June 10, 2014

Jackie Speier, a Democrat, represents California’s 14th Congressional District in the House.

Recently, Post columnist George F. Will wrote that the sexual assault epidemic on our campuses is being blown out of proportion, arguing that universities have been bogged down with burdensome regulation while nurturing a generation of students who aspire to “victimhood.” Will’s comments are out of touch and don’t comport with the experiences of victims who come forward, universities’ conduct or the very real and severe scope of the problem.

Will’s characterization of victimhood as a “coveted status that confers privileges” demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the repercussions that victims can face in reporting attacks. Did he speak to any survivors? If he had, he would have learned that the “privilege” of being a survivor can mean having been assaulted by a classmate you trusted, ostracized for reporting or blamed by friends and family for what happened. At Amherst College, survivors have been given the preposterous advice to take time off from school until the rapist graduates. At the University of California at Berkeley, the perks of being a survivor have included having a stay-away order issued by the university lifted and then allowing the assailant assigned to your dorm.

Will also perpetuated disturbing myths about false reporting and consent. In truth, false reporting rates are extremely low — between 2 percent and 8 percent — and obtaining consent from an individual at one point does not give you access to her body in perpetuity.

From reading Will’s column, you would think that universities are aggressively expelling students found guilty of assault. But colleges routinely shirk their responsibilities to victims. As of this writing, 60 colleges and universities are under investigation for possible Title IX violations related to sexual violence on campus.

To refute the statistic that 1 in 5 women is the victim of sexual assault, Will offered “simple arithmetic” to indicate that this number is greatly inflated. He referenced the number of reported sexual assaults at one university — one that is under investigation for Title IX violations — and then suggested that its statistics are the rule.

He also relied upon Clery Act statistics, which are notoriously underreported. In some cases, colleges game these statistics by discouraging public reports or debating whether an incident really happened “on campus.” In some instances, the students who come forward to report are not included because they failed an unspoken and unpublished bureaucratic filing test for reporting. And in the worst cases, universities simply lie.

The silver lining to Will’s misguided op-ed column is that it has provoked a discussion about the uninformed attitudes held by some of our most revered political thinkers. Will seems to believe that efforts to address this issue undermine the prestige of academia. Sadly, too many universities share that attitude and have tried to ignore the problem. Will’s commentary laid bare the backward, “Mad Men” era mentality that survivors must combat every day.

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