Many claims, few sources
A year ago, former Vice President Joe Biden compared supporters of due process in campus sexual-assault proceedings to the “Nazis” in the Unite the Right rally near the University of Virginia (recording, bottom).
In another conference call with rape-culture activists Wednesday, the architect of the Obama administration’s Title IX policy managed to avoid inflammatory comparisons. Even as he repeated himself, Biden sounded like he was trying to follow a script.
Absent from his script, however, were the sources for several claims that he made about the frequency and effects of sexual assault. Even when Biden did cite a source, it wasn’t clear what research he was referring to.
He claimed the Centers for Disease Control have found that women who experience sexual assault “suffer from post-traumatic stress no different than somebody on the battlefield.”
The CDC’s page on the consequences of sexual violence lists PTSD as a possible consequence, but does not compare it to the PTSD suffered by war veterans.
‘Man up,’ you ‘cowards’
The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and “devastating” shifts in Title IX priorities under President Trump were Biden’s main talking points. His speech clocked in at a relatively short 18 minutes even as Biden rambled and repeated his points.
His remarks were largely directed to “all you men listening,” contrasting them unfavorably to women who are fighting sexual assault.
Biden told them to “stop being cowards” and “tell your frat brothers, fellow athletes” and other male stereotypes to follow the example of Biden’s father. Practically shouting, Biden said it was “time to man up” and start reporting any form of sexual assault.
The men on the call don’t have to “tackle the 250-pound guy abusing somebody” but “they sure as hell should call the police,” he said.
(Many anti-rape activists urge college women to not report incidents to police, fearing they won’t be believed. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse suggested methods to improve police reporting at a campus-rape hearing in 2015, and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also urged reporting to police.)
Celebrity Alyssa Milano introduced Biden on the call but did not otherwise participate. The invitation to the call said the white actress’s “viral tweet … propelled” the #MeToo movement a year ago, but recognized it was founded by the black activist Tarana Burke.
They were recruited as part of the “Fall Week of Action” with It’s On Us, the national nonprofit that grew out of the Obama administration’s efforts against campus sexual assault. Biden praised the organization for putting on more than 2,600 events on 500-plus campuses in every state this past year.
Misquotes famous statistic
Biden started his pep talk by reciting common but disputed sexual-assault statistics, including that “1 in every 5 women will be sexually assaulted during their time on campus.” (The actual statistic includes attempted assaults and defines “assault” loosely.)
Even a professor who founded a sexual assault prevention program criticized the methodology of a 2015 study commissioned by the nation’s major research universities, which purported to find a 1-in-4 rate of sexual assault among female undergraduates.
Oklahoma State University’s John Foubert, who created the program One in Four, told Inside Higher Ed the survey considers “unwanted sexual contact,” such as a kiss, to be assault.
Without giving a source, the 36-year Senate veteran claimed that the “single greatest reason” women drop out of college is sexual assault, not “grades.” Research suggests that financial troubles are a major factor for both sexes in failing to graduate, though women still graduate at higher rates than men.
It only took three minutes for Biden to reach the point that he echoed throughout the rest of his talk. “This is not your fault, nothing you did caused what happened to you to happen, you are not to blame,” he said about alleged victims. It is his “greatest heartbreak” that women continue to think sexual assault is their fault.
Biden warned listeners to not let the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of then-nominee Kavanaugh and his primary accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, cause them to “question themselves.” He said he “believed in” Ford, the Palo Alto University professor whose testimony was not corroborated by alleged witnesses.
‘Any rollback’ of Obama guidance is an attack on Title IX
While Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed like a loss for #MeToo and the broader movement against sexual assault, Biden pledged to keep leading “as long as I have a single breath left in my body,” particularly to defend the Title IX guidance he helped draft as vice president.
A year ago the Trump administration rescinded Biden’s work, which was never implemented in binding regulations, and is planning a full rulemaking on campus sexual-assault proceedings. Biden portrayed “any rollback” of his work as an attack on Title IX itself, and said he, Barack Obama and It’s On Us have a responsibility to “fight back.”
Biden’s language reflected the view of the Democratic National Committee, which called a leaked draft of the proposed regulations “a blatant and disturbing attack on every student” at risk of sexual misconduct on campus.
The former vice president claimed college campuses were “ground zero for sexual assault” and said they were “worse for transgender and bisexual women,” again without giving a specific statistic or source.
Doubling down on his stances, Biden laid out the metric for the success of It’s On Us: “Not a single solitary victim of abuse ever asked herself, ‘what did I do’ … never blames herself … the victim is never at fault.” Biden shares this sentiment with college students who responded to the confirmation of Kavanaugh with “believe all women” signs, claiming that asking for evidence of assault is victim-blaming.
He said every level of college administration must take part in this movement, from presidents to coaches and student organization leaders.
IMAGE: Roll Call/YouTube