After generally remaining quiet about the accusation of sexual assault leveled against his nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump was finally unable to resist weighing in on Twitter on Friday morning.

Kavanaugh, he tweeted, was “under assault by radical left wing politicians who don’t want to know the answers” to questions about what happened the night Christine Blasey Ford says Kavanaugh tried to assault her. “Facts don’t matter,” Trump said.

He continued.

It seems fair to assume that Trump’s request for a police report is not being offered in good faith. It’s known that Ford didn’t go to the police after the incident, and Trump’s apparently sardonic mention of her “loving parents” suggests that he is aware that his request is a hollow one.

Moreover, Trump — and everyone else — should be aware that reporting such incidents to authorities is the exception, not the norm. That Ford didn’t go to the police is not in any way an indication that the attack didn’t occur.

We have survey data to back that up.

In 2015, The Washington Post partnered with the Kaiser Family Foundation to investigate the prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses. We released the results of the survey that June, having spoken with hundreds of men and women who were in or who had recently graduated from college — men and women about the age of Ford when she says she was attacked by Kavanaugh.

That study found that about a fifth of women in college reported having experienced a sexual assault of some type, with another fraction of women having experienced either another form of unwanted contact or an assault attempt.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Of the group of women who had experienced an assault or attempted assault, the majority did tell someone else about the incident. But fully one-fifth of that group never told anyone else.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Of those who had informed someone else about the incident, though, the overwhelming majority didn’t inform college authorities or the police. By 5 to 1, women were more likely to report an assault to a friend or family member than to a law enforcement official.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

Perhaps, then, most of those incidents resulted in no punishment for the person accused of the attack.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

This survey was conducted in 2015, in a moment when awareness of sexual assaults among friends and within peer groups was far more prevalent than in 1982, the year that Ford alleges she was assaulted. “Date rape” became a term in common usage only in the late 1980s and 1990s, according to a review of books catalogued by Google.


Frequency of mentions of 'date rape' in books cataloged by Google. Vertical axis is percent of books in which the term appears. (Google)

Again, that such incidents often go unreported isn’t new information. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo made that point to the president on Twitter.

Again, it’s unlikely that Trump sincerely believes there is a police report that should be brought forward or that one exists. He’s making a political point, not a legal one. His tweet is meant to downplay the allegation: If it were a serious attack — a real attack — she would have gone to authorities.

We saw the same dynamic play out when his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of grabbing Michelle Fields, a Breitbart reporter. For days, Trump and Lewandowski denied the incident, and his supporters argued that she was exaggerating what had happened as evidenced by the lack of a police report. When she did press charges, Trump tweeted that there was “nothing there” and to “Look at tapes” of the incident to prove Lewandowski’s innocence. Eventually a tape proving his guilt emerged — from security cameras at Trump’s property in Florida where the incident occurred.

Trump was asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper shortly after that video came out why he continued to stand behind Lewandowski.

“I back people up,” Trump said. “And I back our country up.”