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New campus sexual assault survey proves just one thing: The Washington Post believes in 'rape cu


Here we go again: The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation have conducted a survey that shows that, for real everyone, campus sexual assault is the serious problem activists want it to be.

But as with any poll purporting to show a prevalence of campus sexual assault hovering around 20 percent of college women, as this one does, the devil is in the details.

Now I'll give the Post credit for not limiting its survey to just one or two schools and then trying to pass it off as nationally representative. The Post called more than 1,000 men and women across the country from more than 500 schools to get its result. An editor once told me not to trust a survey with a margin of error of more than +/- 3 percentage points, and this one was +/- 3.5 percentage points. That's not that bad, but the margin of error for men and women was +/- 5 percentage points each.

But it's the Post's definition of "unwanted sexual contact," which is used interchangeably with "sexual assault," that really dooms the survey. David French of National Review pointed out that these two words are not synonyms, and can actually include "behaviors that are not only not criminal, but may not — depending on the circumstances — even constitute unlawful sexual harassment (which the Supreme Court has said requires proof of conduct so 'severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit')."

Further, as French noted, "unwanted" is also not a synonym for "without consent."

"It's far broader, able to encompass a variety of circumstances, up to and including entirely legal misunderstandings and legal (though immoral) emotional manipulation," French wrote. "In fact, it is this very confusion between consent and desire that often makes campus sexual assault proceedings such a nightmare for all parties."

The Post's examples of possible conduct (which include "forced kissing, touching of private parts, grabbing, fondling, rubbing up against you in a sexual way") are similar to the questions asked in two other studies used by activists to claim campus sexual assault is such a big problem that we must enact draconian measures to convict more men. The category is so broad that the 20 percent figure includes everything from a kiss born from a misunderstanding to a forced rape.

The Post also includes a broad category of being "unable to provide consent or stop what was happening." The reasons listed for being unable to consent were "passed out, drugged, or drunk, incapacitated, or asleep." Almost everyone agrees that sexual contact while passed out or asleep constitutes rape, but just being drunk or the loosely defined "incapacitated" don't necessarily point to sexual assault. Adding "drunk" into the mix helps to bump up the numbers without actually giving an accurate picture of criminal activity.

With this in mind, the question about "sexual contact" (the actual questions didn't even say "unwanted") while "incapacitated" (which had been defined to include "drunk"), which 14 percent of women answered "yes" to, isn't as powerful. It could mean that any portion of that refers to women who had sexual contact while drunk, and how many sexually active adults can say they'venever had drunk sex?

Beyond the leading and broad questions, the poll found that women by and large were not worried about being sexually assaulted when they went out at night. Eighty-three percent of women said they were "not too" or "not at all" worried. This finding comes despite a slight majority (44 percent) of female respondents saying they believe that "about one in five" women are sexually assaulted while in college (41 percent said they believed it was "less than one in five").

One of the more shocking survey questions was about whether respondents believed it was "more unfair" for an innocent person to get kicked out of college or for someone who committed sexual assault to get away with it. These are both terrible situations, but to pit them against each other seems unfair. The fact that 36 percent of women said punishing the innocent was worse while 56 percent said letting the guilty go was worse will be used to justify measures that expel men based solely on an accusation.

Women were also more likely than men to want schools — which are beholden to federal standards limiting due process — to investigate accusations, with 52 percent preferring the school to do the investigating and 43 percent preferring the police to do so. Men answered in the opposite, with 53 percent wanting accusations handled by the police and 42 percent wanting them handled by the college or university.

Respondents were torn over the black-and-whiteness of sexual assault. The vast majority (96 percent) agreed that "sexual activity when one person is incapacitated or passed out" is sexual assault, but were split (47 percent "yes", 46 percent "unclear") on whether "sexual activity when both people have not given clear agreement" should immediately be considered sexual assault. Further, 59 percent said they were "unclear" whether an action was sexual assault "when both people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

Respondents also thought that "no means no" is a better policy than "yes means yes." Even women, by a nine-point margin, thought "no means no" was better. This comes despite the law's passing in California, and an attempt by college professors to make the "yes means yes" policy the law of the land for everyone, not just college students.

Absent from this poll and any of the Post's follow up articles was any mention of the increasing number of lawsuits being filed by students who have been expelled after what they say was a wrongful conviction. The Post's survey found that overwhelming majorities of men and women believed false accusations are rare, but that about one in five women and one in four men believed they happen "sometimes."

The Post does allude to the possibility of false accusations once, at the bottom of an article about male victims being afraid to come forward.

And therein lies the biggest problem in campus sexual assault coverage: Few seem to care that there are students who are wrongly accused, or are accused — months or years after the incident — and are expelled with nothing more than an accusation. The campus culture is such that one accused student was expelled after having a sexual act performed on him while he was blacked out, and even after his attorney presented text messages from the accuser showing the encounter not to be assault. The school refused to reopen his case.

The Post tried to re-energize the sexual assault debate — which has suffered from debunked studies — by providing a nationally representative poll that confirmed activists' dour worldview. The only way they could trump up the numbers to confirm that worldview, however, was to define "sexual assault" so broadly as to be meaningless.

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