To commemorate National Women’s Health Week, California State Senate candidate–and self-proclaimed spokeswoman for women everywhere–Sandra Fluke published an op-ed in the The Huffington Post that vastly overstates the sexual assault rate on college campuses and calls for solutions that would further erode accused students’ due process rights.
The op-ed–which was co-written by Savannah Badalich of 7,000 in Solidarity and Kaya Masler of the Women’s Student Assembly–makes the frightening claim that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while they are in college. Given that 966,000 women are graduating from U.S. colleges this year, about 193,200 of them have been raped, according to Fluke.
If this claim were true, it would mean that colleges have anomalously high rape rates. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the general rape rate is 1.8 per 1,000 women each year. Fluke’s 1-in-5 statistic equates to about 200 per 1,000 women every four years, or 50 women each year. If Fluke were correct, the campus sexual assault rate would have to be more than 25 times higher than the rate for the general population.
The data underpinning the 1-in-5 statistic has repeatedly been called into question by those who study the issue, such as the American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers. According to Sommers, the study that produced the 1-in-5 statistic polled a small group of women at two colleges, and inferred that they had been raped based on their answers to questions about drinking and sex.
Fluke, however, labels campus sexual assault an “epidemic,” and calls for the abridgment of student due process rights. “Cross-examination,” a fundamental feature of the U.S. criminal justice process explicitly protected under the Constitution, is derided as an inconvenience in Fluke’s op-ed:
Right now, many students who want to report assault face confusing systems, having to tell their stories multiple times to staff already burdened with large caseloads — all of which could be improved with increased funding. Schools should prioritize the needs of survivors by fully funding mental health programs and clarifying reporting processes. Simple measures to increase the transparency of how to report a sexual assault are critical so students know they are going to be supported, not cross-examined.
Schools should have rape shield statutes to protect assault survivors from character assassination, which sadly often occurs in hearings. Survivors should also be given options — either an open hearing or a closed-door model — and given adequate time to decide which path is best for their individual scenario.
The idea that students accused of sexual assault should be denied Constitutionally-guaranteed due process rights–such as cross-examination and theright to an attorney–is rejected by Caroline Kitchens, a research associate at AEI.
“Universities have an important role to play in providing services for victims and partnering with law enforcement, but justice should ultimately be administered by the criminal justice system—not campus kangaroo courts,” Kitchens told The Daily Caller. “No matter how well-funded and tightly-regulated, universities will never be adequate for adjudicating felony offenses like rape. Sexual assault is a serious crime and we need to treat it as such.”
Kitchens criticized Fluke’s approach, noting universities are not well suited to adjudicate criminal matters, no matter how firmly the federal government pushes them in that direction. (RELATED: White House Report On Sexual Assault Gets Major Facts Wrong, Threatens Freedom)
“Activists like Fluke, Badalich and Masler seem to think that we can solve the problem of campus rape by expending more resources and strapping universities with more guidelines,” she said. “That’s the wrong approach.”