How colleges muddy the waters on sexual-assault accusations
“Was I raped?” This is the question Yale sophomore Ayla Besemer spends several thousand words exploring in a recent issue of her school’s newspaper.
The story: Besemer got very drunk one night during her freshman year. She brought home a guy she knew but doesn’t remember anything that happened next. She woke up with a bruise on her thigh and a used condom on her floor. Yale requires an “affirmative consent” for sexual activity to be considered truly consensual, but Besemer acknowledges she may well have said yes. She blacked out, meaning she might still have been “fully operational — talking, laughing, drinking more and, indeed, having sex as if [she were only] minimally drunk.”
There are clearly some women out there who are deeply confused about what it means to be raped, and they are, in many cases, being misled by the adults around them.
As Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson document in their new book, “The Campus Rape Frenzy,” the Title IX coordinators, whose jobs on campus often involve digging up rape allegations or helping to gather evidence to adjudicate them, encourage young, impressionable women to call every incident of regrettable drunken sex “rape.”
But it would be wrong to suggest that these women are all just confused about sex and sexual assault. Many of them know perfectly well what they have done and are using the system to make excuses for their behavior or even to manipulate the men around them.
Take Nikki Yovino, the 18-year-old Sacred Heart University student who has been charged with falsely claiming she was sexually assaulted by two football players because she didn’t want to lose the interest of another guy. Yovino is a reminder that even in our age of gender enlightenment, women know enough about human nature to get what they want from men.
That was certainly the conclusion from the elaborate hoax perpetrated by “Jackie” at the University of Virginia a couple of years ago. She not only made up a rape allegation, she made up the assailant in order to get another guy jealous.
Columbia graduate Emma Sulkowicz, a k a “Mattress Girl,” accused a fellow student of rape. But the school exonerated him and Sulkowicz declined to press charges. She managed to turn herself into a celebrity and even get course credit in performance art for carrying a mattress around campus. (All while the accusations were destroying the life of the guy who claims she was attacking him after he rebuffed her professed love for him.)
In a case at Appalachian State University, a woman accused two football players of rape even though witnesses saw her inviting them into her room. At Amherst, a woman actually texted a residential adviser about her “stupid” decision to have sex with her roommate’s boyfriend before she accused him of rape. The student was expelled, but is suing Amherst for violating his rights. Last month, a judge seemed sympathetic to his claim against the school.
And then there are the times that seem a bit more clear-cut. A University of Michigan student, for example, allegedly used a rape accusation to explain certain things to her mother, who was upset after reading diary entries about her daughter’s wild life on campus.
Women actually used to employ such tactics more regularly. A pregnancy was not so easily avoided, ended or hidden. And, well, folks used to be bigger sticklers for marital fidelity. So having sex with the wrong guy meant women had some explaining to do.
But these days, the reasons for falsely claiming rape have much more to do with the campus soap opera and the sexual politics of one’s peer group than any concern that families will disown you or church communities will banish you.
And the false claims — both on campus and off — are much more prevalent than the media would have you believe. A 2012 Urban Institute report found that of 227 men convicted of rape, 15 percent of them could be eliminated by DNA evidence alone. A study of 351 cases in a Southeastern police department found that 17 percent of the allegations were fabricated and another 66 percent were uncertain.
Though we may not always treat them as such, female college students are adults. It’s true that in many cases, bureaucrats have manipulated them into believing that they were raped when by any reasonable standard, they weren’t. Besemer’s counselor and Yale’s Title IX coordinator told her that her experience could definitely be considered assault.
But we also shouldn’t discount the notion that many of these women knew exactly what they were doing. When you decide to ruin a man’s life and reputation in order to cover up your own mistakes or get what you want from others, you’re not a victim — you’re a sociopath.