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Sexual Assault on Campus: Why We Must Do More, Not Less



I have read the transcript of the Education Secretary’s prepared comments regarding her intent to change how sexual assault cases are handled on college campuses under Title IX. Let me be clear. No one should be raped or sexually assaulted, and no one should be falsely accused of rape or sexual assault. Both do happen. Yet in her prepared statements, DeVos puts forth an argument that appears to imply that victims of sexual assault and those who are falsely accused of sexual assault are roughly the same in number. It is important to understand that this is not true. False allegations tend to grab headlines, while rapes and sexual assaults occur so frequently that we have become desensitized to them on the rare occasion that they make headlines (which usually only occurs if the accused is a star athlete or a famous person’s child).

Here are the actual numbers, as gathered by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center: “The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) opened in July 2000 as a national information and resource hub relating to all aspects of sexual violence. Founded by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the oldest and one of the largest state sexual assault coalitions, the NSVRC is funded through a cooperative agreement from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention.”  One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetimes:  “46.4% lesbians, 74.9% bisexual women and 43.3% heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes, while 40.2% gay men, 47.4% bisexual men and 20.8% heterosexual men reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes” ( Nearly one in ten women has been raped by someone they are intimately involved with, while one in 45 men has been forced to penetrate an intimate partner. 9% of rape and sexual assault victims are male, and 91% are female (

And here is where the implied equality between the number of victims and number of those falsely accused put forth by DeVos falls apart: “One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.” ( Let me restate this most important statistic: less than 10% of sexual assault victims on college campuses report the crime.

When you examine false reporting, you are looking at that group of less than 10% of victims who report crimes, and not the more than 90% who do not report: “The prevalence of false reporting is between 2% and 10%. For example, a study of eight U.S. communities, which included 2,059 cases of sexual assault, found a 7.1% rate of false reports. A study of 136 sexual assault cases in Boston found a 5.9% rate of false reports. Researchers studied 812 reports of sexual assault from 2000-03 and found a 2.1% rate of false reports” ( Between 2% and 10%–of the less than 10% of victims who report–file false reports. When you compare that to the total number of victims, male and female, including those who report and who do not report, there is no comparison.

20.4 million students attend colleges and universities in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics ( One in 5 of those women and one in 16 of those men are victimized. I have taught on college campuses for 28 years, and I long ago lost count of the number of students in my classes who have been victimized. There have been too many. One is too many. Please don’t let the Department of Education make it even more difficult than it already is for these victims to come forward and report sexual assaults in the hope that perpetrators will be held responsible.



Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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