I recently saw a claim that nearly one in five US women attending university are subject to rape or sexual assault during their academic careers. If the situation is that dangerous, why haven’t the universities and campus police done something to crack down on this crime wave? That’s because it’s not actually true: only by merging a whole range of unwelcome or unwanted contacts (or even post facto “regrets”) in with genuine criminal activity do we get to a number close to 20% of the female student population. This is not in any way to minimize the seriousness of actual rape, but conflating everything from “microaggressions” through sexual harassment all the way to sexual assault in the same category is a terrible way to help those who are the actual victims of crime. In Time, Cathy Young discusses the recent White House report on campus sexual assault:
The administration’s effort, which made headlines last week with a report by the White House task force on campus sexual assault and new Department of Education guidelines, has an indisputably noble goal. Unfortunately, it is marred by flaws, including alarmist statistics, fuzzy definitions and a polarizing ideology of presumed guilt.
One of the foundations of this crusade is the staggering claim that one in five female students are sexually assaulted while in college. This figure comes from the 2005-2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study [PDF], which, as Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler has noted, was conducted at just two schools, with a fairly low response rate. Moreover, the survey’s data for “drug- and/or alcohol-enabled sexual assault” (about 70% of the incidents in the study) lump together unconsciousness or incapacitation with intoxication that may cloud one’s judgment and affect consent. Notably, despite widespread sexual assault awareness programs, two-thirds of the college women whom the study counted as victims of drug- or alcohol-enabled rape did not think they were raped, and few felt they had suffered psychological harm.
University of Michigan economist Mark Perry also points out that, if you take police records from university campuses and factor in the White House estimate that only about 12% of campus sexual offenses are reported, you don’t get anywhere near a one-in-five victimization rate over the course of a woman’s college attendance — more like 1 in 20 or 1 in 30.