By Chris | September 11, 2009
My university recently hosted a forum on rape for female college students. They emphasized that rape is a serious issue on campus using statistics. Fact: 1 in 4 college women have either been raped or suffered attempted rape. At least that is what women’s centers at colleges around the United States claim. That’s scary high. Too high. I was suspicious. I care quite a bit about a few college women. How much danger are they in? I decided to check out the figure.
Fortunately, it is bogus. The number comes from a study of sexual assault on campuses done by Mary Koss in 1985 for Ms. Magazine. I was born in 1985 and I’m a young graduate student. How can this study be relevant to today’s college students born in the 90’s? More notably, I found this interesting critique of the study by Christina Sommers of Clark University. She notes that the study asked students:
Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?
An affirmative answer was counted as rape. In other words, a women who regretted a one night stand after a night of drinking was considered as having been sexually assaulted. The ambiguous nature of the questions and inclusive definition of rape is evident from the following statistics. Only 27 percent of the women Koss counted as having been raped identified themselves as rape victims. Moreover, 42 percent of labeled rape victims, went on to have sex with their attackers at a later date. Clearly, something is wrong. If we just consider women who considered themselves to be raped, the figure falls to a more believable 1/14.
Rape is an egregious wrong. I have no desire to minimize the seriousness of this evil. However, I don’t think women’s advocates advance their cause by using shoddy studies from the 1980’s to make rape seem more prevalent than it really is. We shouldn’t have to lie to young college women to frighten them into taking safety precautions. In fact, making rape seem ordinary is counterproductive. Evidence suggests that young people drink less when they realize that most students don’t binge drink. People adjust their behavior to conform to what they perceive as normal. If women think that 25 percent of their friends have been assaulted, they may be less likely to report it when it happens to them. Moreover, potential criminals may be encouraged. If 1/4 of college women are being raped, that means that a lot of rapists are roaming the streets free. Maybe it’s not that risky of a crime.
So why do journalists, activists, and women’s centers cling to the 1 in 4 figure? It catches your attention. It outrages you. It makes you want to do something. Such responses are good for circulation, donations, and support from the university. But they come at the cost. Sacrificing their credibility for more attention, these “advocates” inadvertently hurt students. That’s a tragedy in and of itself.