Data must inform policymaker decisions on campus safety

Dept. of Ed.'s assistant secretary for civil rights makes claims about campus sexual assault that are not supported by data

Candice E. Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights, was recently quoted in a New York Times article about campus sexual assault as saying “…the accusations — 90 percent of them — fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’”  Jackson later apologized for her statement, saying she was flippant, sorry and that "all sexual harassment and sexual assault must be taken seriously — which has always been my position and will always be the position of this department."

As the acting assistant secretary examines what the Department can do to fulfill its obligations to protect students under Title IX, we urge an evidence-based review. 

Last year, RTI International published the Campus Climate Survey Validation Study (CCSVS), which consisted of data that collected from 23,000 undergraduate students across nine colleges and universities on the prevalence of sexual victimization and measures of campus climate.

We decided to use those data to assess Jackson’s claim that 90 percent of rape cases that are undergoing Title IX investigations:

  • Involve a woman who had sex with a man who is or was her dating partner, and
  • That both the woman and the man were drunk when they had sex

When we look within our CCSVS data, 4.1% of undergraduate women across the 9 participating schools were raped within the academic year in which the survey was conducted. Of the rape incidents experienced by these women, only 12.5% of victims said they reported the incident to school or law enforcement authorities, which would need to happen for the Department of Education to be aware of them. Of these reported incidents, only 1.7% involved both a perpetrator who was or is considered a dating partner and alcohol or drug use by both parties.

That means, the CCSVS data indicate that only 1.7% of the rape incidents that were reported to authorities could even begin to match Jackson’s characterization of rape cases.

It is also worth noting that the vast majority of sexual assault incidents are never reported to authorities, largely because reporting sexual assault incidents to authorities can be incredibly unpleasant, and rarely helps the victim or results in the perpetrator being held accountable. 

While the CCSVS has contributed significantly to understanding what is happening on college campuses, it is clear there is still much more to be done to understand sexual assault at each university and identify ways to address it.

Drs. Chris Krebs and Christine Lindquist have been studying and publishing journal articles on sexual victimization among college populations for more than a decade. Christopher Krebs, PhD, is a senior research social scientist with extensive research experience in the areas of corrections, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and sexual violence, and criminal justice systems. Christine Lindquist, PhD, is a senior research sociologist whose experience spans sexual violence, intimate partner violence, families and incarceration, and program evaluation.