A renewed call for accurate government reporting of statistics

By Mark J. Perry
January 23, 2014

From the White House Council on Women and Girls website yesterday:

As part of an unprecedented national effort to address alarming rates of sexual assault on college campuses, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum today to establish the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.” The taskforce will be charged with sharing best practices, and increasing transparency, enforcement, public awareness, and interagency coordination to prevent violence and support survivors. The creation of this Task Force builds upon the President’s 2010 call to action, which urged the federal government to support survivors and aggressively take action against sexual assault.

The statistics around sexual assault in this country are nothing short of jarring. A report just released by the White House Council on Women and Girls entitled, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” reveals that nearly 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. These statistics are stunning, but still can’t begin to capture the emotional and psychological scars that survivors often carry for life, or the courage needed to recover.

In its report “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” the White House Council on Women and Girls (and the Office of the Vice-President, which helped to prepare the report) makes the following two statements:

1. Sexual assault is a particular problem on college campuses:1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.

2. Reporting rates for campus sexual assault are also very low: on average only 12% of student victims report the assault to law enforcement.

But there’s a serious problem with those claims, as The Community of the Wrongly Accused (COTWA) blog points out today in a post titled: “Important: The White House’s own numbers prove that nowhere near one-in-five women are sexually assaulted on campus.” Here’s a key paragraph:

The problem is that the two sets of numbers the White House uses don’t work together. If you look at virtually any university in America and take the number of reported sexual assaults, and use that number in conjunction with the White House’s under-reporting percentage, you don’t get one-in-five. Nowhere near. As I say, do the math yourself.

OK, let’s do some math using crime data from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for 2012:

1. Number of female UM students: Approximately 21,000

2. Expected number of sexual assaults if one-in-five women is sexually assaulted in college: 4,200

3.  Actual number of reported sexual assaults at UM in 2012: 34

4. Chances of a female UM student being sexually assaulted each year: 1-in-618.

4. Chances over four years that a student will be assaulted while attending college: 4-in-618 or 1-in-155.

That’s nowhere close to 1-in-5.

If you accept the White House claim that 88% of college sexual assaults are not reported, you then get:

1.  Estimated number of sexual assaults: 283 total, 34 reported (12%) and 249 unreported (88%).

2. Chances of a female student being sexually assaulted each year: 1-in-74 (or 1.35% chance).

3. Chances over four years of a female UM student being sexually assaulted: 1-in-18.5 (or 5.4% chance).

There’s still nowhere close to a 1-in-5 (and 20%) chance of a female student being sexually assaulted while attending the University of Michigan, using the White House’s own under-reporting statistics.  See a similar analysis here for three Pittsburgh-area colleges (University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duquesne University). I think maybe we need a “renewed call for the White House (and DOJ) to report accurate statistics on sexual assault (intimate partner violence).”

The COTWA blog summarizes some key points here:

1. We should all agree that sexual assault is an unacceptable problem.

2. We should all agree that government officials shouldn’t exaggerate the problem or lie about it.

3. We should all agree that inflated statistics should never be used to chip away at cherished due process rights of persons accused of sexual assault on campus.

4. It’s time to get the politics out of sexual assault and to stop pandering to women’s groups for votes.

Source: aei-ideas.org