The Math Behind Why Harvard and Other Universities Don’t Take Rape Seriously

A recent anonymous letter by a rape survivor at Harvard has been making the rounds. Jill Filipovich asks:

Why aren’t schools like Harvard, with their vast financial and intellectual resources, with their leadership position at the very top of higher education, doing a better job? Why have the best universities in America turned from in loco parentis to incommunicado?

The usual sad suspects are all out again: Ivy League entitlement, institutional self-protection, impulsive identification with the accused rather than the accuser.

Filipovich is right–identification with the accused plays a role here:

When your good students rape people, they might not be “good people” any more. Because rape isn’t like stumbling and spilling your coffee–it is an active act of sexual predation. Predators aren’t good people.

Amazingly, I heard this kind of crap twenty-five years ago. Guess what? Not all of your students are good people. Some of them are flat-out shitheads. Who do you think has been responsible for running this country into the ground over the last few decades? The high-school dropouts?

But institutional ass-covering also plays a huge role. No elite university wants to admit that it graduates at least a dozen rapists, the majority serial rapists, every year.

Re-read that last sentence. Now the math. In a study that surveyed college students, six percent of men admitted* to raping one or more people–two thirds admitted to sexually assaulting multiple people. Let’s say for argument’s sake that Harvard students are much more ethical than the typical college student, so the frequency of rapists is ‘only’ two percent. The typical graduating class at Harvard is around 1,500 students, half of whom are men (750 men). Put all of this together and the average Harvard graduating class contains fifteen rapists, nine or ten of whom are serial rapists.

Let’s repeat that: the average Harvard graduating class contains fifteen rapists, nine or ten of whom are serial rapists. Put another way, if a university isn’t punishing at least one student per month for sexual assault, then it’s whitewashing the crimes. In fairness, you could substitute any similarly-sized university with Harvard–this isn’t a Harvard-specific phenomenon (as noted above, most universities seem to think their students wouldn’t ever rape).

Oddly enough, this is one statistic that doesn’t find its way into campus brochures. Needless to say, it’s explosive. Public recognition of this phenomenon would shake any institution to its core. It’s far easier, at least in the short term, to sweep it under the rug, to keep it behind closed doors, rather than recognize that supposedly elite institutions graduate rapacious predators every year. It tarnishes the brand a bit.

It would also force society as a whole to recognize that there are rapists and they freely walk among us.

*This is obviously a lower boundary as some rapists won’t ever cop to it, while the false positive rate is most likely negligible.

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3 Responses to The Math Behind Why Harvard and Other Universities Don’t Take Rape Seriously

  1. lyy says:

    I read the piece and what struck me the most was that the police were not involved. I have long thought that it is foolish (as a society, not for the individual) to expect an institution like a college or workplace to handle a criminal matter. If possible violence is reported to them they should not try to arbitrate it or judge it, but assist the harmed person with reporting it to the police. The institution’s policy should be, you may have been the victim of a crime, please report it to the police (ideally they would assist with transportation, etc. to facilitate reporting).
    My mom had a similar issue when she was struck at work and knocked down and the administration wanted to handle it in-house and by handle it, I mean do nothing so she would have to continue to work with the person. She reported it to law enforcement and it was resolved more satisfactorily. I realize that with sexual assault the police have not always been responsive (another area that can use work); but sexual assault is a crime and should be handled that way- not as an infraction against the student/work code, judged by people who often have an incentive to sweep it under the rug. I have told my children to go to the police if a crime is committed against them. The institution can suck up the consequences.

    • Vene says:

      The police are just as unlikely to respond appriopriately and are likely to belittle the victim.

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