I’ve long felt that the campus rape issue in America, supposedly an epidemic according to certain demagogues, is the product of political exaggeration. An offshoot of the Democrats’ “war on women” strategy. It’s gotten so out of hand that even here in North Dakota some claim that one in five women who attend North Dakota State University “experience sexual violence.”
If that were true, if 20 percent of women attending NDSU were being sexually assaulted in some fashion, heads should be rolling. Task forces should be formed. Indictments should be flying.
But that’s not happening because it isn’t true. It’s a calculated exaggeration. One that obscures what true issues with campus rape may exist.
Just like Rolling Stone has managed to obscure the issue with an act of utterly irresponsible journalism. A story written for the magazine by Sabrina Rubin Erdely went viral on the internet with its tale of a brutal gang rape of a woman by members of a fraternity and the supposed lack of response from campus authorities.
Now Rolling Stone is backing off the story. “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” editor Will Dana wrote in an update to the story. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account,” he continued. “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”
In the wake of the original publication of the article the fraternity named as playing host to the alleged rape has been vandalized by protesters. The fraternity is now expected to release a statement indicating that they did not have a party the night the alleged rape took place among other refutations of the story.
But you would expect the accused to make a denial. What’s awful is that Rolling Stone made the decision to accept the story of the rape at face value without double-checking at the request of the woman making the accusations.
Rush Limbaugh has an old line he uses often in situations like these. He said it’s not so much the accuracy of the charge that matters but rather how serious the charge is. In this instance, Rolling Stone didn’t want to check because the accusations were so serious. And, of course, they fit the left’s political narrative.
Yet, shouldn’t serious accusations require the most scrutiny?
Which brings us to a larger point about campus rape activism. The activists, up to and including the Obama administration by and through the Department of Education, want campus administrators to take on a greater role in adjudicating rape cases. In 2011 the Departments Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to American campuses ordering them to apply a lower “preponderance of evidence” standard to cases of alleged rape on campus. “Under pressure from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, colleges are now routinely expelling students who are very likely innocent of sexual harassment or assault,” wrote Hans Bader for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education earlier this year.
That has happened right here in North Dakota. A student by the name of Caleb Warner was expelled from the University of North Dakota for the alleged sexual assault of a female student. Except, the Grand Forks Police Department saw the matter differently, instead issuing a warrant for the arrest of Warner’s accuser for filing a false police report. But that wasn’t enough to overturn Warner’s expulsion. UND upheld the expulsion for two years until FIRE got involved.
In the political hysteria around the “war on women” and the supposed campus rape epidemic, we’ve lost our bearings. Activists want campuses to treat sexual assaults through academic tribunals, as though they were about cheating on finals and not brutal, felonious crimes, even as they water down the definition of sexual assault to include behavior such as unwanted kissing attempts which, while cadish, hardly rise to the level of assault.
Perhaps we can learn a lesson Rolling Stone’s disgrace. Just because a charge is serious doesn’t mean it’s true. And protecting the accused is as important as protecting the accuser.