Education Law

Columnist questions 'supposed campus epidemic of rape,' sees victimhood as a coveted status

A George Will column about “the supposed campus epidemic of rape” has generated more than 2,500 online comments and a response by a columnist who suggests there is a psychological need to disbelieve facts that challenge one’s world views.

In his column, published by the Washington Post, Will criticizes government guidance that tells schools and colleges how to handle college sex-assault cases in accord with Title IX.

“Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of ‘sexual assault’ victims,” Will writes. “It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults.”

The Education Department is backing a lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard when campuses adjudicate sexual assault charges, Will writes. He also criticizes “capacious definitions of sexual assault that can include not only forcible sexual penetration but also nonconsensual touching.”

The government reports that one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, a “preposterous” statistic, Will says, pointing to an analysis of conflicting numbers by a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute.

“Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses—by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations—brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates,” Will concludes. Colleges make victimhood “a coveted status that confers privileges,” leading to a proliferation of victims, he says.

Columnist Alyssa Rosenberg responds in the Washington Post. “It saddens me that Will would think so poorly not just of American institutions of higher learning, but of young women, who he seems to see as simultaneously precocious and irresponsible,” Rosenberg writes. “His column, though, is a useful example of beliefs about sexual assault that persist despite evidence to contradict them.”

Rosenberg cites research by Yale law professor Daniel Kahan, who says a person’s assessment of evidence is influenced by his or her goals, needs and world views.

“Distasteful as Will’s conclusions are,” Rosenberg says, “I suppose that, of two terrible options, it might be better to believe that young women have what Fox News recently termed ‘hateful little minds’ than to believe that young men are raping young women in large numbers and that colleges are acting in such a way to keep sexual predators free. That former scenario is ugly. The latter is monstrous.”

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