THE BLOG
05/21/2014 06:00 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

How Conservative Pundits Are Misleading People on Campus Rape

"Is there really a rape epidemic? Probably not."

Those were the words of A. J. Delgado, a conservative lawyer who wrote an article published this week in the National Review Online titled "Crying Rape."

Reminding women everywhere to just calm down and LOL when a friend "jokingly comes up behind a girl and slaps her butt" without warning, Delgado explained that "women themselves bear a share of the blame" for society not believing them when they say they're raped.

Delgado's commentary follows the recent creation of a White House task force on college sexual assault, a slew of bipartisan efforts to address the issue on campuses, and an unprecedented wave of student activists saying universities mishandled their assault cases.

But despite the clear efforts to address an epidemic, Delgado is just the latest in a line of conservative writers arguing there isn't a campus rape problem.

Unfortunately, they're wrong.

In her column, Delgado claims that, "After all, for every legitimate, actual rape claim there may be another that was not: a girl who cried rape."

It's not clear what statistic Delgado used to back up such an assertion. Research led by David Lisak, considered one of the foremost experts on college sexual assault, concluded the number of false rape reports to be 8 percent. An analysis of research on false rape reports by Lisak, Sgt. Joanne Archambault and Kimberly Lonesway at the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women put the figure somewhere between 2 and 8 percent. Another study from the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom put the false rape reports at 6 percent.

In fact, it's possible that the percentage of false rape reports could be even lower than these totals, considering how underreported sexual violence is in the U.S.

Delgado did not respond to an email about this discrepancy.

Caroline Kitchens, a research assistant with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, is another prominent public critic of the idea that there's any kind of rape problem on campuses. Kitchens has written repeatedly in Time, U.S. News & World Report and NRO that there is no such thing as rape culture.

Kitchens frequently attacks the Centers for Disease Control figure that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted during their education, despite the fact that the number is on par with multiple other studies.

A previous study by Mary P. Koss in 1987, based on a 1985 survey of 6,159 students from 32 colleges and universities, found 1 in 4 women of college age experience sexual violence.

But Kitchens isn't just frustrated by studies on the issue, she has other complaints about the efforts to address the problem as well.

Earlier this month, Kitchens took aim at the U.S. Department of Education's release of the names of all colleges undergoing a Title IX investigation related to sexual assault cases, saying the government inquiries represent "just the beginning of the messy results of three years of federal overreach into campus rape policies," rather than the enforcement of existing laws.

Lamenting the censure of the musical hit "Blurred Lines" at campus parties everywhere, Kitchens referred to rape victims voicing their complaints as "hypersensitive, trigger-happy gender warriors on campuses." Her colleague Christina Hoff Sommers described them as a "mob."

But The Huffington Post has reported, many victims actually encounter hostility and dismissal from police when they attempt to report crimes. And according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report, only a quarter of rape reports to police lead to arrests.

Kitchens didn't respond to an email seeking more information on her views.

Another NRO writer, the Hoover Institution's Thomas Sowell, responded to the criticism of law enforcement in a recent article: "There seem to be a dangerously large number of people who think that the law exists to give them whatever they want -- even when that means denying other people the same rights that they claim for themselves."

Again at NRO, Thomas Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute Heather MacDonald recently focused more on the 1 in 5 statistic. She compared that figure to the rate of Detroit residents who experienced a violent crime -- a label including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault -- in 2012. The figure, MacDonald wrote, was 2 percent.

These are apples and oranges. The Detroit number is based on the number of sexual assaults and rapes reported to city police, and the 1 in 5 figure is based on an estimate of all sexual assaults experienced, rather than the number reported to campuses. Sexual assault is a highly underreported crime -- one where only 5 percent of female college victims are estimated to report, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Several conservative writers have challenged the accuracy of rates of sexual violence on campuses because the overall rate of violent crime has declined in recent years. However, some studies show that part of the problem could be that police departments aren't always investigating or following up on sexual assault reports.

In research on police prosecution of sexual assaults, Corey Rayburn Yung, an associate law professor at the University of Kansas, concluded that nearly 1 in 4 police departments responsible for populations of at least 100,000 persons are undercounting rape reports.

Beyond challenging the numbers, writers have criticized sex-positive events on campuses as responsible for sexual violence among students. Yale University's "Sex Week" and Columbia University's "Go Ask Alice" service are examples that "encouraged the worst instincts among some young men and doubtless confused many others," columnist Mona Charen wrote in the NRO.

But there is no evidence -- beyond the perceptions of Charen and other writers -- around whether Sex Week events contribute to sexual violence.

The current crusade against efforts to address college sexual assault is quite different than the reaction many conservatives offered online after Fox News host Bob Beckel asked in 2013, "When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?" In that situation, conservatives were quick to criticize Beckel, but it seems now they're more in line with his blindness towards the issue.