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The myth of the college “rape culture”

So Harvard has now released the results of its sexual conduct survey and there’s only one question left to answer: How many incidents of sexual assault did not involve drinking?

In a letter to the Harvard students, faculty and alumni earlier this week, the university’s president Drew Faust explained: “Sexual assault represents a deeply troubling problem for Harvard, for colleges and universities more broadly, and for our society at large.”

The data, drawn from the survey conducted in the spring, “reinforce the alarming frequency with which our students, especially but by no means only our undergraduates, experience incidents of sexual assault.”

How frequent is it? Of the Harvard seniors who responded, “31% (or 172 women) said they had experienced some form of ‘nonconsensual sexual contact’ since college began.”

The media pounced on the story as proof of a “rape culture” at America’s colleges. But since the survey itself was written so vaguely, this finding is largely meaningless.

The questions themselves were deeply confusing. “Since you have been a student at Harvard University has a student or someone employed by or otherwise associated with Harvard…continued to ask you to go out, get dinner, have drinks or have sex even though you said no?” That’s a pretty wide spectrum, huh?

Need further information? There is a note that “sexual assault and sexual misconduct refer to a range of behaviors that are nonconsensual or unwanted. These behaviors could include remarks about physical appearance or persistent sexual advances.” Well that clears it up.

Harvard’s survey was conducted as part of an effort by the American Association of Universities to quantify sexual assault on campus.

In all, 27 universities participated and found that almost 1 in 4 students had experienced sexual violence. Despite all of that academic firepower, it still seems that no one cared to distinguish what the heck this statistic actually means.

Turns out 23.1% reported “the incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation,” according to the AAU report.

Let’s start with the word “incapacitation.” What does that mean? According to the report it indicates a victim is, “Unable to consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, asleep or incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol.”

On campuses where students are encouraged to see every bad sexual decision as an assault, incapacitated is a way students can explain away their behavior.

And there is a lot of that going on. If you read to page 165 of the 254-page Harvard report, you’ll come across a fascinating table: “Percent of Female Victims of Nonconsensual Penetration Involving Physical Force or Incapacitation by Involvement of Substances and Tactic.” There you’ll see that in 64% of cases involving physical force, the victim was voluntarily using alcohol.

In another 4% of cases, the victim was voluntarily using drugs.

In the cases where “incapacitation” was the “tactic,” 88% of the victims were drinking alcohol and another 4% were using drugs — again voluntarily.

Judging by these statistics, what Harvard (and presumably other universities around the country) have is not a sex problem or an assault problem or even a lack of respect for women problem. What they have is a drinking problem.

And the issue is not simply that the victims were incapacitated. It’s also that the offenders were imbibing. Indeed, the percentages are strikingly similar. In cases where the victims claimed physical force, they also reported that 69% of the offenders were drinking and 5% were using drugs.

In cases where victims reported incapacitation, 80% of the offenders were drinking and 6% were using drugs. (There’s no explanation of how someone who is incapacitated would know whether the offenders were drinking or using drugs.)

Based on these numbers, you’d almost think that the offenders and the victims were drinking and using drugs together and then having sex.

In other words, once you dig through all of the data collected here, there is no evidence that women are being stalked and violently attacked on campus.

Unfortunately, the most useful number from this report is actually missing. When you add up all of these incidents, what percentage involve alcohol? Clearly it’s the vast majority. But that does not make it in to the letter from President Faust.

Instead, there are urgent requests “for community conversation, engagement, and action.” The need for re-education about sexual relations will never be adequately fulfilled.

Its trendiness never seems to subside. And the demands from the federal government for more policing in this regard seem only to increase.

But drinking? Who wants to talk about that? What are we? A bunch of prudes telling kids that alcohol is dangerous in large quantities? That college is not some kind of free-for-all in which everyone can become “incapacitated” without consequence? That students need to learn self control? Fat chance.

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