Lies, Damned Lies, And Campus Sexual Assault Statistics

Protestors demonstrate outside the Montgomery County Courthouse as Bill Cosby arrives for the first day of his sexual assault retrial on April 9, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
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A potential draft of new federal campus sexual assault policies was leaked this week, so expect a new round of false and misleading statistics to be shared by those who claim due process “protects rapists” and “hurts victims.”

Rape and sexual assault are serious offenses, and shouldn't be watered down to create a narrative that America is somehow the rape capital of the world, nor should we pretend that non-offenses are offenses. That hurts real victims.

I’ve taken down every one of these statistics before — sometimes many, many times — but it’s time to debunk them all in one place. So here we go.

1-in-5 (or 1-in-4 or 1-in-3) Women Will Be Sexually Assaulted During College

Studies purporting to find such an astronomical amount of sexual violence on college campuses (numbers thousands of times higher than war-torn Congo or Detroit, America’s most dangerous city) suffer from many of the same flaws. They are often not nationally representative, are produced by women’s organizations determined to find women as oppressed victims in America, and are self-reported — a notoriously unreliable form of data.

The studies are often voluntary, meaning response bias could play a role as those who believe they are sexual assault victims (rightly or wrongly) may be more inclined to participate than those who don’t think the survey is about them.

Researchers don’t ask students directly if they are sexual assault victims but ask about a broad range of behaviors, such as “unwanted” behaviors that are open to interpretation, as being asked out by someone one doesn’t like could be considered “unwanted” even though it is in no way sexual assault or harassment. The researchers then determine that if students responded “yes” to any of these questions, it means they must have been sexually assaulted. Keep in mind, the definition of sexual assault here lies outside the criminal definition. When students who answered “yes” to any of the questions are asked why they didn’t report, the vast majority say they didn’t think the incident was “serious enough,” meaning they may not have even seen the action as “assault.”

Even when a survey attempts to counter one of these flaws, the other problems still exist, rendering it meaningless. Yet damaging policies have been enacted based on these useless numbers.

For fun, start paying attention to how many other surveys find “1-in-5” as the headline conclusion. It appears more likely that researchers can find 1-in-5 anything to support their preconceived notions.

The Majority Of Campus Rapes Are Committed By A Small Number Of Men

Sometimes known as the “serial predator” study, this one from David Lisak has been around for decades and was debunked just a few years ago. It claims that “90%” of rapes on campus are perpetrated by a few men.

For starters, Lisak didn’t conduct the study himself but used data from studies conducted by his former grad students, who didn’t limit their data to college students. As in the 1-in-5 stat above, this one was also not nationally representative, as the surveys were conducted near a commuter college with participants who didn’t live on campus and may not have even been students.

The surveys were anonymous, yet Lisak has claimed he conducted follow-up interviews with men who admitted to committing multiple rapes (one questions whether such admissions would be so freely given to a stranger in the first place). Lisak did conduct 12 interviews during his dissertation research three decades ago, but he then combined those cherry-picked interviews into a single character — called “Frank” — which he used to tell school administrators how dangerous their campuses were. No such monster as Frank actually exists, nor is he a common problem across the country.

False Accusations Are Rare

The truth is, we don’t know how many accusations are truly false, and even if we did, one can’t walk into an investigation assuming they already know the answer.

We’re often told that “just” 2% to 10% of rape accusations are false. College administrators are told this when “trained” on how to handle accusations of sexual assault. The implication is clear: Women just don’t lie about rape, so nine times out of ten, you’d be safe in assuming the accused is guilty.

But that statistic is wildly misleading, as it only applies to accusations made to police that are proven false. Proving a negative is often impossible, especially in a “we had sex but it was consensual” situation. On college campuses, there is no punishment for a false accusation and thus no fear, as there is with lying to the police.

Further, the proven false statistic is one category of sexual assault classifications. The other categories do not all equate to “true,” so implying that 90% to 98% are true is downright false and prejudicial. Other categories include “baseless,” wrongly reported as sexual assault, cases without enough evidence for an arrest, cases with enough evidence but for some reason outside police control an arrest is not made, and cases where there is enough evidence for an arrest. Of the cases that lead to an arrest, a small percentage actually go to trial and result in a “guilty” finding.

Using the same logic as the peddlers of this statistic, one would only be able to say that 3% to 5% of rape accusations are true, since that’s how many return a “guilty” finding.

It’s Bad That 91% Of Colleges And Universities Said They Received No Rape Reports

I include this one because while one would think it would be a good thing that reports of sexual assault aren’t rampant on college campuses, the “scholars” at the American Association of University Women think it’s a bad thing. Because they’ve thoroughly bought into the debunked statistics above, no reports must mean that schools are somehow discouraging victims from coming forward or are sweeping reports under the rug. It’s hard to believe either of these is the case when the media, lawmakers, federal institutions, and Hollywood are constantly claiming huge swaths of the female population are sexually assaulted on college campuses and begging people to come forward.

1-in-3 Men Would Rape If They Could Get Away With It

This statistic was quickly debunked as soon as it appeared in 2015. A woman who admitted to me at the time that she was seeking grant money (a good motive for finding alarming statistics in one’s survey) claimed her study found that a whopping one-third of surveyed men had “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse.”

Wow, right? Except, as I’ve pointed out with previous misleading statistics, this one suffers from many of the same flaws. It’s not nationally representative, and the answers of just 73 men were used to arrive at the 1-in-3 number blasted out by the media and women’s groups. Of those 73 men, 23 were found to have those intentions, based on the researchers own definition of what constituted bad intentions. Just nine guys said they would actually rape a woman. Nine guys do not an epidemic make.

These guys may not have been taking the survey seriously or they were answering a question from Plato’s Republic: How many people would commit a crime if they knew they wouldn’t be caught? One would believe many people would answer affirmatively to such questions about various laws, but that doesn’t mean they’d actually commit them. One can never know if they will get away with it.

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