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Half-Truths, Myths, and Falsehoods in the Campus Sexual Assault Debate

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Half-Truths, Myths, and Falsehoods in the Campus Sexual Assault Debate


May 15, 2021

History shows that every moral panic rests upon a series of claims that are misleading, partly true, or outright falsehoods. The campus rape hysteria that pervaded American society beginning in 2011 is no exception to this rule.

Following are four misrepresentations that campus activists have promoted on the problem of sexual assault:

  1. One-in-Five

The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study found that one-in-five women experience “sexual assault” during their college careers.[1] But according to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the rate of rape or sexual assault among female college-age students is 0.6/100 per year.[2] Assuming a four-year college duration, this translates into 2.4/100, which is nearly 10 times less than the one-in-five claim.

The disparity in these numbers can be explained by the different definitions used by the two surveys. In particular, the CSA study includes incidents of sexual contact that do not rise to the level of criminal behavior. Sexual assault is commonly understood to be a criminal offense. Describing the one-in-five number as “sexual assault” is misleading, at best.

Verdict: Misleading factoid.

  1. Unfounded Allegations

Psychologist David Lisak has claimed that “the prevalence of false allegations is between 2% and 10%.”[3] Campus activists repeat this statistic frequently.

But the actual number of unfounded sexual assault accusations is much higher. In the criminal setting, approximately one-third of such allegations are unfounded.[4] On campus, the number is even higher.[5] According to Brett Sokolow, head of the Association of Title IX Administrators, “Probably 40 or 50% of allegations of sexual assault are baseless. There are a lot of cases where someone says they were incapacitated, but the evidence doesn’t support that they weren’t able to make a decision.”[6]

Verdict: Falsehood.

  1. Serial Rapists

David Lisak has also promoted the claim that 90% of campus rapes are committed by serial offenders who average six rapes each. Lisak’s “six rapes each” claim has been cited in numerous reports, and served as justification for the draconian sexual assault policies established on many college campuses.

But the data upon which this claim are founded came from studies conducted by other researchers. After reporter Linda LeFauve interviewed Lisak, she revealed, “I asked about those studies, he first said he was unable to remember their topics, then that they ‘may have been about child abuse history or relationships with parents.’ I asked whether they were about campus sexual assault; he conceded they were not.”[7]

Verdict: Falsehood.

  1. Male Victimization

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 24.8% of men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetimes.[8] This figure comes from the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, which is considered the most reliable national survey on this topic.[9] In the words of the CDC survey, most of these men were “made to penetrate” their female sexual partners. Thus, the number of men and women who are victimized by sexual violence each year is almost identical.[10]

But campus activists consistently portray the problem of sexual assault as a male-on-female problem. For example, the activist group It’s On Us highlights on its website four different statistics on female sexual victimization….and zero statistics on male victimization.[11]

Verdict: Half-truth, which recalls the old Yiddish proverb, “A half-truth is a whole lie.”[12]


A review of the four leading claims by campus activists identifies one misleading factoid, two falsehoods, and one half-truth.

Research shows that the campus policies promoted by the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter did not increase reporting by victims or reduce campus sexual assaults.[13] To succeed in the quest to curb campus sexual assault, the debate needs to shift so it is based on empirical fact, not ideological presuppositions.


[1] Krebs CP, Lindquist CH, Warner TD, Fisher BS, and Martin SL (2007). The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study.

[2] Sofi Sinozich and Lynn Langton (2014), Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013.

[3] David Lisak, Lori Gardiner, Sarah Nicksa, and Ashley Cote (2010). False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases. Violence Against Women. 16 (12): 1318–1334.

[4] SAVE (May 7, 2021), One-Third of Sexual Assault Allegations in Criminal Setting Are Unfounded.

[5] SAVE (May 11, 2021), 40-50% of Campus Sexual Assault Allegations Are Unfounded, Revealing Need for Strong Protections of the Innocent.

[6] Quoted in Richard Bernstein (December 16, 2020). Legal experts say Biden’s pushing ahead to the Obama past on campus rape could be a mistake. The Center Square.

[7] Linda Lefauve (July 28, 2015), Campus Rape Expert Can’t Answer Basic Questions About His Sources.

[8] National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Statistics. Accessed May 13, 2021.

[9] Smith, SG, Zhang, X, Basile, KC, Merrick, MT, Wang, J, Kresnow, M, & Chen, J (2018). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief – Updated Release. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[10] Lara Stemple and Ilan Meyer (June, 2014), The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions. American Journal of Public Health.

[11]  It’s On Us. About Sexual Violence. Accessed May 11, 2021.

[12] Forbes Quotes.

[13] SAVE, Failed Experiment in Campus Jurisprudence, 2011-2019.