WASHINGTON — The premiere event for Vice News’ campus rape minidocumentary brought Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand to George Washington University on a stormy Monday Night, yet notably failed to provide the statistics for the issue and did not mention the creator of a rape protest movement the event celebrated but whose story of sexual assault is now doubted.
Neither the documentary itself nor McCaskill and Gillibrand presented a hard number on the rate for sexual assault on campus — and it wasn’t due to no one asking.
The senators were asked twice during the Q&A session with Vice reporter Gianna Toboni to provide the data for this problem.
For the first question, Sen. McCaskill was asked to respond to critics who contend that the problem with college rape is overblown.
“It really is as big as it seems,” the Missouri senator responded. She deflected that question to shift the focus on the bill she and Gillibrand are sponsoring that aims to tackle campus rape.
Shortly after, Toboni asked McCaskill to explain why there are, “for some reason,” so many high-profile false reports getting attention.
McCaskill replied that the statistics for rape are hard to come by, and she couldn’t give a number for the amount of rape cases that were based on false allegations. But she did say that her experience as a prosecutor precludes her to believe that they are especially low due to the arduous process involved in a rape investigation and the toll it takes on a victim.
The documentary itself doesn’t mention the statistics for college rape and just said it’s a “growing problem.”
The Vice documentary stands in contrast with another recent film on college sexual assault. Released earlier this year, “The Hunting Ground” frequently cited the statistic that 1-in-5 college women have been sexually assaulted or raped. (RELATED: New Rape Documentary Relies On Myths, Not Facts)
The problem is the 1-in-5 stat is considered inappropriate to apply to the national level by the very researchers who are responsible for finding it. According to the authors of the study where the number originated, the two schools they studied are not representative of national trends, the study had a low response rate, and the number included acts — such as forced kissing — that are considered sexual assault but not rape.
According to the Department of Justice’s findings on the matter, the number of college women who will suffer a sexual assault is actually 0.03-in-5. That study also found that nonstudents were 25 percent more likely to be sexually attacked than students.
But Vice’s documentary instead shifted focus to the growing anti-rape protest movement on many American campuses as proof that it was prevalent. The documentary called this movement “Carry That Weight” and involves women carrying around mattresses as a symbol of their alleged sexual assault.
Interestingly enough, the creator of “Carry That Weight” Emma Sulkowicz is never mentioned in the film even though her school — Columbia University — is highlighted. Sulkowicz became a national hero for issue of college sexual assault last fall after she began carrying around a bed mattress on her campus to draw attention to the fact that her alleged rapist still attended the university. (RELATED: Columbia Student Vows To Carry Mattress Around To Protest Rape)
Since then, the veracity of Sulkowicz’s claim has come into question and the man she accused of rape is now suing the university for defamation for its role in allowing “Mattress Girl” to harass him for a crime for which he was exonerated. Text messages released by the accused rapist make it appear that the sex he had with his accuser was consensual. (RELATED: The Text Of The Mattress Girl Lawsuit Will Shock You)
In addition, Sulkowicz was Sen. Gillibrand’s guest at this year’s State of the Union, and the New York senator said in April that she still believes the Columbia student was raped. (RELATED: Columbia Mattress Girl To Attend State Of The Union)
Most of the Q&A and the film itself covered the process by which rapes at colleges are handled and the two senators’ bill aiming to reform that system. Vice’s documentary airs Friday night on HBO.