George Will Defends Controversial Column On Campus Sexual Assault

Washington Post columnist George Will CREDIT: C-SPAN
Washington Post columnist George Will CREDIT: C-SPAN

Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will is standing by his recent article on sexual assault that sparked considerable backlash and led at least one prominent newspaper to drop his byline.

In an interview with C-SPAN that will air in full sometime in July, Will said he wouldn’t take back a word of his controversial column, and dismissed his critics as overreacting. “Today, for some reason, indignation is the default position of certain people,” Will said. “I think it has something to do with the internet.”

Will takes issue with the Obama Administration’s recent report on the scope of the campus rape crisis, which cites data from the Department of Justice to conclude that one in five college women are the victim of sexual assault. He claims that statistic is much too high and doesn’t line up with the other data about sexual assault reports.

Over the past week, experts who research violence against women have pointed out the flaws with Will’s interpretation of the data, which relies on a dubious analysis from the American Enterprise Institute — a right-wing group that has a long history of downplaying campus sexual assaults. Nonetheless, Will is defending his column as an important tool to educate people about the real data at the heart of the issue. “When dubious statistics become the basis of dubious and dangerous abandonment of due process, it’s my job to step in and say, ‘Everyone take a deep breath,’ ” he told C-SPAN.

According to Will, colleges are lowering the standard of proof for sexual assault allegations, and he’s worried that ruin the lives of young men. “What’s going to result is a lot of young men and young women in this sea of hormones and alcohol that gets into so much trouble on campus, and you’re going to have charges of sexual assault. And you’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this — they won’t get into medical school, they won’t get into law school, and all of this,” Will said in the interview.

The individuals who resist efforts to reform campus sexual assault policies are often preoccupied with the potential of false rape allegations. That’s the primary argument furthered by so-called “men’s rights advocates,” who claim that feminism is ultimately leading to the victimization of men. These attitudes are pervasive in mainstream society, too, where the reaction to rape cases is often concern for the accused rapists’ reputations instead of concern for the victims’ well being.

In reality, however, researchers estimate that false rape allegations make up about two to eight percent of all reports. Although the Duke lacrosse case is typically trotted out as proof that lying women can ruin college men’s lives, the women who file false claims often receive punishments that are far worse than the consequences for actual rapists.

In the portion of the interview that was released on Friday, Will did not address his claim that the attention to campus rape has ensured that rape victims have somewhat of a “coveted status,” an assertion that inspired thousands of sexual assault victims to push back under the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege. But he did say that he believes he takes sexual assault more seriously than the lawmakers who wrote him an open letter to critique his recent column.

Since Will’s column was published, thousands of people have signed petitions calling for his resignation. The Washington Post continues to stand by him, saying that opinion columnists are supposed to provoke debate, but other papers haven’t done the same. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch apologized for publishing the “offensive” article on campus rape and announced it will no longer carry Will’s syndicated column in the future. And the Chicago Tribune passed on the column altogether, deciding not to run it because the paper believed it was “misguided and insensitive.”