John Leo

Arguments like this show why vigorous debate is so rare and dangerous on campus these days. Almost any unorthodox view can be denounced by the nearest censor as a violent or hostile act. Better to keep your head down, keep smiling at the PC police, and wait until graduation to say what you think.

Tina Oakland, feminist and director of the UCLA Center for Women and Men, was particularly incensed about the first of the ad's 10 items: "Myth: One in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape." Challenging this number, Oakland told Ben Domenech of National Review Online, is like denying the Holocaust. But the one-in-four stat is one of feminism's most popular "advocacy numbers" that can't stand much analysis. A recent survey funded by the Justice Department said about 1.7 percent of female college students per year are victims of rape -- "unwanted completed penetration by force or threat of force" -- and an additional 1.1 percent are victims of attempted rape. In a companion study, when a similar group of women were asked differently worded questions, the rate of completed rapes was 11 times lower, 0.16 percent.

The U.S. Department of Education's studies of reports to campus police came up with a low rate, too. Counting both on- and off-campus offenses, these statistics show about 1,800 forcible sex offenses (including fondling) each year at the more than 6,300 post-secondary institutions. If you triple that number to allow for huge numbers of unreported offenses, it would still come to less than one rape per school each year.

Oakland told the Daily Bruin that the one-in-four rape statistic had been cited on the official Web sites of the FBI and the American Medical Association. She wasn't fazed when Ben Domenech informed her that the stat is nowhere to be found on either the FBI and AMA sites. No problem. "The statistics don't really matter that much in the big picture," she said. "We're just trying to focus on the real issue here, to debate about civil rights, not bicker about numbers." First, challenging her numbers is like denying the Holocaust. Then when the numbers turn out to be shaky, well, they just don't matter.

The IWF ad, which will run in more college papers next fall, is a clever way of forcing debate on feminist numbers. Professional researchers know these statistics are wobbly or false, but the news media and public often take them as gospel. Now they will have to be debated. The IWF also grasped the power of Horowitz's stunt -- bringing college intolerance into the open by offering an ad he knew the censors would suppress. To many, it was a revelation that the news media could be forced to focus on the oppressiveness of current campus orthodoxy. Horowitz changed the discussion. IWF is just the first of his imitators.


John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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