After serving as a cheerleader for disgraced district attorney Mike Nifong during the Duke lacrosse case, the New York Times even more aggressively championed Barack Obama’s crusade to erode due process for college students accused of sexual assault. It was probably naïve, therefore, to expect a fair review from the Times when Stuart Taylor and I published our book on the topic, The Campus Rape Frenzy. The review, written by Times contributing opinion editor Jill Filipovic, confirms the paper’s inability to address the issue fairly. In a few hundred words, Filipovic made at least three factual errors in describing the book, and she misleads the reader regarding several crucial points.
Our book sourced tens of thousands of pages of legal filings, documents from campus disciplinary policies, and previously secret “training” materials given to investigative panelists in campus sexual-assault cases, in order to describe a system in which students accused of sexual assault are effectively presumed guilty and then denied the tools necessary to prove their innocence. Filipovic nonetheless faults a book based on this extensive material for failing to adhere to a “standard” of telling both sides of the story.
“The authors,” she notes, “choose a handful of egregious examples to make the case that campus sexual assault isn’t all that common and that the bigger problem is innocent young men railroaded by promiscuous women who get drunk and regret their choices, or flat-out lie at the behest of conniving campus feminists.”
The four-dozen cases we explored constitute more than a handful. While Filipovic characterizes them as “egregious”—an accurate description—her implication that they were atypical of the usual campus disciplinary process, and improperly chosen in order to support a tendentious argument, is false. In the event, what does it say about our current campus justice system that accused students can be found guilty, even where they assemble clear evidence of their innocence?
Because college investigations typically are so shoddy, and the standards of evidence and recordkeeping so low, we do not impute motives to the accusers in most of the dubious or even wrongful campus claims that we analyze. As a result, The Campus Rape Frenzy uses the word “lie” (or a derivative thereof) to describe only one accuser—the infamous Jackie, from the University of Virginia, protagonist of the retracted Rolling Stone article; her confabulations have been extensively detailed in many publications. That Filipovic nonetheless came away with the sense that we consider these accusers to be “flat-out” liars speaks more to her implicit biases than anything else.
The word “lie” does appear in our book in other contexts. We quote a text message sent by an accuser from Amherst College, who confessed dismay that the male student (her roommate’s boyfriend) she would eventually accuse was “too drunk to make a good lie out of shit” to cover up their embarrassing encounter. And we note that Mike Nifong was convicted for having “lied” to a judge in the lacrosse case.
After attacking the book for using “questionable statistics and quotes massaged beyond their original meaning” (none of which she identified), Filipovic complained about descriptions of “the sexual histories and relative state of drunkenness—often according to bartenders or other observers not conducting breathalyzer tests—of the various female accusers, as well as the ‘flirtatious’ nature with which those women either talked to or texted the men they later charged with sexual assault; the men are given no such treatment.”
Contrary to this claim, the book never discussed the “relative state of drunkenness . . . according to bartenders.” In fact, we explicitly criticized universities for not seeking out bartenders, who might have provided neutral testimony in three deeply troubling cases—at Vassar, Ohio State, and Duke. (These are the only instances in which we referenced possible testimony from bartenders.) Indeed, colleges far too often use the accuser’s non-corroborated recollections (months or even years after the fact) of her drunkenness, and thus inability to consent, as sufficient evidence for a finding of guilt against students accused of sexual assault. It would be salutary if colleges demanded breathalyzer tests in campus disciplinary cases—though it seems likely the Times would strongly oppose such a move.
The book uses the word “flirtatious” to describe text messages sent by three accusers—an accuser at Amherst, telling a potential hookup that he had a “military trained bod”; an accuser at St. Joe’s, telling a potential hookup to “come cuddle with me” and “sleep over!!!!”; and an accuser at California–San Diego, telling a potential hookup that “as long as I don’t get in trouble you can do what you want haha.” Could anyone contend that “flirtatious” inaccurately describes any of these texts? (The Times review chose to quote none of them.)
Despite Filipovic’s odd claim that the “sexual histories and relative state of drunkenness” of “the men are given no such treatment,” the book provides pages and pages of such discussion; it cites either college disciplinary findings or legal filings to describe the “sexual histories and relative state of drunkenness” of no fewer than 25 male students accused through college disciplinary tribunals—at Amherst, Auburn, Brandeis, Brown (three cases), Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Findlay, Georgia Tech, Harvard Law School, Miami (Ohio), Michigan, Middlebury, Montana, Occidental, Ohio State, Swarthmore, Temple, Tennessee-Chattanooga, UCSD, Vassar, Xavier, and Yale (two cases). Did Filipovic read our book?
Extracting an imaginary moral from the book, Filipovic muses: “Being falsely accused of rape, it seems, is just as common, and just as terrible, as being actually raped.” But the book makes no assertion about the commonness of being falsely accused of rape, though the best recent study on the general issue, by UCLA professor John Villasenor, revealed that as many as one in three students found guilty in college sexual assault tribunals is actually innocent. Whether being falsely accused of a heinous crime that could lead to a decades-long prison sentence is “just as terrible” as being the victim of this heinous crime is a value judgment. I have never taken a position on the matter, but Filipovic’s apparent belief that it is unacceptable to compare the horror of these two situations reveals more of her biases.
Filipovic contends that for Taylor and me, “the only way . . . for men to truly defend themselves from women who ‘have been propagandized and lobbied to believe that they should make claims against you whenever they end up unhappy about sexual contact, even if it was clearly consensual,’ is to be celibate or to videotape all sexual encounters.” In fact, we say no such thing. The framing of this quote from the book is: “One of us (Stuart Taylor) would also tell a son (if he had one) . . . ” [emphasis added]. That Filipovic imputes to me views the book explicitly lists as only Taylor’s suggests (at a bare minimum) an unacceptable degree of intellectual sloppiness.
But Filipovic also avoids the actual argument of the passage: that given the arbitrary nature of the campus judicial system, male students can absolutely defend themselves only through such absurd means as videotaping, or by refusing to engage in romantic activity. More broadly, she never challenges the book’s basic argument: that in the current environment, students accused of sexual assault face disciplinary systems that are fundamentally unfair, for both ideological and procedural reasons.
It seems as if, in the end, even the New York Times could not find a reviewer to deny this obvious reality.
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