By Debra Whittington
In what might be one of the greatest undertakings of his storied career, William H. McRaven — best known as the architect of the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden — is tackling another white whale.
He’s out to determine just how serious is the issue of sexual assault on campus.
The retired four-star admiral, now the chancellor of the University of Texas System, has ordered a comprehensive, $1.7 million, multi-year study on the scope, causes and impact of what some are calling a culture of sexual violence at universities.
McRaven hasn’t arrived at that conclusion yet. And he’s right to withhold judgment for now.
For a variety of reasons, including poor sampling procedures, some of the existing research on sexual assaults at universities has been suspect.
The statistic most frequently cited by policymakers and university activists comes from a Justice Department study that found one in five women will be assaulted during her college career.
If true, that number is alarming, but it’s been widely debunked.
Still, it’s no secret that sexual encounters on college campuses often occur in the presence of drugs and alcohol, circumstances that leave both men and women vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances.
Just as it’s true that until the last decade or so, victims who spoke out faced significant social stigma.
College administrations have a history of slow or inadequate responses to allegations of assault on campus. In recent years, there is at least anecdotal evidence to suggest the pendulum is swinging the other way — as with the now infamous case of an alleged brutal sexual assault at the University of Virginia that has since proved to be false.
McRaven’s approach seems like the right one.
He was asked by The Washington Post just how big the problem of sexual assault is on UT’s 13 campuses.
“I don’t know,” McRaven said. “My experience tells me I don’t have enough data just yet.”
There is much that he and other universities need to learn about the nature of campus sexual encounters and the culture that enables them before effective, responsive and fair policies can be developed and administered.
This study is a first and most important step in that process.
— Fort Worth Star-Telegram