This Wall Street Journal Report Could Help Perpetuate The Myth Of Widespread False Rape Reports On College Campuses

Wall Street Journal report on campus sexual assault suggested false accusations of sexual assault are on the rise but failed to explain the rarity of such accusations. What's more, studies show that universities tend to favor accused perpetrators over victims when investigating sexual assault reports, and the myth of widespread false accusations may actually deter victims from reporting assaults to police.

WSJ Highlights How “More Men Fight College Allegations of Sexual Assault”

WSJ: "A Growing Number Of Men Say Colleges Are Too Quick To Believe An Alleged Victim's Testimony." In a March 19 article, The Wall Street Journal reported that “more men” are fighting back against allegations of sexual assault on college campuses. The Journal acknowledged that the Education Department is investigating more than 100 colleges for mishandling women's accusations of sexual assault and said that “colleges have made it easier for female students to initiate actions against men.” But the article said reports that 1 in 5 women will be the victim of sexual assault in college are “hotly debated” and claimed, “a growing number of men say colleges are too quick to believe an alleged victim's testimony.” From the Journal (emphasis added):

In recent years, colleges have made it easier for female students to initiate actions against men they accuse of sexual assault.

In 2011, citing hotly debated statistics that about 1 in 5 women is a victim of “completed or attempted” sexual assault in college, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights set forth new procedures for schools to follow when handling sexual assault and harassment claims.

Among other things, the Education Department recommended that alleged victims be required to prove only that it was “more likely than not” the harassment or violence occurred to hold an accused responsible.

The department also suggested schools afford accusers the ability to appeal rulings that go against them.

The Education Department is investigating more than 100 colleges for allegedly mishandling women's accusations of sexual assault under Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972, federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools.

The efforts are long overdue, said Sofie Karasek, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founder of an advocacy group called End Rape on Campus. “Now survivors across the country are getting the space to hold their abusers accountable,” she said.

But a growing number of men say colleges are too quick to believe an alleged victim's testimony and are investing too much authority in administrators who, they say, too often act as investigators, prosecutors and jurors.

“To a hammer, everything is a nail, and the men are the nails in these situations,” said Justin Dillon, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., whose firm has filed several lawsuits on behalf of accused men. [The Wall Street Journal, 3/19/15]

But The Journal Failed To Acknowledge The Rarity Of False Sexual Assault Accusations

National Center For The Prosecution of Violence Against Women: “Rigorous Research” Found False Sexual Assault Reporting “Around 2 - 8%.” According to a report by The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, “methodologically rigorous research” found the rate of false reports of sexual assault to be between 2 percent and 8 percent. [The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, accessed 3/20/15]

And Studies Have Found That Some Institutions Favor Alleged Perpetrators When Investigating Sexual Assaults

Senate Report: Alleged Perpetrators Often Favored By Colleges And Not Held Accountable. According to a national survey conducted for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), colleges not only routinely fail to investigate sexual assault allegations, but when they do, some institutions actually “afford certain due process elements more frequently to alleged perpetrators than they do to survivors.” The report also notes that colleges “frequently fail to use effective penalties to hold perpetrators accountable” :

In the adjudication process, it is necessary to balance the rights of survivors with the rights of alleged perpetrators. There has been concern voiced among some groups that if universities adopted more victim-centered approaches in their handling of sexual assault cases, they would violate the due process rights of alleged perpetrators. Some have even said the system is already too survivor-focused. Contrary to these concerns, it appears that some institutions actually afford certain due process elements more frequently to alleged perpetrators than they do to survivors. For example, 82% of schools allow alleged perpetrators to challenge hearing members regarding impartiality or conflicts of interest, while only 78% provide the same right to survivors.

[...]

Institutions also frequently fail to use effective penalties to hold perpetrators accountable and ensure that their campuses are safe. For example, approximately 19% of institutions in the national sample reported that they do not impose orders that would require the perpetrator to avoid contact with the survivor of the assault. Only 31% impose fraternity or sorority sanctions, and only half use athletic team sanctions. Nearly all institutions, however, may use suspension (94%) or expulsion (97%) should a student be found to have committed a sexual assault. [Sexual Violence On Campus, 7/9/14]

Myth Of Widespread False Reports May Deter Victims From Reporting Sexual Assault

Myth Of False Reports May Lower Sexual Assault Reporting Rates And Arrests. According to a 2014 report from the White House Council on Women and Girls, perpetuating the myth of widespread false reporting of sexual assaults “may help account for” low rates of both the reporting of sexual assault and arrests of perpetrators:

Many factors may contribute to low arrest rates, and these cases can be challenging to investigate. However, research shows that some police officers still believe certain rape myths (e.g., that many women falsely claim rape to get attention), which may help account for the low rates. Similarly, if victims do not behave the way some police officers expect (e.g., crying) an officer may believe she is making a false report -- when, in reality, only 2-10% of reported rapes are false. [White House Council on Women and Girls, January 2014]

Department of Justice: Only 20 Percent Of Female Campus Sexual Assault Victims Go To The Police. NPR explained how according to a Justice Department report, "[y]oung women who are sexually assaulted are vastly unlikely to report those crimes to police." The DOJ estimated that only 20 percent of female college students who have been sexually assaulted report the assault to police. [NPR, 12/11/14]