By 10/17/16 12:49 PM
We’ve all seen the headlines claiming that 1 in 5 women will be a victim of sexual assault while they’re in college. Some studies, conducted in similar fashion as the flawed campus ones, make the same claim about women in general.
Now Gallup has a new survey out, showing that 1 in 3 U.S. women worry “frequently” or “occasionally” about being sexually assaulted. Gallup has been conducting this survey since at least 2000, and this kind of question differs from the campus surveys.
In those campus surveys, respondents are asked whether they have experienced various actions that are broadly worded. The researchers then determine, based on responses, whether the respondent has experienced sexual assault, usually by using a broad definition that is out of line with the legal definition. Respondents are never asked if they have actually been the victim of sexual assault, because researchers found in the past that asking such a direct question results in few people saying they have been victims. Researchers learned it was better for their narrative to make the victimhood determination themselves.
But Gallup asked the question directly, and the response will most definitely not result in headline after headline declaring “rape culture” to be proven.
That’s because Gallup found less than 1 percent of women said they had personally been the victim of sexual assault. Slightly more (1.6 percent) said either they or another household member had been a victim.
Big caveat here though: The question was limited to the past 12 months, so these respondents could have said they were victims at some point in their life, but not in the past year.
Young women were the most likely to say they had recently been victimized, with 1.2 percent saying they had experienced sexual assault in the past year. This could be due to new definitions of sexual assault which basically turn anything anyone dislikes into felony sexual assault.
Among all U.S. adults, just 0.6 percent said they had been the victim of sexual assault in the past year. That number doubled to 1.2 percent when other household members were included.
The survey has interviewed more than 15,000 people since 2000, which is more than most campus surveys (though when the survey itself is flawed, it doesn’t matter how many people are being asked). This year’s survey consisted of 1,017 respondents. The results also found just a fraction of the population saying they were victims, far less than the 20 percent the media and activists tout.
Despite this low prevalence, 34 percent of women said they worried “frequently” or “occasionally” about being sexually assaulted. I don’t see much manipulation in this question. If you asked people if they worried about being murdered, you’d probably get a response from some saying “I mean, yeah I guess.”
Part of it could be the “don’t think about zebras” phenomenon, but I don’t think that would be a big factor. The media have put sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, front and center in recent years, claiming that women are just one drink away from being a victim, while men are just predators in waiting.
Naturally, in that environment, one might be more fearful. I suspect there might be a current increase in clown phobias with all the recent sightings.
The number isn’t far off from Gallup’s ongoing trend of the subject. It’s a little higher than in recent years, but not off the trend line. Thirty-four percent of U.S. women (and 5 percent of U.S. men) said they were afraid of being sexually assaulted. The survey was conducted over five days — two days before a decade-old tape of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women surfaced — and three days after.
Gallup said the tape doesn’t appear to have had any effect. The polling agency also pointed to another of its surveys showing sexual assault not to be one of Americans’ top crime concerns.
“Typically, sexual assault has not ranked among Americans’ top crime concerns — with theft of credit card information, identity theft, burglary and car theft usually ranking higher. The lesser concern about sexual assault may have more to do with the frequency of the crime than the seriousness of it,” Gallup wrote. “Along these lines, Americans also worry less about being murdered than about crimes involving theft or damage of property, for example.”
But, Gallup noted, the lesser worry may be due to sexual assault primarily being a concern among women.
Still, don’t expect the information about the low prevalence of the crime to be a major talking point in articles about this survey.
Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested 15,000 were interviewed for this year’s survey, but that is the total number of people interviewed since 2000.