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Rape scandal turns sympathy into skepticism

By Wendy McElroy
web posted April 26, 2004

The University of Colorado at Boulder's ongoing sex scandal revolves around football players who are accused of "getting away" with raping up to 10 women over the past several years. Women are suing. Dozens of athletes and their families are devastated. The National Organization for Women is demanding the head coach be fired.

Legislators wonder if they should conduct their own investigation. The truth of the specific accusations has yet to be determined. But, through the cacophony of voices, Richard Grego wishes to express a differing opinion: Namely, that the CU campus promotes false awareness.

Grego, who told me his story via e-mail, claims he knows CU promotes false awareness because, he says, he used to sell the "lie."

From 1997 to 2000, while an undergraduate, Grego served as "a peer educator" in the Colorado University Rape And Gender Educators (COURAGE), which is funded by CU, and so, sanctioned by it. The group's stated mission: "to raise awareness about sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence and gender as it relates to those topics." In January, 1999, Grego's work was even singled out and featured for praise by the Colorado Daily in its weekend edition.

Grego now calls his work a "lie" that encouraged unfounded accusations of assault. He writes, "We created at CU a culture of false awareness. ... [S]ince I left the group I have suspected that many women have been making false allegations to obtain the attention, sympathy, kid-glove treatment, and power that comes with being a victim of sex assault."

Why does Grego say the awareness was false? For one thing, COURAGE and its "educators" aggressively promote "facts" such as "1 in 4 women ... will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime." COURAGE claimed that the statistic came from the FBI. Thus, Grego explains, "with the credibility of both a large respected university and the police department, we told college kids, many of whom were 18-year[-old] freshmen, that women are being raped left and right." As a COURAGE educator, Grego "went to classes, dorms, fraternities, other groups, and many sororities."

Then Grego took a sociology class that used the much-cited "Mary Koss study" as a cautionary example of how not to do research. The Mary Koss study was a 1985 report published in Ms. Magazine that claimed 1 in 4 women had been raped, and based the claim on interviews Mary Koss conducted with some 7,000 female college students. The women were asked 10 questions; they were deemed to have been raped if any question elicited a "yes" response. One question was, "Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?"

The 1-in-4 figure ranked as the Number One Myth in "The Ten Most Common Feminist Myths" flyer from the Independent Women's Forum, which was circulated amid controversy on campuses in 2001. IWF commented, "The researcher, Mary Koss, hand-picked by hard-line feminist Gloria Steinem, acknowledges that 73 percent of the young women she counted as rape victims were not aware they had been raped. Forty-three percent of them were dating their 'attacker' again."

Grego recognized the discredited "facts" as the ones he was "feeding" the student body. They had not come from the FBI but from a feminist study that was being ridiculed by those who taught statistics. He asked, "Can you imagine how I felt? I had been in essence lying to the students. I was stunned."

Grego claims that when he confronted the professional coordinator of COURAGE about the statistic, she told him that the cause of "raising awareness" about rape was more important than the questions surrounding Koss' study.

Grego decided to leave the group. Rebecca Brown, the professional coordinator of COURAGE during Grego's tenure with the group, told Foxnews.com that she has no recollection of such a conversation with Grego or anyone else. She acknowledges that the Koss study has been challenged, but cites other research that has upheld Koss' findings.

"Statistics are only one aspect of what the COURAGE program does," Brown said.

But Grego says that now, instead of extending automatic compassion, he now questions every report of rape he hears.

"I do not automatically presume the accusers are telling the truth, instead I realize that I did not witness the events and I wait until more evidence comes out," he says. Contrast this with a younger Grego: "Back in high school, this older girl I was friends with told me she was raped, I was shocked and gave her my sympathy."

Grego's reaction is both natural and disturbing. I view this shift in his views as "disturbing" because I was raped years ago. As a teenager, I ran away from home and lived on the streets, which placed me in a high-risk category for violence. Were I to go to Richard Grego right now, would he listen with sympathy or skepticism? If the answer is "skepticism," should I blame Grego or the university/tax-funded program of false awareness that pushed a compassionate person toward disbelief?

Although Grego graduated from CU in 2003, he is speaking out now, he says, because he "can't help but feel slightly responsible" for the current sex scandal that he likens to "a witchhunt."

Is it a witchhunt? A Boulder newspaper reports, "The CU football sex scandal has victimized everyone from women suing the school over their alleged rapes to dozens of athletes and their families to far-removed researchers on campus who say their work is going unappreciated ..."

It is time to get tax-funded advocates out of the equation and deal with crime on the basis of the evidence presented by each individual case.

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, "Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century" (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada. (c) 2004

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