recruited students through emails and recruitment letters. The authors do not consider the possibility that women who had experienced a sexual assault were more motivated to respond to the survey — especially if campus anti-rape groups were drawing attention to the surveys and urging women to participate.

The survey also questioned 1,375 males about sexual assault, asking them to self-report (with promises of anonymity) instances in which they perpetrated sexual assaults. Only 1.8% of males reported perpetrating any type of sexual assault while in college. In other words, there was a vast gulf in perception between males and females — 2% versus 20% — regarding the incidence of sexual assault. The numbers reported were so low, wrote the authors, that they “seriously doubt the validity of the data.” But was that skepticism warranted? While it is possible that males under-reported the rate at which they committed sexual assaults, it is also possible that females over-reported the extent to which they were the victim of assaults. Rather than question the validity of the data reported by females, the authors chose to question the validity of the data reported by males. Needless to say, no one in the “epidemic of rape” movement quotes the 1.8% figure reported by males.

Another crucial issue is how the authors define “sexual assault.” Not only does the term include assaults occurring as the result of physical force but those that are achieved by the “incapacitation of the victim” — “any unwanted sexual contact occurring when a victim is unable to provide consent or stop what is happening because she is passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep.” Unwanted sexual contact includes not only oral, anal or genital rape but “sexual battery (i.e. sexual assault that entailed sexual touching only).” It goes without saying that ascertaining sexual assault when one or both parties are drunk, drugged or otherwise incapacitated is a highly subjective matter — a matter that may explain much of the difference in male and female perception.

Those who decry the “epidemic of rape” do not cite these caveats because doing so would undermine their “one woman in five” narrative. Nor, incidentally, do they typically cite the authors’ findings that certain factors are associated with an increased risk of sexual assault. The more women drink, the greater the chances they will experience an incident that gets classified as sexual assault. Likewise, the greater the number of sexual partners, the greater the chances of sexual assault. (That’s not to say that women who drink or have sex with many partners “deserve” to be raped — they don’t. But it is to say that their encounters may fall into gray areas in which the issue of consent is not easily sorted out.)

sexual_assault_trendsInterestingly, a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report published earlier this month, “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013,” shows a dramatically lower rate of victimization — between four and nine incidents annually per 1,000 students between 1997 and 2o13, a rate that translated into roughly five percent of all female college students over the period. The BJS study does employ a narrower definition of sexual assault — threatened, attempted or completed rape and assault — while excluding unwanted contact such as forcible kissing, fondling or grabbing, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable to the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study. But two findings stand out. First, the rate of sexual assault declined by roughly half between 1997 and 2013, in direct contrast to the rising alarm on college campuses. Second, the rate of sexual assault for non-students is 1.2 times higher than for students, suggesting that factors not related to the college experience may be playing a role.

If “epidemic of rape” advocates suddenly begin footnoting the caveats in the 2007 study or citing the findings of the Bureau of Justice Study, then it would be plausible to portray them as fair-minded pragmatists interested in pursuing a non-ideological truth. In the absence of such rhetoric, however, it is reasonable to assume that they cite numbers that depict the phenomenon in the most dire terms possible — in terms, in other words, that support their view that a “culture of rape” prevails in American campuses and that drastic changes in that culture are called for.  (For the record: Liberals and progressives aren’t the only people who cherry pick data. I have seen conservatives carelessly citing the Bureau of Justice Statistics findings to debunk the 2007 study without acknowledging that the two studies are measuring different things, hence are not directly comparable.)

Framing the issue. Campus anti-rape advocates also betray their ideological blinders in the way they frame the issue of sexual assault. While some concede that alcohol (and to a lesser extent other drugs) fuel sexual misconduct, culture-of-rape proponents absolve women for any responsibility in ambiguous situations, declaring that to do so would constitute “blaming the victim.” Clearly, there are incidents on campuses in which men do sexually assault women, either through physical coercion or the use of date-rape drugs, and there is universal agreement across the ideological spectrum that such behavior is reprehensible and criminal and should be punishable with jail time. But those cases are a small (though not trivial) percentage.

A majority of episodes occur in ambiguous circumstances, a manifestation of the drunken party hook-up culture in a university setting in which men and women get wasted, losing their inhibitions and judgment as a consequence. “Epidemic of rape” advocates maintain that women can behave as provocatively as they want and it’s the obligation of men, whose inhibitions and judgment are likewise impaired, to read the signals when women stop giving consent. Likewise, if the two parties are too drunk to remember what happened the next day, the male still is held responsible for anything that might have occurred. Following from these premises, “epidemic of rape” advocates call for sterner measures against male offenders.

Now, it’s one thing for “culture of rape” advocates to hold these positions and it’s quite another to pretend, as some commenters on this blog do, that these positions aren’t ideologically driven. Of course they are. There are other ways to frame the sexual-assault issue. Some conservatives peddle a counter-narrative that liberals are wildly exaggerating the problem of sexual assault on campus. Alternatively, in “Sex, Genes, Love and Rape,” I accept that there is a tragic sex culture on campus but that many if not most so-called sexual assaults stem from a mix of assertive female sexuality, boorish and insensitive male attitudes, and a promiscuous hook-up culture fueled by alcohol and drugs. The reason that my framing of the issue is non-ideological, I would suggest, is that I hold it up as a hypothesis and I’m willing to modify my beliefs based on the data.

Pre-Jackie Sexual Assault Thinking at UVa. While the case is clear cut that the “epidemic of rape” movement is ideologically driven nationally, the picture is more nuanced at UVa. One can glean from anti-rape rallies, articles in local publications and blog posts and comments that the “culture of rape” movement is strong in Charlottesville. But the UVa administration was less dogmatic about these issues — at least early in 2014 before Rolling Stone magazine aired the gang-rape story by the woman it called Jackie.

The “Dialogue at UVa: Sexual Misconduct Among College Students” conference in February 2014 is a good marker for gauging the thinking of President Teresa Sullivan. Some conference speakers appear to be aligned with the culture of rape” movement but not all of them were. For example, speakers delved into the effect of alcohol and discussed the effect of hooking up — “sex without strings” —  on sexual misconduct.

In introducing the conference, Sullivan eschewed simple formulas:

We need to acknowledge that the issues surrounding sexual misconduct are complex. For example, if both parties involved in an alleged case of misconduct are our students, we have to be impartial in the adjudication process and respect the rights of the accused. …

We also need to acknowledge that alcohol, drug use, and the ‘hook-up’ culture among students frequently contribute to sexual misconduct. These cultural issues are serious problems in their own right, and when sexual misconduct is involved, they magnify risk and complicate the adjudication process.

And she said this in her closing remarks:

We agreed that the hookup culture exists on our campuses, although it’s not always clearly defined, and we further agreed that this lack of definition can lead to misperception and misinformation. We learned that about 80 percent of students would prefer to be in a relationship, and that many who do engage in hook ups hold out hope that the hook up could lead to a more stable and meaningful relationship.

Dean Eramo. Image credit: WUVA

Nicole Eramo, Associate Dean of Students, expressed similarly nuanced views in a Sept. 16, 2014, interview on WUVA radio. A majority of sexual assault cases at UVa don’t fit the “culture of rape” template of unambiguous male aggression. Of the 38 “survivors” she spoke with last year, only nine brought forward a complaint, and only five of those advanced to formal hearings. “I think you would be surprised by the number of survivors I’ve worked with who don’t even want to file a complaint because they don’t want to get the accused person in trouble,” she said. “They have a personal connection to this other person and do not want to see them punished.”

Eramo pushed back against the interviewer’s indignation that no men accused of sexual assault have been expelled from the university. Internal UVa hearings use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard versus “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of criminal trials. The goal is to help women achieve closure and to rehabilitate the accused. “We’re trying to balance the rights of the individual who is being accused as well as the rights of the complainant,” she said. “And sometimes that’s very difficult.”

Post-Jackie Sexual Assault Thinking at UVa. The University participated in the White House task force on sexual violence and incorporated much of its thinking into its own policy agenda. But, other than the get-bystanders-involved initiative, none of those proposals surfaced publicly until after the Rolling Stone article. In response to the firestorm, the university rolled out an updated sexual misconduct policy, promised to conduct campus climate surveys, found funding to bolster counseling and trauma services, and promised to address student adjudication issues.

The rhetoric changed dramatically. Suddenly, Sullivan sounded like one of the anti-rape activists demonstrating in front of the Phil Kappa Psi fraternity house:

I write you today in solidarity. I write you in great sorrow, great rage, but most importantly, with great determination. Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead that change for all universities. We can demand that incidents like those described in Rolling Stone never happen and that if they do, the responsible are held accountable to the law. This will require institutional change, cultural change, and legislative change, and it will not be easy. We are making those changes.

Sullivan promised unspecified changes to the student culture, extending to “student behavior,” drinking and the Greek life. Without any evidence other than the Rolling Stone article that any wrong had been committed, she shuttered social events for all sororities and fraternities until the beginning of the spring semester.

Even as the Rolling Stone article collapsed and the gang rape story was exposed as a hoax, Sullivan reiterated her determination to forge ahead: “I remain committed to a fearless examination of our culture and practices,” she said, in laying out an action plan. Her shift from pragmatist to ideologue was complete. Summarized a UVa press release: “Sullivan said the well-being of students, especially survivors of sexual assault, remains the first and foremost concern — regardless of the ongoing scrutiny of the magazine’s account.”

More data, please. The true test of Sullivan’s mettle will come this spring when UVa makes good on its promise to conduct a comprehensive “campus climate” survey on sexual violence. The Obama administration recommends that universities use the Rutgers Campus Climate Survey as a template.

If Virginia uses the Rutgers questionnaire, it will yield fore-ordained findings that generate predetermined talking points. Only the details remain to be filled in. The most contentious part of the survey appears in “Section Four” devoted to student sexual experiences. The questionnaire defines sexual assault and violence as broadly as possible:

“Sexual assault” and “sexual violence” refer to a range of behaviors that are unwanted by the recipient and include remarks about physical appearance, persistent sexual advances that are undesired by the recipient, threats of force to get someone to engage in sexual behavior, as well as unwanted touching and unwanted oral, anal or vaginal penetration or attempted penetration.

The questionnaire then asks two sets of questions. Has the respondent experienced “unwanted sexual contact” under physical force, and has the respondent experienced unwanted contact while “passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep?” The inevitable result will be a finding that [fill in the blank] percent of female students experienced sexual assault and/or violence in the past year; X percentage involved force of the threat of violence; Y percentage took place while incapacitated without consent. Everyone will get up in arms, demonstrations will take place, and the UVA administration will be pressured into “taking action.”

But the Rutgers template deliberately obscures more than it reveals. It doesn’t ask students to categorize “unwanted sexual contact” by degree of offensiveness. It doesn’t distinguish between an unwanted kiss on the cheek and rape at gunpoint. It conflates the horrible with the mundane and then paints it all as an undifferentiated mass of horrible.

The Rutgers questionnaire does not inquire into the context in which “unwanted sexual contact” takes place. How wasted was the woman and/or the man? Did they make out with each other? Did they grope each other? Did they disrobe? Did they disappear into the privacy of a bedroom? What kind of “signals” of consent were given? All of these are unknowable without in-depth personal interviews.

The questionnaire presumes that sexual “assault’ is the only thing worth measuring. But how about the emotional impact of casual coupling? Did the respondent ever feel bad after having sex, even if consensual? Did her sex partner treat her shabbily? Did she make the “walk of shame” alone back to her dormitory room? Did she regret the lack of emotional connection? Did casual, meaningless sex make her feel unfulfilled or even depressed? These questions never get asked, so issues relating to the hook-up culture never enter the dialogue.

If UVa models its questionnaire after the Rutgers template, we’ll know the ideological fix is in. There is no underestimating the importance of this survey in the ongoing battle over student culture. Where will Teresa Sullivan stand? On the side of the pragmatists or the “culture of rape” ideologues? Her recent public statements have not been encouraging.

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20 responses to “How Ideology Shapes our Understanding of Sexual Assault”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Indeed the fix will be in.


    Because the Rutgers template is designed apparently to pick up all of the regret sex (the confusion, the anger, the hurt and the pain) that the hook up culture by its nature causes women and men alike, namely:

    the using of a girl’s body for minutes or an hour’s worth of male pleasure that amounts to sex without meaning, sex without intimacy, sex without friendship, sex without obligation or an ounce of respect, before rejection of anything more. And it works the same way for many males too.

    So the Rutgers template is designed to create the problem without properly naming its cause (indeed by intentionally misnaming it) which is a horrendously destructive culture that college life imposes on young men and women whose morals remain unchanged from generations past. Hence that culture reeks irreplaceable harm on colleges students whose adult leaders fail to either acknowledge the real underlying problem or address it. And now are engaged in a series of false enforcement measures that will only magnify and distort the problem.

    For details see:

    Hooking Up (sex, dating, and Relationships on Campus by Kathleen A. Bogle

    Unprotected by Miriam Grossman

    The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, by Donna Freitas

  2. For an exhaustive expose of the New Puritanism – New Paternalism: How the “Rape Culture” Narrative Demeans Women, Demonizes Men, and Turns Universities into Witch Hunt Tribunals, see: New Puritanism – New Paternalism

    1. starting to sound like – other intractable issues in that people doubt studies, ignore other ones – like this one –

      “Surveys reveal big gap in sexual assault reporting at UMD”

      but more than anything else – have few if any reforms they support – virtually absent from the voluminous writings..

      in that aspect – this plays out a little like the problem in the military – which the armed services felt was “their” problem and they did not need nor want outside-imposed reforms. They would “handle it”.

      In this case – there is an aspect called “hook-up culture” and fear of witch-hunt trials – in the military, it’s own “culture” – and the military’s own discipline structure – different from civilian and defended as the right way -for the military.

      in both cases – it appears that some (not all) of the folks inside the institutions (including alumni/retired), do not want folks from outside the institutions – determining the reforms. That sentiment comes across loud and clear.

      But, here’s the thing – and demonstrated in this blog – few, in any, will specify reforms themselves either…

      Much of the fire and fury here is – directed – at SOME external forces that are perceived as ideologically-driven.

      This, even though, the issue has ALSO come in front of the Congress and in theory, those elected could offer more acceptable, less ideologically-driven proposals… to compete against and displace the POTUS reforms perceived as ideological.

      still not convinced that any given flawed report is proof that it was ideologically motivated.. anyhow especially when there are numerous other reports that tend to indicate that there is a problem – the argument over – to what degree and what reforms.

      but what is stark here in BR – is among the most vociferous complainers – there is little or no accompanying reform proposals that would be acceptable to them.

      so it continues on – one post after another about what they don’t like but not what they’d do about it.

      How is this resolved? what’s the path? or does it end up as yet another unresolveable, gridlocked issue?

      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        Hi Larry –

        I actually agree with many of the concerns, and I’m also a UVA alum. I am partially concerned because the RS article had so many inaccuracies – in fact, I thought it was very inaccurate in reflecting UVA BEFORE the Jackie story fell apart – and partially because the proposed solutions are so, well, to be blunt, stupid.

        Reforms that I think would help include:

        Mandatory reporting of rape and sexual assault to local authorities – even if victim will not cooperate with a prosecution

        Encouragement and support of rape and assault victims who choose to prosecute

        I would like to see Title IX changed to remove the requirement to adjudicate rape and change that to require mandatory reporting to the police.

        Make sure rape kits are processed

        Make sure police are acting on reports

        Remove campus police responsibility for infractions of actual laws – including assault, sexual assault, rape – and hand those suckers over to the real police.

        Crack down on excesses of party culture – I don’t care if you drink legally, but let’s put people back in the real world, where being drunk in public actually is not an accepted thing. I would also extend this to creating public nuisances of various sorts.

        In other words, remove the cocoon and realize these “kids” are adults and they need to come to terms with the good and the bad of that.

        I do not think that affirmative consent, preponderance of evidence for expulsion, mandatory gender studies, or more UVA funded parties are helpful. Both the OCR and the student proposals, to me, had some pretty lame suggestions in there.

        1. Virginiagal2 – I find your suggestions and recommendations – in a word – excellent and I thank you for taking the time to proffer them…

          I presume that, over time, as more folks weigh in with thoughts like yours that the folks on the extremes will be recognized for what they are – and are not – (and I include any administration “too fars”) – and some common-sense middle ground will be found…

          but I also think the way that social media works these days – that informal “reporting” networks will blossom and women will be able to set up their own “early warning” system about certain guys on campus… and that these may become as powerful and effective as any institutional capability.

          I think this ought to be a solvable issue, but it seems it evokes strong emotions all around – and – gender-specific.

          I’m pretty clear on my view.. I subscribe to virtually everything you advocate.

          I think there is a history – worldwide of abuse of women and we have our own historic and generational versions of it – just how many women are the real, not imagined, victims of domestic violence – in a country that purports to the world to treat women better – is evidence we’re not there yet.

          please continue to contribute your thoughts. if you have time and are so inclined.

  3. virginiagal2 Avatar

    I have a couple of pretty big problems with the statistical methods and with the proposed solutions.

    Re statistics, when you ask people if they have ever had sex when drunk or drugged, the large majority are going to be people who were still legally able to give consent. Being drunk is not the same thing as being legally incapacitated, and having sex with a drunk partner is not equivalent to rape.

    Can sex with a drunk partner be rape? Yes, of course – if the person is incapacitated, or if the alcohol was given unknowingly. Sex with an incapacitated partner is definitely rape and is a shameful thing for someone to do. They should be prosecuted.

    But take tonight, for example – do we really think all those couples out for New Years partying together are a rape perpetrator and victim?

    Sex with a drunk partner in most cases is not legally – or morally – rape.

    If you include “drunk” without specifying “too drunk to give consent” and explaining what that line is, you are going to include a huge number of people who do not consider themselves rape victims, and who are not legally rape victims. I strongly suspect that is the largest source of the discrepancy in the numbers, especially given that many of them, surprise surprise, do not consider themselves rape victims.

    Why is it “trust women” doesn’t include “trust women to know what is and is not rape”?

    I don’t know how high false rape reports are, and I doubt they are terribly high. However, you cannot take false reporting statistics for police reports of rape under legal procedure including penalty of perjury, and assume that reporting for campus committees for “sexual misconduct” are the same percentage. Definitions of sexual misconduct are far less clear, and there is no penalty for false reporting.

    You have different populations. You cannot take statistics from one population, and blindly apply them to a very different population. We don’t know what false reporting rates are with college sexual misconduct. Why is that so hard to admit?

    For other points, affirmative consent – that just boggles the mind. I believe No means no, absolutely – and people under pressure of threats or force do not require a verbal no. That makes total sense to me. However, requiring explicit yesses for each stage of each non-duress interaction does not resemble how actual humans actually have sex.

    And, finally, the idea of expelling someone with a preponderance of evidence standard – 50% plus anything – to me, does not meet with basic concepts of fairness and due process. Yes, I know this is not court. But there is such a thing as fairness, and that is not it. Being kicked out of school for sexual misconduct is a life changing thing, and we need to treat the accused in a manner that is fair and unlikely to convict the innocent.

    I have always wondered why younger women do not call themselves feminists. In watching this conversation play out in the press, I think I’ve figured out why. I am pretty appalled.

    1. would like to thank Virginiagal2 for her comments.. which I found added to the overall dialogue here and for myself – learned another thing or two from someone else’s perspective.

      been reading this morning per my habit and found an article relevant to this discussion but perhaps in way not obvious:

      The tech controversies of 2014 (and what we learned from them)

      in particular – free speech on social media and it’s implications and potential to do good and harm…

      so my bet is that 99% of young women on campus now days have smartphones and use social media.

      and you might see where I’m headed with this – but obviously the creation of Ad Hoc “reporting” networks about people’s interpersonal behaviors is not only eminently possible but probably well under-way.

      and .. ultimately – it probably has the potential to compete with or supplant “official” formal campus reporting functions…

      so one guy – can have one woman say something about him to other women in their social network – and that may or may not be fair or not – but if multiple women start reporting experiences with the same guy – Bill Cosby-style – I can see that guy effectively labelled as “do not date under any circumstances” among large numbers of women.

      so I put this back to Virginiagal2 – would you have a view about this?

      am I full of crap on it?


      1. virginiagal2 Avatar

        Hi Larry –

        This is going to be a little random because I have to leave momentarily – but my thoughts are a little yes and a little no.

        To me, you have three different issues with college sexual misconduct. First, predators – people who do things that are unequivocally rape or criminal sexual assault. Think Hannah Graham.

        Second, random creepers – the guy who pushes boundaries to where they break – who does things that range from creepy (gropes and grabs) to possibly criminal or quite immoral (deliberately getting someone drunk, deliberate humiliation).

        Third, confusion and mis-communications – part of becoming an adult and interacting with other people who may have very different mores and expectations. We aren’t born knowing how to interact with each other – we learn.

        The three categories aren’t the same thing. Creepers may morph into predators, but the confused are not likely to. Treating confusion as a sign you are a potential Ted Bundy is probably not going to result in policies that help prevent rape. I’d be way more worried about categories one and two.

        Real predators are pretty rare but very dangerous. Creeps are not rare, but how far they push the boundaries vary, and it’s probably going to respond to social pressure. Confused people who mean well don’t deserve shame, and confused people who don’t understand boundaries well are likely to be able to change.

        To me, we need less “overthrow the patriarchy” and more “treat guys like human beings who are individuals, and who vary in intent and culpability.”

        If Jesse Matthews really did what he’s accused of – and he’s innocent until proven guilty, and we need to remember that – then college adjudication enabled that. Two colleges reportedly kicked him out for sexual misconduct, but without judicial intervention, there was no DNA on file, and there was no criminal record. If it had been handled as a criminal matter, things might have been very different for that woman in Fairfax in 2005, and for Morgan Harrington, and for Hannah Graham.

        Shame helps combat the creepers, but it doesn’t protect from the predators.

        1. Robert Wake Avatar
          Robert Wake


          I hope the Ad Hoc committee has representation from you!

          Your recommendations regarding law involvement violate some of the Title IX and Clery Act requirements. A Charlottesville lawyer wrote an excellent article on the conflict between Tilte IX, Clery act and the involvement of LEO in sexual assault cases. Her work seemed to be knowledgeable. I will post the link to her article if I can find it.

          1. Piece that I believe you are referring to was letter sent by Cheri Lewis to Pres Sullivan & BOV in the days after Rolling Stone published story

          2. thanks for posting the letter. If the things claimed in the letter about the failure to follow the existing requirements of the Clery Act, Title IX and the Colleges own written policy are true – it makes me wonder – once again – why some think this is an “ideological” problem.

            I had been (quite ignorantly) advocating a reporting system that apparently was already in the law – and the college not following it.

            and despite all the fire and fury here about “bad studies” and folks in the WH with an ‘agenda’, it appears that what totally freaked out UVA leadership was not so much the RS article or the WH actions – but the fear
            that they had not been following the law all along – would come out.

            it would seem fundamental to any “study” or anyone’s own view of the “hook-up” culture or the “greek life” – that keeping simple and accurate records are paramount – and without those records – it opens up all kinds of ugly things about what people want to “think” or want to believe and/or ascribe motives to others – – rather than the simple facts that would be in a maintained and complete record of incidents…and appropriate referrals.

            Makes me wonder if UVA is unique in their lack of diligence or if this is common practice at a lot of colleges.

            but worth repeating – if you don’t keep records – than anyone can make up whatever they think those records may or may not have shown – if they were kept.

            Ms. Lewis ends her letter: ” Please ask for the departure of those who have mishandled sexual assault at our University in the past, so that UVa may begin its long voyage back to the shore.”

            I agree and I’d add – this as nothing what-so-ever to do with ideology … except to those who want to make it so.

  4. Robert Wake Avatar
    Robert Wake


    A great response to my question. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and the completeness of your work.

    I will be disappointed if the Spring Study does not include nuanced questions to gain greater insights into the sexual assault problem. Ideology permeating a survey to create an overstated climate of fear to further an agenda undermines the credibility of the cause and alienates reasonable people. I do take solace that the “1 in 5″ studies statistically invalid methods will not be reproduced in the results at UVa. I don’t disallow the possibility that Sullivan’s cryptic statement “I remain committed to a fearless examination of our culture and practices” indicates that she knows that the 20% number is wildly overstated and the results of the study at UVa will likely be significantly lower. Even with a study that may lead to overstatement of the size of the problem, a result of UVa’s study significantly lower than 20% presents challenges for idealogues in introducing draconian policy initiatives. After the survey is completed, the next measure of ideology will be policy creation and implementation; particularly, the suspension of due process for accused students.

    The pendulum swings. If the policies implemented at UVa do not include basic due process rights, the next few years will be a profitable time to sue universities for Title IX violations. I sincerely hope Sullivan leads a nuanced implementation as her legacy.

    Very well done and Happy New Year to you and your family!

  5. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Good comments, Virginiagal2 –

    There are some reliable studies on the veracity of rape reports and claims. And as would be expected in human nature, they vary (truth versus fabrication) all over the map depending on the circumstances that surround the claims. An excellent summary of those studies and their results can be found at Robert Riversong’s website at:

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Robert Riversong’s excellent survey of past studies of sexual assault on campus, including, without limitation, their findings relating to the truth versus fabrication of such claims, case light on the problematic nature of earlier climate surveys done on individual campuses.

      Sullivan in her Rolling Stone Sabrina interview acknowledged the “problematic” nature of these earlier surveys ( some showing 1 in 5 of all college students to be victimized by graduation). As I recall, during the interview, Sullivan indicated that UVA would likely follow “best practices” as determined and handed down by Rutgers if they be endorsed and approved by federal Dept. of Education.

      One wonders how much leeway Sullivan has to vary from these newly adopted Climate Survey policies given current circumstanes, including the ongoing federal institution into UVA’s past practices in this regard.

      Also Riversong’s article “New Puritanism – New Paternalism” (see his above post) is an informative survey of the past history of the development and substance of the ideology that may be driving much of the current policy initiatives within higher education and the federal government that now oversees higher education in a much expanded way than before.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      The book “Unprotected” also contains a mother lode of information on how ideology prevents the effective care and treatment of students suffering the adverse consequences of the Hook-Up Culture. And how that culture also prevents imposition of effective safeguards that can protect college students from the risks, social pressures, and adverse, long lasting physical and emotional consequences of that culture.

      To quote a blurb on the book published in 2007:

      The author Psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, has “treated more than 2000 students at one of America’s most prestigious universities, and she’s seen how the anything goes, women-are-just-like men, safer-sex? agenda is actually making our sons and daughters sick.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    I read this rather dense piece a few times and am still at a loss to see what the ideology is.

    The issue seems to be that a limited 2007 study found in a survey at two colleges that one fifth of women were raped at college. This comes from female respondents. A much smaller percentage of males said yes.

    Ok, so you have a study people quote a lot. Then you combine this with a badly and unfairly reported Rolling Stone story and the combination of the two somehow negates the entire idea that forcible sex on college campuses is not really a problem.

    But then look at the national newspapers this morning. Harvard is being probed for just this problem. Some 200 schools are participating in a program to consider rape on campus.

    But Jim narrows his arguments to just UVa. If there’s no problem, why are some 200 schools willing to participate in Obama’s program? Are they afraid of losing federal Title IX money? Is it really as craven as that?

    But again, Jim is merely challenging the 20 percent in one study. Ok, that’s nice. But it is not enough to say there isn’t a problem.

    1. yes.. one study out of a panoply of studies and with a verifiable flaw … and that tips the scales on the whole issue to ideology…

      this is not histrionics to say this – and yes – this is the classic FAUX news approach to ‘reporting’ these days.. and in fact – most of the right – they fixate on one thing – and it becomes THE litmus test that “proves” all things untoward and wrong…

      the right even does this within their own ranks – a “litmus” test is put forth – and everyone who fails is relegated to one wing or the other of the right wing.

    2. Robert Wake Avatar
      Robert Wake


      You ask many good questions . Other than the use of the word “merely”, I agree with your conclusion.

      Understanding the size, nature and location of the sexual assault problem while resisting our normal human inclination to confirmation bias as precepts to formulating policy will put the initiative’s foundation on firm ground.

  7. […] Does your ideology shape your understanding of sexual assault? (Bacon’s Rebellion) […]

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    There is much to like about Virginiagal2’s commentary and proposals. They are built with a clear eye on reality and common sense, not ideology. They recognize that the government and/or university administrators cannot supervise, regulate, and adjudicate the courting rituals and otherwise legal sexual activities of students as contemplated by some rule making proposals under Title 10. Rather her plan dilutes or neutralizes many of the forces that brew the mess we’re now in at UVA.

    Here’s an effort to put bedrock under Virginiagal2’s proposals.

    What are the forces at work on the Grounds today brewing up the mess we’re in? How does this interactive chain reaction of forces too often work cumulatively to spin the “social scene at UVA out of control?”

    Students caught in this chain reaction of forces move through them consecutively (serially as well), thus suffer their cumulative impact. This inflicts a wide range of emotional and physical harms. These include sexually transmitted diseases with long term health consequences and psychological trauma that ignites binge drinking, confusion, anxiety, fear, anger, depression, withdrawal, collapse of self esteem. These in turn trigger pathologies ranging from self-mutilation to suicide. On tope of these plagues one much add the physical injury and wounds students suffer during any sexual assault and rape generated by UVA’s Hook-Up culture.

    Even without any obvious physical harm this emotional damage can also inflict long term consequences on students future ability to form meaningful, stable and healthy relationships, whether with spouses, mates, co-workers, friends, or folks sharing a highway. It’s important to detail these adverse impacts on student’s health that can grow directly out of an unrestrained Hook Up Culture if only to emphasize that the consequences on students can be very real and grievous harm to very real people, like your daughter or son, or niece or grandchild.

    So they pose too great a risk for ideological games, culture wars, or demagoguery for political advantage that have for far too long gotten in the way of their solutions and indeed acerbate the problem. Unfortunately these games are rampant on the UVA grounds today, obvious for all to see. It’s nothing short of a collapse of culture and leadership, replaced by the hysteria and monolithic group think of a collection of Eric Hoffer’s True Believers.

    And all this is happening in the face of an abject failure on the part of faculty, administrators and Board of Visitors, in violation of their sacred trust. Students not yet adults are entrusted to their care. Their students’ health, safety, and proper educational are their profound responsibility. And it’s immutable, but nowhere to be found on UVA’s Grounds, replaced by the sound of mice feet scurrying for cover.

    So what makes up this “interactive chain reaction of forces’ that works cumulatively to spin the “social scene at UVA out of control, harming its students?” Given the inherent nature of the subject, human sexuality and campus social life, a full answer is impossible, full of caveats and exceptions, and driven by so many unknown variables, wildly different fact patterns within each event, that the cause and its consequent damages are impossible to fully predict, understand and prevent. But consider this simplified and generic formula illustrating forces at play:

    A pervasive Hook Up Culture at UVA results in various groups going out to party at a bar or fraternity without dates in tow where the ultimate objective of many to is to split up into couples for “no strings attached” sex after the group party is over. This is classic hook up sex. It can take many forms. Kissing or foreplay only, oral sex only, vaginal and/or anal intercourse only, or any combination of the above per a wild assortment of ritual that can vary as widely as the full menu of viewing opportunities and situations that are so graphically illustrated on a major porn site that is so easily found on the Internet.

    Or it can be limited to parlor games from Victorian age. Paradoxically, the more advanced the sex (intercourse and oral), the more anonymous it often is. For despite our wretched culture at UVA today, the inherent morals of our youth remain essentially unchanged. So often here the student players of the hook-up game at UVA do not want to engage in such behavior with people they like, or will likely see again in close quarters like back at the dorm, or someone that they think has relationship potential. They chose strangers for intercourse or oral sex, or students they know just well enough not to respect. So the immutability of morality in today’s students at UVA is a double-edged sword, one that is now raising emotional havoc on the Grounds, given that it’s out of synch with the UVA culture that now overlays it. Thus too sex confined to old-fashioned necking and fondling though clothes can do as much harm to the players as oral sex or intercourse, depending on the circumstances and individuals involved.

    So we’re talking about a complex subject with many variables and unknowns that world-class novelists, playwrights, and poets have struggled with for millennium. Aristophanes 411 BC Lysistrata comes to mind. So does Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet written more than 2000 years later. Divorce lawyers and psychiatrists now also struggle to divine such inscrutable behavior. Surely then federal officials at the White House and UVA bureaucrats are not up to the task of ironing this mess out. Nor is some assistant Dean deputized at UVA to prosecute, judge, jury, find law and fact, capable of any semblance of due process in Star Chamber college judicial proceedings that hand down sentences as harsh as Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter.

    In short the genius of Virginiagal2’s proposals is that they cut out this nonsense. And that they work in the real world, doing the most good at the least harm, as opposed to UVA’s current course that promises only more hysteria, dysfunction, and mob rule at the University of Virginia. But let’s get into the deeper details of what is causing all this, and why the course UVA is on will only make matters far worse.


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