Fighting back against the ‘campus rape myth’

Digging ourselves out of the Title IX hole will not be easy

Nearly a vcade ago, City Journal ran an indispensable essay by Heather Mac Donald that explored “the campus rape myth.” In an ideal world it would have been all the evidence one needed to dispel the toxic and destructive fantasy that college campuses experience rape incidents on the level of Congolese war zones. Nine years later, however, we are still embroiled in this silly and patently needless controversy, the higher ed narrative still turning on the bizarre and inexplicable idea that college campuses are sexual assault free-for-alls where fully 20 percent of all women will experience rape. They’re not and they won’t.

The fallout around this narrative can be seen in the current ugly Title IX battle taking place at the federal level, with the Department of Education promising to retool higher ed’s kangaroo-court approach to campus justice, and the arbiters of that approach reacting in much the way you’d expect. Former vice president Joe Biden, for example, subtly comparedTitle IX reformers to Nazis—an absurdist characterization that would be comical if the consequences of Title IX abuse were not so serious for so many innocent students. And at Fordham University, as The Fix reported earlier this week, the screening of a video on the topic caused a bit of deeply stupid controversy:

Fordham University has launched an investigation into its Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Christopher Rodgers after several RAs reportedly left a sexual assault training in tears because he screened a Prager University educational video that uses facts to dispute the stat that one-in-five women will be sexually assaulted or raped during their college years.

Even at this late date, it is still possible for one to be surprised at just how profoundly delicate so many college students are—that grown men and women could react to a reasonable and fact-based argument by crying. It can be uncomfortable, of course, to have your views and your opinions challenged; nobody likes it. Yet might we expect of our nominally adult college students—resident advisors, no less!—that they can weather such challenges without tearing up?

But the stakes of the campus rape hysteria—an hysteria motivated not by facts and logic but by feelings and institutional victimization—seem to mandate no less a response than that. The entire phenomenon feels vaguely reminiscent of the Satanic daycare delirium of the 1980s, but for the fact that that particular zeitgeist went away quickly enough when it was revealed to be a sham. You cannot say the same about “the campus rape myth,” which has endured despite the extremely convincing and consistent evidence against it.

The Department of Education is right to take on Title IX abuse. But it won’t be easy moving forward: if partisans can be moved to tears by a simple video challenging their worldview, imagine what will come as this debate progresses. We should be prepared for an ugly fight ahead.