Journalists have a way of falling in love with the narratives in their heads and affiliating themselves with other journalists whose point of view mirrors their own. This appears to have happened at Rolling Stone. Fraternity men were assumed to be bad and assumed to be guilty after a woman asserted she was raped multiple times in a dark upstairs room while lying on the shards of a broken glass table. It fit the narrative.
The reporter of the article talked to the woman and other women who believed her. At the request of the woman, the reporter did not contact the main rapist or, indeed, any of those implicated. The reporter did not match details the woman gave of the lead rapist's identity to learn whether those details fit any of the members of the fraternity house. She did not ascertain whether there was, as claimed, a raucous party of new pledges at the house on the night in question.
This is crap journalism, and the worst thing about it is that none of the magazine editors who worked on the article demanded a more rigorous investigation of the woman's complaints. When the magazine's lawyers concluded that none of the alleged rapists could be identified and therefore have standing to pursue a libel suit (by now, this too is open to question), the last barrier to publication fell and the magazine ran a story that disgraced it.
In 2007, the Justice Department released the results of a study of coeds at two large, unnamed public universities that concluded 20 percent of campus women were sexually assaulted or raped during their baccalaureate years.
People who challenged the methodology were dismissed as being in denial. When critics would say, "I know there are not that many rapes at X college," the answer was -- that's because women are afraid to report assaults and X college needs to reach out to coeds so that the full one in five who are assaulted can be encouraged to speak up.
If this report's conclusion rang true with parents, I think we'd have seen many, many more young women opting to attend commuter colleges and live at their family homes. That hasn't happened.
Nobody knows how often rapes occur on campuses. Women students complain that when they report sex assaults they are shushed up by college officials concerned about scandal. Men complain that, when charged, they are not give due process rights by college officials. I can see how either of these complaints could be true, depending on the campus.
And not everybody tells the truth. Three years ago, a woman student at a mid-sized private college came forward to say that she had been tied up and raped by a number of men students in a men's bathroom. She got a lot of sympathy until, of course, a cellphone video of the incident emerged that showed she was a willing participant in an event that did not show her or the men students in a particularly good light.
Men lie too, of course.
What Colleges Should Do
I can think of several things colleges could do to prevent, or at least cut down on the incidence of campus rapes.
-- Alcohol could be removed from campus events. (Just joking; we can't have that.) Alternatively, consumption could be limited to two drinks per student per party with hand stamps of indelible ink to keep track.
-- Campus events could be chaperoned by responsible adults, comparable to the eagle-eyed parent and faculty chaperones at high school dances.
-- Affirmative consent could be established by setting up notary public stations at several campus locations each night, perhaps with Breathalyzer tests available on site. Students planning to have sex could affirm this in writing beforehand, thus protecting themselves at least somewhat from a partner's regret the next morning.
These will never happen, of course. Such actions would imply that college students are immature and irresponsible in their behavior. In fact, many students lack self-control, but no one wants to say so.
What most likely will happen is that each college will establish yet another campus bureaucracy, staffed by "rape activist" women and perhaps a few token men, who will over time develop their own narratives, just as Rolling Stone did, and get way more involved in students' personal lives than anyone should want to be. I hope I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am.
Sexual activity is adult activity, and people having sex need to behave themselves as honest and careful adults, even if they are adolescents in college.
Sex assaults are violent crimes; they should be handled by police departments, which (unlike college bureaucracies) have experience with these matters and presumably no axes to grind. The consequences for rapists or false accusers should not be limited to suspension or expulsion from a college. The consequences should include prison.
I'm tired of writing about this awful, distressing subject. I hope I don't feel the need to do so again.