Oct 062014

“It is estimated that one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there.” – Barack Obama, January 22, 2014

Wow, that sounds like a lot to me. Does it to you? I mean, really? Is it even that bad in a high-crime area of a big city in the middle of the night?


The first thing to know about this research is that the sample size leaves a lot to be desired. A total of two schools were studied to produce this statistic. That tells me that however useful the conclusions are, they are likely to be so primarily for those two campuses. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. How many should we look at to find out something meaningful? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure more than two.

The second thing to know about this research is that the definition of sexual assault is broad indeed. For example, “attempted” or “completed” assaults are included in this statistic. Now at first blush, that shouldn’t matter. Attempted rape or rape? Felony either way.

Ah, but see, here’s the thing. Many of those reported sexual assaults are rapes, but “sexual battery,” also included in the study as sexual assault, includes things like attempted-but-unwelcome kissing and touching.

So, for this study’s purposes, a woman who eludes a drunken frat boy’s clumsy attempted kiss is a sexual assault victim.

Trying to kiss a woman when she clearly doesn’t want you to is rude and boorish. So is “accidentally” pawing her rear end instead of gently grasping her waist when you’re dancing. But it’s ludicrous to call these things violent crimes. Frankly, I have trouble finding an innocuous motive for putting these in the same bucket as rape and sodomy.

Violence against women, sexual or otherwise, is a serious problem that deserves sustained attention. But let’s keep our eye on the ball.

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 Posted by at 6:52 pm

  6 Responses to “Facts That Aren’t: One in five women in college are sexually assaulted on campus”

  1. I would guess if you polled adult women that at least 1 in 5 would also say they were a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace too (some of us more than once). Was it criminal behavior? No but it was humiliating and uncomfortable. What we need to be doing is teaching our boys that there are boundaries. Regardless, if their behavior is criminal or not, any type overtures outside the social setting is inappropriate. And in the social setting, a rejection is a rejection and should be enough to end any further overtures.

    • Tonya, no doubt and heartily agreed. An important part of being a man is knowing how to treat a woman.

      I get hung up on the term “sexual assault” here. That’s a severe term that conjures severe acts. I think this study used much too broad a definition for it.

  2. Disingenuous statements like that, used to score political points of some sort, it seems, only serve to water down the true facts and make them suspect, rather than raising awareness of an issue. It’s rotten behavior and goes on in many, many examples most of which will probably land on your untrue facts posts.

    • Yup. You may remember a post about a claim that we kill 36,000,000 sharks every year. I didn’t believe that number then, and I don’t now. But do I think we ought to take an active interest in preserving shark populations? Yes.

      Same thing here. It’s an important issue, and one that deserves our attention. But let’s talk about it with integrity.

  3. I can agree there’d need to be a wider sample for these statistics, but given how many assaults aren’t reported, I don’t doubt these numbers at all. I don’t think anyone would consider a drunk frat guy trying to kiss them at a party as being assaulted. If they’d said 1-in-5 were raped, I would question the statistic. But assaulted? Given the stories I’ve heard from young women, I don’t doubt this in the least.

    • But those are exactly the big problems with the study. The one-in-five number comes from researching only two schools, and from classifying such an attempted kiss as assault.

      The statistic has become a go-to soundbite, but the study from which it comes gives us little reason to believe it.

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