One-in-Five: Regret is Not Rape

UPDATE:

Throughout 2014, several commentators such as Mark Perry analyzed the one-in-five claim and concluded it was erroneous. In December, the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics published a report, Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013. The report defined sexual assault broadly to include assaults, attempted assaults, and threatened assaults.

The report concluded that the rate of rape and sexual assault victimization of female students was 0.61 percent. This number is far lower than the 19 percent claimed in the non-representative Campus Assault Survey.

CAMPAIGN:

Some persons are claiming that one-in-five — 19% — college women are victims of sexual assault. This number comes from the Campus Sexual Assault Survey (1). But is it true?

Most of the one-in-five were women experienced “unwanted” sexual assault. Unfortunately, “unwanted” is a subjective and fluid concept. Consider the example of Chris:

Chris goes to a sorority party. After a few beers — and some racy dancing — Chris ends up hooking-up with a classmate. The next morning Chris wakes up feeling guilty and sad.

A couple years later, Chris decides to take a survey on campus sexual assault. The survey poses this question: Did you ever experience any “unwanted sexual contact while you were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, or asleep.”

Chris thinks about the hook-up. She remembers the two beers she drank left her feeling pretty crazy, so that probably counts as “drunk.” And given her feelings of regret, she decided the sex actually was “unwanted.” So she answers “yes” to the question.

In this case, Chris willingly attended the party, drank alcohol to excess, and engaged in flirtatious behavior. The sex only became “unwanted” the next morning when she began to feel regretful.

Nonetheless, the Campus Sexual Assault Survey would consider Chris to be a victim of rape, even if she herself said “No” to the question. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of the women classified by the Assault Survey as rape victims stated they did not believe they had been raped.

The Campus Sexual Assault Survey is flawed for other reasons:

  1. False Allegations: While the exact extent of false allegations of sexual assault is unknown, no one seriously doubts that they do occur. At the very least, the CSAS should have consistently framed its findings as “reports” or “claims” of sexual assault.
  2. Broad Definitions: The CSAS defines sexual assault broadly to include behaviors such as someone “rubbing up against you in a sexual way.” But few persons would regard such behavior as an “assault.”
  3. Memory Problems: Many of the students completed the survey as juniors and seniors, 1-2 years after the boozy encounter took place.
  4. Limited Generalizability: The CSAS was conducted at only two universities, one in the Midwest, the other in the South. It’s questionable whether the CSAS findings can be generalized to other parts of the country, or even to other colleges.
  5. Male Victimization: Several studies have documented the problem of male sexual assault victimization, ranging from 18.5% to 31% of male college students in the past year (2-4). One study concluded, “Results indicated men were as likely to report being the recipients of sexual coercion as were women” (4). But the CSAS reported only 6.1% of its male respondents had experienced Attempted or Completed sexual assault since entering college. This finding is much lower than comparable studies conducted in college populations.

The Campus Sexual Assault Survey cannot be regarded as a valid scientific study, nor can its findings be viewed as useful for purposes of policy-making.

References:

1. Krebs CP, Lindquist CH, Warner TD. Campus Sexual Assault Study: Final Report. NIJ Grant No. 2004-WG-BW-0010. 2007.

2. O’Sullivan L, Byers E, Finkelman L. A comparison of male and female college students’ experiences of sexual coercion. Psychology of Women Quarterly Vol. 22, pages 177-195. 1998.

3. Palmer RS, McMahon TJ, Rounsaville FJ, Ball SA. Coercive sexual experiences, protective behavioral strategies, alcohol expectancies, and consumption among male and female college students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence Vol. 25 pages 1563-1578. 2010.

4. Larimer M, Lydum A, Anderson B, Turner A. Male and female recipients of unwanted sexual contact in a college student sample: Prevalence rates, alcohol use, and depression symptoms. Sex Roles Vol. 40, pages, 295-308. 1999.