Race permeates the left’s analysis of almost every major domestic issue, particularly on college campuses. Why, then, is race absent from the discussion of campus sexual assault?
The question is prompted by an article by Emily Yoffe in the Atlantic. The conventional narrative on campus rape holds that it’s the product of white privilege — the rich, white frat boy as sexual predator, as Petula Dvorak, a feminist columnist for the Washington Post, put it.
But does this narrative withstand scrutiny? Yoffe doesn’t think so. She writes:
Amy Ziering, the producer of The Hunting Ground, a 2015 campus-sexual-assault documentary, has. . .asserted that her movie exposed “privileged” well-off white men and challenged “dominant white male power.” But a close viewing of her film reveals a different reality. Her movie tells at length the stories of four allegations. In at least three of the cases, the accused is black.
Along the same lines, Jeannie Suk Gersen, a Harvard Law School professor, wrote in 2015 that the administrators and faculty members she’s spoken with who “routinely work on sexual-misconduct cases” say that “most of the complaints they see are against minorities.” Yoffe herself has, for years, received a daily Google Alert on college sexual assault. It captures only those cases that make it into the news and usually does not identify the accused’s race. However, if the accused is named, it’s often possible to determine his race through photo searches or other online information.
Black men make up only about 6 percent of college undergraduates. According to Yoffe, they are vastly overrepresented in the cases she has tracked. The same was found to be true at Colgate, where litigation led to the production of statistical evidence on the matter
This evidence is anecdotal or involves only a small sample. What’s needed is broad statistical evidence. But such evidence is not available because the government doesn’t ask for data on the race of alleged campus predators and colleges apparently don’t collect it. Yoffe says:
How race plays into the issue of campus sexual assault is almost completely unacknowledged by the government. While the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which regulates how colleges respond to sexual assault, collects a lot of data on race, it does not require colleges and universities to document the race of the accused and accuser in sexual-assault complaints. An OCR investigator told me last year that people at the agency were aware of race as an issue in Title IX cases, but. . .“No one’s tracking it.”
Why is race not being tracked? To me, it’s a clear case of not wanting to know.
It’s easy to understand why ignorance is bliss. If blacks are found to be overrepresented among those accused of sexual assault on campus, there are only two possible explanations (both of which may be operating). One explanation is that black students are committing a disproportionate number of sexual assaults. The other is that blacks are disproportionately being accused of sexual assaults they did not commit.
Neither explanation is acceptable to the left. The first tarnishes black males.
The second gives credence to the view that false accusations of assault are a serious problem on college campuses. As David French puts it:
[T]he identity politics of campus sexual assault are for now exactly right — it’s mainly women versus men. But what if the real identity issues are far more complicated?
What if white women are disproportionately likely to accuse black men of misconduct? What if black or Hispanic men are disproportionately persecuted in campus kangaroo courts? Then the social justice consensus will disappear, quickly, and the campus Left may well wage war with itself.
Yoffe clearly leans towards the view that black students are being railroaded in sexual assault proceedings because of their race. She doesn’t even consider the possibility that they commit a disproportionately large number of sexual assaults. She concludes:
As the Office for Civil Rights weighs changes to the system, the interplay of race with assault complaints and assault adjudication must be considered, and the racial composition of assault complaints and resolutions documented. It would be tragic—and unacceptable—if OCR, in a worthy effort to prevent sexual assault, has created a system that ends up unfairly depriving some black men of their access to higher education.
I agree that statistics regarding the racial composition of those accused and those found guilty of sexual assault should be collected. But it would be tragic, and unacceptable, if findings of racial disparities caused a change in the system. The system should be changed to make it more fair, not for the purpose of producing different racial outcomes.