Toledo Blade: Schools shouldn't conduct sexual assault surveys because "embittered" students will lie about rape

Another day, another egregiously stupid editorial on college sexual assault

By Katie McDonough
August 7, 2014 12:40AM (UTC)
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(Richard Potts)

Another day, another egregiously stupid editorial on college sexual assault. On Wednesday, the Toledo Blade published an unsigned piece addressing sexual violence on college campuses. It is eight sentences long. It's hard to say why it exists because it contains no useful information, but there it is.

After a passing mention of the "culture of protection" that shields offenders from accountability, the editorial does this:


One troubling part of the [Senate] bill would require college administrations to conduct anonymous surveys to gather data on student experiences with sexual assault, for publication online. This provision could empower embittered individuals to respond to the survey with false accusations, tarnishing the image of the college over any grievance they might have.

There is an undeniable need for this overall legislation. But the Senate must ensure that in tackling one problem, it does not create another.

In a 174-word editorial, 76 of those words accuse victims of sexual violence of being "embittered" liars. Because balance?

It's been said before but it obviously bears repeating: False accusations are incredibly rare, and giving such a rare occurrence equal airtime with the very real and very not rare occurrence of sexual assault on college campuses creates a warped equivalence where none actually exists. This kind of thing only serves to further silence victims, who in addition to facing the often hostile indifference of the officials appointed to protect them must also contend with false reporting myths that poison how most people think about sexual violence.

Beyond being thoughtless and seemingly written by a child with a short attention span, the Toledo Blade's argument is also just weird. The editorial alleges that people will lie about rape to "tarnish" the image of the college "over any grievance they might have." I'm not even clear what that means. Does the Toledo Blade think that a woman will lie about being raped on an anonymous survey because she failed a class and was mad at her professor? Does the Toledo Blade seriously think that a man will lie about being sexually assaulted because the cafeteria was out of Fruit Loops?

Has anyone behind this editorial read any of the accounts from survivors about being punished by administrators, ostracized by their peers and revictimized by law enforcement after they came forward about their assaults? Do they think any of that sounds fun? I mean, sure, these questions are kind of just a rhetorical exercise in irritation, but I do genuinely wonder what goes through a person's head when they start going off about the danger of false reports in order to derail actual work to fight sexual violence. Can you imagine the same degree of skepticism when talking about victims of carjackings? I can't. (Maybe because most victims of carjackings are men, and men aren't often accused of being embittered liars when they come forward about crimes committed against them.)

Anonymous surveys aren't some menace, they are the best hope we have of gathering accurate data on the prevalence of sexual violence. And as Catherine Rampell argued yesterday in the Washington Post, this is exactly why conducting them shouldn't be optional. Many victims of sexual violence don't report their assaults to administrators or law enforcement officials, so official crime statistics don't capture the full extent of the problem. Climate surveys allow victims to maintain their anonymity while still documenting these crimes. And if all schools are required to conduct standardized surveys, we will have nationally representative data on sexual assault on college campuses. This is a good thing on its own, but also means that men like George Will no longer get to accuse anti-sexual violence advocates of lying when they say that rape is serious problem. Because, you know, rape is a very serious problem. It's weird that we need to keep saying that.

h/t Tyler Kingkade

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Colleges Rape Sexual Assault Sexual Assault On College Campuses Sexual Violence