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Telegraph Ups the Ante on Rape Culture; Claims 1 in 3 Students Victims of Sexual Assault

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The myth that one in five American college students experiences sexual assault has been widely promulgated – and widely discredited. But now the Telegraph has gone even further, claiming that one in three British female students are “sexually assaulted or abused” on campus.

The paper has commissioned YouthSight, a research group specialising in young panellists, to conduct a poll on campuses to investigate how many students experience sexual harassment. According to the paper: “31 per cent of female students polled said they had been the victim of “inappropriate touching or groping” and around one in 20 [around 5 percent] had experienced more intimate but unwelcome advances or been pressurised into sexual activity. Overall 34 per cent indicated they had experienced some form of assault or abuse.

“Meanwhile one in eight male students had also been subjected to groping or unwanted advances. One per cent of students of either gender said they had been raped at university.”

Neither the paper nor the polling company publicly list the full results or methodology so it is unclear how these results were reached. What we do know is how the ‘one in five’ figure for American campuses was concocted.

That figure comes from a 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Survey carried out by the National Institute of Justice, a division of the Justice Department. It surveyed 5,446 students from just two universities (a small sample size, as the researchers themselves acknowledged) online, asking students leading questions such as whether they had ever had sexual contact whilst “unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep?”

The survey also asked the same question “about events that you think (but are not certain) happened.” Unsurprisingly with such open questions, the results purportedly uncovered a relatively high level of unwanted sexual activity taking place.

19 percent of female respondents reported that they had experienced some kind of sexual assault, either attempted or completed (12.6 percent reported attempted sexual assaults, 13.7 percent reported completed sexual assaults and some women reported both).

Three years later in 2010, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found similar figures via a survey. Like the CSAS survey, it too was compromised by a small sample size and leading questions. It found similar results.

Yet from these combined figures, the idea that one in five American women experience rape was formed and has become a mantra. It has even been cited by President Obama, who said “one in five women will be a victim of rape in their lifetime”.

In her Factual Feminism video blog, Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute decimates the claims, saying “The breathless repetition of exaggerated numbers by the President and by journalists is getting in the way of genuine solutions to the scourge of sexual violence.

“No one interviewed was asked if they’d been raped or sexually assaulted. Instead of such straightforward questions, the CDC determined whether the responses indicated sexual violation,”

“Now, 61.5 percent of the women the CDC projected as rape victims in 2010 experienced what the CDC called “alcohol and drug-facilitated penetration.” But what does that mean? If a woman was unconscious or incapacitated, then every civilized person would call it rape.

“But what about sex while inebriated? I mean, few people would say that intoxicated sex alone constitutes rape. Indeed a nontrivial percentage of all customary sexual intimacy — including marital sex — probably falls under that definition.

“Unfortunately when it comes to research on sexual violence, exaggeration and sensation are not the exception, they are the rule. If you hear about a study that shows epidemic levels of sexual violence against women or college students, I can almost guarantee the researchers used some version of the defective CDC methodology”.

The Telegraph’s alarmism is all the more disturbing as it has been inspired by a legal report commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which finds that under the Human Rights Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty, the governing bodies of universities and other higher education establishments may be legally obligated to act to end harassment of women on their premises.

Louise Whitfield, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn and the report’s author told the Telegraph: “UK universities whose policies at present would lead them for example not to investigate a rape allegation and to regard it as purely a police matter, are failing to protect women students and are very likely to be in breach of the law.

“Similarly, the law is clear that higher and further education institutions should be proactively seeking to ensure women students are safe and equal while they study.”

Cambridge University has already introduced compulsory sexual consent classes for freshers to tackle “pre-rapists” – men who haven’t yet raped anyone but might. Other campuses have banned ‘laddish’ behaviour lest it lead to rape, or music that is deemed to be “a bit rapey” (Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, specifically).

All of this activity is wholeheartedly supported by the National Union of Students who last year declared 2014 the year of sex and relationship education, even running ‘I Heart Consent’ workshops. Kelley Temple, the NUS’s women’s officer had this to say on the issue: “Time and time again we have seen examples of where men abuse their position of power and this is a toxic combination of the way men are socialised with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and the disproportionate amount of power that men have in society.

“We continuously see situations where sexual harassment complaints have not been deemed serious enough to take definitive punitive action. This speaks volumes about the culture of disbelief around women’s voices and the complicity with sexual violence.

“Everyone needs to understand that sexual harassment is an abuse of power and we all have a responsibility to properly investigate allegations of sexual harassment and report criminal activity to the police. Unfortunately, so many incidents go unreported and are not investigated, with many in society turning a blind eye at such and abuse of women. This is not acceptable.”

Yet far from reducing instances of rape, allegations of rape culture whip up distrust between men and women, leading to worse relations between the sexes, not better. It also has the effect of making the real victims of sexual violence less likely to be heard amongst the white noise of hysteria.

As Sommers puts it: “This is madness. It trivialises the horrific pain and suffering of survivors and it sends scarce resources in the wrong direction. Sexual violence is too serious a matter for antics; for politically motivated posturing.”


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