While talking about border security, President Donald Trump regularly cites a statistic that “one in three women is sexually assaulted” while trying to come to America.
Every time he mentions this, left-wing fact checkers rush to downplay the information and mark Trump as a liar. Most recently, Trump cited the statistic in his State of the Union address, and the “fact checkers” went wild.
“Statistic on sexual assault of migrant women is from an unrepresentative sample,” wrote The Washington Post.
NBC made sure to note the small sample size of the statistic. Politifact had already rated this claim as “half true” because of the small sample size and because Trump says “sexually assaulted” not “sexually abused.” Politico was the worst offender this time around, putting out a tweet that called Trump’s claim “partly true” because the Doctors Without Borders report from which the president derived the statistic says “31% of female migrants and 17% of male migrants said they had been sexually abused while traveling through Mexico.” So Trump gets a “partly true” because 1 in 3 is technically 33%, not 31%, and because he didn’t include men?
This is not the tactic these websites and others use when the alleged rate of sexual assault pertains to American college women. For American college women, the media completely accepts the impossible-on-its-face statistic that 1 in 5 undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted.
The Post in 2014 debunked this statistic in much the same way it did for Trump’s “1 in 3 migrant women” claim: A small, self-selective, self-reported sample size. But then the Post teamed up with the Kaiser Foundation to recreate the statistic, using the same flawed methods that every other survey on the subject uses, but asking more women across the country so they could claim it was nationally representative.
I’ve taken down this statistic too many times to count, as have others. The studies don’t randomly ask students, but offer incentives for students who wish to participate, meaning those who either believe we really are living in a “rape culture” on par with war-torn Congo are more likely to participate. It’s also a self-reported survey, perhaps the least scientific form of study — and surely the poorest research to base public policy. The majority of these studies continue to focus on a single college and have a low response rate, meaning they’re not nationally representative.
Though the Post’s sample size was larger, it was still self-reported, meaning no one had to prove they actually were sexually assaulted. The definition of sexual assault was also incredibly broad, including “unwanted” sexual activity. This is meaningless, as a person can’t know something is unwanted until they ask or try it, but the mere ask can be considered a form of harassment if it comes from someone one simply doesn’t like.
Politifact has danced around this statistic without giving it a rating — back when President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were throwing it around regularly. CNN has claimed that 1 in 5 female college freshmen have been raped and 1 in 5 women sexually assaulted in college.
While breathlessly including this debunked statistic in numerous reports, these same outlets go to great pains to downplay Trump’s “1 in 3 migrant women” statistic, which is flawed for the same reasons.