For campus sexual assaults, false reporting is a false measure

Laura Hallas

The conversation about campus sexual assault lacks trust, most notably around the idea of false reporting. The wedge this issue drives between women and men has to be addressed when developing sexual assault legislation.

There are several numbers in circulation that claim to represent false reporting. One study often quoted by women’s rights groups found only 2 percent to 8 percent of reports to be false. A different study, often quoted by men’s rights groups, predicted that anywhere from 40 percent to 50 percent of cases are false.

Trying to put a number to false reports is pointless and even harmful. “False” report statistics can include not only the honest-to-God, outright lies that are provably false, but also cases that are dropped — a common occurrence in legal proceedings. A case can be dropped if there is a lack of evidence, the complainant tires of the reporting process or the case lacks a clear legal definition. At one university, this left only 35 percent of the cases viable for a day in court.

Several false reporting cases have made headlines and increased feelings of skepticism, such as the infamous Rolling Stone investigation of a University of Virginia fraternity. These cases play to the fears that even an innocent man can be accused of rape and vilified. One men’s rights activist who misidentified an accuser went as far to say that his mistake was OK, reciprocation for innocent, wrongly accused males.

However, the idea that an average woman would want to falsely report sexual assault is misguided. A history of victim-silencing and mishandling of cases has left many women understandably wary of reporting in the first place. The troublesome knowledge that nine in 10 colleges reported no sexual assaults (UT is not one of them) in 2014 shows how far we have to come. This statistic paints a dramatically different picture than the nationwide survey that found one in four college women had experienced unwanted sexual contact. Campuses aren’t safer, survivors just are not coming forward.

“If you think about it, with the social stigma involved in reporting, the time commitment involved and just the emotional onslaught that comes from reporting, there is not a lot of incentive to false report in the first place,” said Grace Gilker, Women’s Resource Agency director and Plan II sophomore.

Perceived credibility and assignment of blame can oscillate forever between men and women. The only practical way to limit transgressions by both sides is by standardizing the judiciary process with nationwide legislation such as the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Current federal guidelines still give schools a lot of leeway in how they handle cases.

“Disciplinary processes do vary among institutions and based on several factors: public versus private, student board panel versus hearing officer panel, sanctioning guidelines, [and the] appeal process,” UT’s Title IX coordinator Latoya Hill said. “However the disciplinary process should comply with federal guidelines.”

False allegations are an unknowable statistic, but a known point of tension. The best way to ensure safety and fairness for both women and men is to stop citing a phantom number and start building a system we can trust in the first place.

Hallas is a Plan II freshman from Allen.