Lies, Damn Lies, and Rape Statistics

UPDATE, October 2020: Over the years as I have thought more on the subject of sexual assault, I have increasingly rue publishing the words written below. My callus attitude towards the survivors of sexual assault is painfully regrettable, and my analysis was superficial and rudimentary at best. I was concerned with black and white answers to a survey, rather than the complex human emotions and trauma behind them. I no longer espouse this article, and have sought to take it down from other news organizations that have republished it. Unfortunately, my requests have been refused. Although I cannot delete my words from the internet, you don’t waste time reading them. Instead please read the much more thoughtful and intelligent words of Alexandra Rutherford’s “What the Origins of the “1 in 5” Statistic Teaches Us About Sexual Assault Policy” 

Brown is in the midst of a pandemic. All across America, colleges are cesspools of forcible sex crimes, including rape, which make the college campus one of the most dangerous places for women. According to many activists and politicians, one in every four women will experience rape or attempted rape in their college career.

The problem is so severe that the federal government has intervened with the “Safe Campuses for Women” subsection in the Violence Against Women Act of 1993. Brown itself has set up a 24-hour support line and has a full-time staff member dedicated to sexual assault prevention, along with numerous programs in Health Services. Popular campus events such as Consent Day and the recent One Billion Rising are dedicated to tackling the issue.

Brown Daily Herald opinions columnist Cara Newlon recently wrote in her piece “Don’t Rape” that despite the fact that one in four coeds are victims of rape or attempted rape, and that one in 12 male students commit these crimes, people are not talking about the subject enough.

So why is no one talking about this widespread issue? One reason is that it is not widespread. The campus rape pandemic seems to be a theory based upon poor survey methodology and repeated lies.

The Slutwalkers’ objectives are praiseworthy. Their statistics aren’t. ?

Newlon and numerous other activists make the bold claim that one in every four college women is a victim of rape or attempted rape. This number is astonishing and no doubt eyebrow-raising. To put it in perspective, in the nation’s most violent city (Detroit), the total violent crime rate was 2.1 percent in 2012. That figure includes murder, rape, assault, and robbery. If the one in four figure shouted at feminist rallies is correct, the nation is willingly sending its daughters to places with a violent crime rate several times that of the most dangerous city in the country.

The number seems even more dubious when compared to statistics put forth annually by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The Bureau interviews a random sampling of nearly 150,000 Americans about their criminal victimization, and in 2009 and 2010 they determined that the occurrence of rape of women was 0.23 percent and 0.21 percent, respectively.

So with the figure in mind, it is prudent to see where the one in four statistic comes from. In 1985, Ms. magazine published a study by Mary Koss in which she surveyed over 3,000 college females nationwide asking them ten questions about sexual violence. When determining whether the female was a victim of rape, Koss did not explicitly ask if she had been raped; rather, Koss used her own criteria. From her survey, she determined that 15.4 percent had been raped and 12.1 percent had been victims of attempted rape.

However, the survey came with a curious caveat: when directly asked if they had been raped, only 27 percent of the women whom Koss had determined were victims of rape answered in the affirmative. So of the highly publicized (and already exaggerated) one- in-four statistic, 73 percent of those women did not even believe they were raped, and an astonishing 35 percent had intercourse with the alleged rapist again.

The discrepancy arose from a question that asked, “have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?.” While Koss determined that this was qualified as rape, the overwhelming majority of victims did not agree.

When held up to such scrutiny, Koss’s survey holds as much water as a sieve. If one looks at the actual numbers for sexual assault on college campuses, her results seem almost laughable.

Thanks to the Clery Act, universities in America make public all reported campus crimes. This allows anyone to look at every instance of reported crimes on the campus and, in particular, all incidents of sexual violence. I decided to take a look at the reported violent sexual crimes for Brown, and fortunately for women but perhaps disappointing for feminists, the result came nowhere near Koss’s figures. For the past three years, the average number of reported forcible sex offenses (which range from groping of private parts to penetration) was 8.66. The number varied from as low as seven to as high as 10. With an estimated 3,141 female undergraduates, 0.28 percent are victims of reported sexual violence each year. This is inconsistent with the one in four statistic, but on par with the national average.

I wondered if Brown was unique in avoiding the campus rape pandemic, and perhaps Consent Day and SlutWalk had managed to temper our desire to rape on College Hill, so I consulted statistics for Providence College and the University of Rhode Island. Their respective three-year averages were 0.08 percent and 0.18 percent. It seems that nowhere in Rhode Island are women raped as often as feminists maintain. So what is the problem with the myth of the campus rape pandemic? Even if women aren’t being violated as often as stated, what is the harm in raising awareness? Women are told they are going into college with aone in four chance of being raped, which is no doubt extremely terrifying. It makes the adjustment to college scarier than it needs to be, and it makes women fearful of any guy’s intentions. These absurd statistics make every man a potential rapist.

More dangerous, though, is that when these statistics came out, they frightened elected officials into giving universities vast authority in handling rape cases, thanks to Title IX and other documents like the recent “Dear Colleague” letter. This unreasonable amount of power bestowed on universities led to situations like the 2006 William McCormick case, in which Brown knowingly expelled a student for a rape that he did not commit.

Situations like that are unacceptable, and it is even more lamentable when they come about from perpetuated myths that people continue to shout at rallies without ever looking into the facts. So from now on, the “one in four” chant should be abandoned and replaced with the more appropriate, albeit less catchy, 1 in 400.


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About the author

Ryan Fleming '13 is the Editor Emeritus of the Brown Spectator. He is a Mechanical Engineering major from Southern Maryland.

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  • As a fellow M.E. I’d love to congratulate you on your math insights here. But I can’t. That anyone ever believed this silly statistic was always more a function of politics than an inability to see the utter implausibility of 1 in 4. It’s either that or women just really aren’t good at math. 😉

  • I’m… not really sure where to begin because I’m not sure if this was poorly written or if the writer is really this deluded.

    Let me quote directly here: “The discrepancy arose from a question that asked if the person they had intercourse with had forcefully given them alcohol. While Koss determined that this was qualified as rape, the overwhelming majority of victims did not agree.”

    So is the author arguing that forcefully — FORCEFULLY — giving someone alcohol and then initiating sexual intercourse doesn’t qualify as rape? Because if that’s the cornerstone of your entire argument, then you’ve got issues.

    You seem to be arguing that it doesn’t qualify because roughly 3 out of 4 of the survivors of this tactic didn’t believe it to be rape. Did you stop to consider why they might believe that? Is it perhaps because they are blaming themselves for allowing it? Or perhaps because the person who forced alcohol onto them was a close friend or a significant other that they’re afraid to get into trouble?

    You use the statistics of reported incidents of rape and completely ignore the fact that the vast majority of rape cases go unreported specifically because many of the survivors either believe that no one will help them or because they convince themselves that what they experienced didn’t “count” as rape, as evidenced by the statistic that you yourself made the centerpiece of your argument.

    The point of Koss’ survey is pretty clear. Forcing someone to get drunk to have sex with them is pretty clearly rape, yet 3 out of 4 of the survivors of this believe that they were not raped. Therefore, 3 out of 4 of those survivors likely did not report that this happened to them, which is exactly why the actual reported statistics deviate so much from Koss’ findings.

    The only way you can count this as a critical flaw in Koss’ surveys is if you yourself believe that those survivors were indeed not rape survivors specifically because they don’t believe they are. And if you actually believe that, I seriously don’t want to know you.

    • thirteenangels

      Pat, could you be so good as to define the act of forcefully giving someone alcohol? I think that might help to further the discussion.

      • A) I would first like to point out that the explicit term “forcefully” was used in the context of the article itself. The author was not directly quoting anything, so the word choice was presumably his own. While I hate to presume your intentions in requesting this definition, I don’t think it would be much of a leap to assume you’re implying that one cannot “forcefully” be given alcohol. If that is indeed the case, perhaps you should ask the author, since he was the one who included that caveat, suggesting that he at least believes that such a thing is not only possible, but apparently fine. Still, I will do my best to answer the question myself assuming you are being genuine and not facetious.

        B) The definition used in Koss’ survey was apparently directly taken from the legal definition for what constituted as rape at the time in Kent State University (where she worked). “…the offender purposely compels the other person to submit by force or threat of force [or] for the purpose of preventing resistance the offender substantially impairs the other person’s judgment or control by administering any drug or intoxicant to the other person.” So in the case of alcohol, it could mean anything from spiking drinks that are presumed to be non-alcoholic, providing strong drinks while giving the false impression that they are weaker than they are, providing more drinks even though it would probably only lead to significant impairment of mental faculties, providing drinks even though the recipient seems apprehensive or perhaps even refuses but is coerced into continuing, and given the definition, probably even the use of date rape drugs, though I’d imagine that was likely in a separate category of the survey focused specifically on drugs other than alcohol.

        C) So to answer your question directly based on the above, I personally would define the act of forcefully giving someone alcohol as: “Providing excessive amounts of alcohol without request and coercing its ingestion for the express purpose of impairing the intended recipient’s judgment and ability to resist unwanted physical advancements.”

        D) I’m not really sure why this distinction is important. As far as I’m concerned, whether or not you are responsible for getting someone drunk to the point of impairment, a person significantly impaired by alcohol is probably incapable of providing consent and should probably be cared for to prevent some sort of alcohol poisoning. Willfully engaging in sex with such a person is pretty much always rape in my mind, but that’s my opinion and I’m getting a little unfocused here. Is all sexual intercourse under the influence of alcohol rape? Of course not, but consent is consent, and unless an individual was truly completely blackout drunk (which is actually very rare in spite of what film and television tells us), they’d likely accurately remember whether or not they consented to sexual intercourse. The problem, then, is that in social settings (particularly in high school and college) it is a lot easier to be coerced into imbibing far beyond one’s limits if they don’t take precautions, and sometimes survivors of horrible acts such as rape feel that if they could have avoided those acts, it is somehow their fault. Thus, a person goes to a party, has a drink or two, but then someone starts giving them more and more to drink, and since they are already somewhat impaired, they lose track of how many they’ve had, and before long that person has initiated something that they are too impaired to prevent, even if they are consciously aware of the fact that it is unwanted. Still, they TECHNICALLY chose to drink, so they may blame themselves for it and thus not report it, particularly if the perpetrator was a friend or acquaintance that they might see on a regular basis, and especially if they are under 21 and thus should not have been drinking, giving them yet another reason to fear getting law enforcement involved. All in all, alcohol is far too often used as a tool for blaming the survivors, which only lets the people who commit these crimes feel like they can get away with it. It might not be as clear-cut as someone who uses a date rape drug, but it’s typically fairly easy to discern the difference between someone who offers a drink or two to be polite or friendly and someone who offers drink after drink after drink with unyielding insistence until the recipient is at a dangerous level of impairment. It’s also fairly obvious that someone who can barely maintain consciousness probably isn’t capable of consenting to anything.

        • SeekTheTruth

          Pat, your wrong. No questions about forcing anyone to take alcohol or drugs. Are you just making stuff up? Looks like it.

          As gwallan reports below,

          “The two questions regarding alcohol from the Koss study…
          5. Have you had a man attempt sexual intercourse (get on top of you, attempt to insert his penis) with you by giving you alcohol or drugs, but intercourse DIO NOT occur?
          8. Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?
          Note that there is nothing at all in these questions indicating “forced” consumption of alcohol.”

        • Andy Stachura

          Pat is doing nothing here but further perpetrating the feminist victim-ology of women by stating that women don’t have a mind or conscience between right and wrong. That females should be exempted and protected form the poor choices they make?

    • “if that’s the cornerstone of your entire argument, then you’ve got issues.”

      That wasn’t the cornerstone of his argument. The cornerstone was that not only is 1 in 4 just implausible on its face when compared to other crime statistics, it is completely in disagreement with other much more complete and trusted data. A 772 word obfuscating followup nit-picking definitions doesn’t change that.

  • gwallan

    The two questions regarding alcohol from the Koss study…

    5. Have you had a man attempt sexual intercourse (get on top of you, attempt to insert his penis) with you by giving you alcohol or drugs, but intercourse DIO NOT occur?

    8. Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?

    Note that there is nothing at all in these questions indicating “forced” consumption of alcohol.

  • Ryan Fleming

    Sorry, just to make note of an edit. I changed the “forcibly give alcohol” to the exact wording of the question. The changes are shown in paragraph 9. I made the changes to show exactly what the question was, not my (less than perfect) paraphrasing.

  • Sigil

    The feminist movement makes deliberate, mass false accusations and then receives funding and attempts to roll back important civil rights like the presumption of innocence on the strength of these false accusations.

  • Victor

    Nicely done. Although the study has been discredited for many, many years, its myths persist. Thankfully, some enlightened individuals, like Mr. Fleming, are actually scrutinizing the 1 in 4 claim and realizing it’s utter bunk. All it’s done is demonize men and make women a fearful victim class. Neither of which are desirable.

  • Teetotaler

    When I’m reading these numbers, all I can think of is this:

    Same sort of math, it would seem.

    I’m also rather skeptical of the claim that “the vast majority” of campus rapes go unreported. The vast majority?

    As Mr. Fleming correctly points out, this would mean that we’re sending this country’s daughters to what amount to legalized rape factories that are far, far more hazardous than the most dangerous city in the country. I just have a hard time buying that. *Maybe* I could agree with that statement if we redefine rape to include every drunken hookup, but that’s stretching said definition to the breaking point.

  • Chris

    Even though there is an act making it so that campuses have to report campus crime, the issue with many rape cases is that often if a student goes through the university institution to try to address any sort of sexual harassment, abuse or what have you, if they do so at all, then often universities do their best to cover that up, since it makes their school look bad. So part of the issue isn’t that that the sheer number of rapes is so high, it is that officials themselves make sure that they go under the rug

  • Mary Koss did a study and was supposed to hypothesize about the study, but instead made a conclusion first and when her evidence did not support her conclusion she fudged the number to make it fit. This is the wrong way to do a study because it only establishes a relative truth, namely the one you want rather than what the reality may actually be.

    Why do you believe women have a hard time reporting? Thanks to VAWA, rape shield laws, etc. The authorities unconditionally (a word now present in police operating manuals) believe them and systematically ignore due process for the accused, and even if the accused is acquitted, the accuser (victim) is rarely ever prosecuted with filing a false report. Women may not know this because feminists keep telling them that they won’t be believed because of the patriarchy.

    If as many women as you claim are raped and having to convince themselves it didn’t happen, then why aren’t more women freaking out on campus? Why aren’t more walking around traumatized and petrified from the slightest provocation? Do these women just wake up, and go about their lives like nothing happened because they convinced themselves otherwise? I mean, you are like Koss, assuming the conclusion before the evidence was even gathered: It must be because they are convincing themselves it didn’t happen and not one of the other dozens of more plausible reasons for this outcome.

    Did you even read the whole article? Only part of the article dealt with the Koss study, while the rest supports the authors conclusion about why it’s inaccurate. Also, how do you quantify the amount of unreported rapes if they are unreported? Again, you are assuming that most women convince themselves it didn’t happen and get over the trauma the very next day. Assuming that is even possible, I would still like to know how you know the vast majority of rape survivors are unreported?

  • Scott

    And what of the concept of – wait for it – PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY? Why is it that a man who forces himself on any woman who has made it clear that she is not interested in sexual activity is to be held responsible for that – as he SHOULD be, for it is flat-out wrong and unacceptable, and for more than just legal reasons (read (gasp): moral), but said woman – or any woman OR man, for that matter – is not to be held responsible for whether or not they consume alcohol?
    Seriously, short of being tied down, your mouth physically forced open and alcohol poured down your throat, an individual is responsible for whether he or she consumes alcohol or not. If one is so constitutionally weak as to be unable to simply abstain from or remove themselves from scenarios where alcohol is being abused, then they are responsible for the consumption of the alcohol – and the ensuing impairment.
    JUST TO BE CLEAR, that does *NOT* excuse forcing sexual activity on anyone. But if college women would make better choices and show a little backbone, much of this would be a moot point. (It’s hard to see how feminists can have it both ways: on the one hand, claim that women are strong and empowered and entitled, while on the other claiming that they are so weak that they have to be protected because they can’t even say no to a drink.)

  • Fools2234

    Feminists need to continue to convince people of the lie that “1 in 4 women are raped”, if they cant then how would they justify the trampling of mens due process rights and the presumption of innocence with anti-male policies like this:

  • Andreas Schou

    Shorter article: “Even though I majored in a math-intensive field, I cannot describe the difference between incidence and prevalence statistics.”

    Here, a frat guy (who else?) tries to claim that rape statistics are wildly overstated by comparing feminist-preferred statistics like the 1987 Koss rape survey, to feminist-neutral statistics like the NCVS. Unfortunately, he can’t do that. The NCVS survey of sexual assault, which he cites by implication, is a yearly incidence survey. The Koss study, which he cites by name, is a lifetime-to-date prevalence survey.*

    In other words, the “one in four” statistic is not a measure of how many people in the population were raped every year. It’s a measure of how many people have been raped in their lifetime to date. The 0.23% statistic is not a measure of how many people have been raped in their life time. It’s a measure of the percentage of the population which is raped every year.

    If you compare the two, you end up with garbage stats like this.

    (Note that the Koss survey is probably actually wrong by now — rates of rape are rapidly declining, and the original sample was a WEIRD sample taken from the population at highest risk for rape. That’s a legitimate criticism. But it is not, notably, among the criticisms he actually made.)

  • Reginald

    You might be interested in this paper by Murray Straus, “Processes Explaining the Concealment and Distortion of Evidence on Gender Symmetry in Partner Violence”

    It’s an eyeopener.

    • Chris

      An excellent article by Prof Strauss. The levels to which “academic” feminism will stoop knows no bounds. Another academic that does honest research on this subject is Prof Denise Hines of Clarke University.

  • BrainFromArous

    “You use the statistics of reported incidents of rape and completely ignore the fact that the vast majority of rape cases go unreported…”

    How exactly do you know that, Pat?

    Unless you have some private database of rape and sexual assault crimes, unknown to law enforcement agencies and academic criminologists, how do you know these vast amounts of unreported attacks are happening? Are legions of victimized women contacting you personally with this information?

    Seriously: How do you know?

    Let me be clear: There is no problem with claiming that some rapes go unreported because that is true of all crimes.

    But it you are claiming that MOST are unreported, you have to back that up with evidence.

    And if you go further and extrapolate from the number of reported incidents, to create a much larger total so you can claim the larger number is the actual amount… again, you have to show us your math.

    Also, let’s cut the crap, shall we? If the 1-in-4 stat were true, US college campuses would resemble Bosnian War rape camps and co-eds would need armed guards to visit the student rec center. Rape is a real problem, but this 25% business is nothing but Moral Panic fear-mongering.

  • TenthJustice

    The commentators who are harping on the fact that the author relies on reported rapes are missing the point entirely. His point is that reported rapes are so astronomically below the 1 in 4 statistic to be obviously wrong. You’d have to believe that literally 99% of rapes go unreported. And that simply strains credulity.

    The commentator who notes that the original stat refers to all four years is also missing the point. Using Ryan’s stats, that would still barely 1% of all female students, still WAY below 1 in 4.

    Actually, if for some reason you’re reading this Ryan, your calculated number of victims could be too high. The stats you use are the number of INCIDENTS, not victims. It’s possible, if unlikely, that at least one woman on campus was the victim of more than one sexual assault. Considering how few incidents there were a year, this could significantly chance the percentage.

  • Zabrina

    Seems that from a feminist perspective, the real problem in campus rape lies with alcohol. Yet they don’t want to point the finger there–they’d rather point it at men. Why? If they really wanted to empower women, they’d advocate for them to choose not to drink, or make better choices about alcohol, drugs, and social situations. (They could also advocate the same for men, but let’s face it, they are sexists.)

  • ZimbaZumba

    This ridiculous statistic or woozle wonderfully backfired when President Ahmadinejad of Iran was questioned about Iran’s treatment of women. His was response was that Iran treated women with respect and that 25% of Iranian women do not get raped in college as they do in the USA.

  • This is what they DON’T tell you about “rape culture”–women are to blame not men:



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