Barbara Kay: Rape culture proofiness feeds moral panic over non-existent epidemic


National Post - Monday January 19th, 2015

Paul Darrow for National Post
Dalhousie University campus in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Last week University of Ottawa president Allan Rock announced the Gee-Gees men’s hockey team would not be allowed to participate in the 2015-16 season. It would appear that the whole team is paying a collective price for the fact that two of its members were accused of sexual assault during a team trip to Thunder Bay last year.

The final outcome might see the university paying a stiff financial price for that decision, if a $6-million lawsuit by the team, stating that the players “have had their reputations tarnished and their future careers damaged,” is successful. Several U.S. lawsuits against universities in which flouted due process was at issue have netted plaintiffs the kind of 7-figure settlements that could slow or halt the rash of hasty suspensions and expulsions characterizing our era’s obsession with a campus “rape culture” for which there is no objective evidence.

Even suggesting rape culture is an unproven hypothesis earns skeptics like me the epithet of “rape apologist.” But skepticism about an epidemic is not an apology for a disease. If the most commonly bruited statistic — that “one in five” women on campus are raped each year–  were true, Canada and Congo would be rape-frequency peers. Does that notion have a credible ring to any reasonable Canadian?

It is easy to maintain an environment of moral panic when media, academics and high-level politicians succumb to the rape-culture myth

The difference between our two camps is that rape-culture skeptics are actually happy to see proof that violent crime of all kinds, including rape, is diminishing, while rape culturists are happiest when they see “proof” that the risk for rape is going up. Moral panic is oxygen to the rape-culture movement, a movement that seeks to demonize all men and victimize all women. And it is certainly easy to maintain an environment of moral panic when media, academics and high-level politicians succumb to the rape-culture myth. The hysteria has even, apparently crept into our justice system. A new trial has been ordered for an Alberta man accused of sexual assault because Judge Darwin Greaves wrongly “entered the fray”  to put obstacles in the defence lawyer’s interrogation of the complainant, according to the Alberta Court of Appeal. That is, influenced by his belief in rape culture, the judge is alleged to have overstepped the boundaries of appropriate judicial intervention on behalf of the female complainant.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice reports that crime in general, including sexual assault, has dropped more than 60% between 1995-2013. The rate of sexual assault is 6.1% per thousand annually; averaged over four years, the risk of sexual assault for women is one in 50. Of the one-in-50, one in three is a completed rape, making the actual risk of rape 0.16 per year. Moreover, the risk is lower on campus than off.

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But this is news rape culturists don’t want to hear. They are far happier to put their faith in “studies” that would be laughed out of a first-year sociology course. The latest in a series of such misleading reports is the sensationally entitled, “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders,” published by the journal Violence and Gender. The study, conducted at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, concludes that a third of males would rape a woman if they could get away with it.

The study plunges into  false premises with the opening words, “Federal data estimate that about one in five women becomes the victim of sexual assault while in college.” The source of the citation has already been exposed as misleading and contradictory. But the immediate deployment of the phoney stat does tell us that the study is not concerned with proof, but with “proofiness,” a locution riffing off Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” and coined by Charles Seife, a journalist and professor at New York University. Proofiness is defined as “the art of using bogus mathematical arguments to prove something that you know in your heart is true – even when it’s not.”

Everything about this study is bias-skewed or methodologically unsound. For example, the leading questions regarding intention to rape guided participants toward a desired answer by stipulating the rape would never be discovered and would not result in consequences. That is not a serious study question. With such a hypothetical rider on any ethical issue, many people might say they would murder their boss, or cheat on exams, or falsely allege rape, for that matter. Secondly, the conclusions were based on the participation of 73 men with “prior sexual experiences”. The low number is ludicrous with a “margin of sampling error” of 11.5%; a standard sample is 1000, giving 3% error. Moreover, participants “received extra credit for their participation”: in other words “selection bias.”

The bottom line is that ideologues found exactly nine men who said they would rape women if there were no consequences, and who probably treated the questionnaire as a joke and an easy credit. And we are asked to believe that these nine males are a reason for national moral panic. The real crime here is the dumbing down of scholarly standards on our campuses. Proofiness produces goofiness in academia.

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