Earlier this week I found an amazing piece on the campus rape hysteria authored by Emily Yoffe on posted at the leftist Slate, of all places.
The whole article is worth the read, but there is one part that is very interesting. She spoke to the people who did that 1 in 5 study that everyone (including Obama) has been talking about, and found out some pretty interesting things.
One campus rape is one too many. But the severe new policies championed by the White House, the Department of Education, and members of Congress are responding to the idea that colleges are in the grips of an epidemic—and the studies suggesting this epidemic don’t hold up to scrutiny. Bad policy is being made on the back of problematic research, and will continue to be unless we bring some healthy skepticism to the hard work of putting a number on the prevalence of campus rape.
It is exceedingly difficult to get a numerical handle on a crime that is usually committed in private and the victims of which—all the studies agree—frequently decline to report. A further complication is that because researchers are asking about intimate subjects, there is no consensus on the best way to phrase sensitive questions in order to get the most accurate answers. A 2008 National Institute of Justice paper on campus sexual assault explained some of the challenges: “Unfortunately, researchers have been unable to determine the precise incidence of sexual assault on American campuses because the incidence found depends on how the questions are worded and the context of the survey.” Take the National Crime Victimization Survey, the nationally representative sample conducted by the federal government to find rates of reported and unreported crime. For the years 1995 to 2011, as the University of Colorado Denver’s Rennison explained to me, it found that an estimated 0.8 percent of noncollege females age 18-24 revealed that they were victims of threatened, attempted, or completed rape/sexual assault. Of the college females that age during that same time period, approximately 0.6 percent reported they experienced such attempted or completed crime.
That finding diverges wildly from the notion that one in five women college women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. That’s the number most often used to suggest there is overwhelming sexual violence on America’s college campuses. It comes from a 2007 study funded by the National Institute of Justice, called the Campus Sexual Assault Study, or CSA. (I cited it last year in a story on campus drinking and sexual assault.) The study asked 5,466 female college students at two public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South, to answer an online survey about their experiences with sexual assault. The survey defined sexual assault as everything from nonconsensual sexual intercourse to such unwanted activities as “forced kissing,” “fondling,” and “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes.”
There are approximately 12 million female college students in the U.S. (There are about 9 million males.) I asked the lead author of the study, Christopher Krebs, whether the CSA represents the experience of those millions of female students. His answer was unequivocal: “We don’t think one in five is a nationally representative statistic.” It couldn’t be, he said, because his team sampled only two schools. “In no way does that make our results nationally representative,” Krebs said. And yet President Obama used this number to make the case for his sweeping changes in national policy.
So the actual number using reliable studies is less than 1%. And yet, we have so many people on the left telling us it’s 20 or 25 percent, in order to get their legislation passed. Just think about that for a minute. Our President stood up there and told us it was 20% but it’s actually less than 1%. And he does the same thing with the women’s pay gap, which he says is 23%, when the actual number when you correct for factors like pregnancies, type of work, number of hours worked, degree required, etc. is near zero.
UPDATE: Commenter Mathetes points me to this Department of Justice study which came up with the number 1 in 52.6, which is less than 2% for rape AND sexual assault together.