Will One in Four College Women Really Be Raped Before They Graduate?

The Five co-host Bob Beckel said on last Wednesday’s show that female college students don’t need guns because campus rape is not a problem, asking his co-hosts “When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?”

Beckel’s comments drew condemnation from across the political spectrum, but while Beckel was incorrect in minimizing the risk of rape on campus, others–while attacking him–have wrongly exaggerated it.

For example, many of Beckel’s critics have repeated the “one in four” statistic that says that 1 in 4 (sometimes 1 in 5) women in college will experience a rape or attempted rape by the time they graduate.

Here’s Slate:

“The Centers for Disease Control estimate that as many as 1 in 4 women in college have reported being the target of an attempted or completed rape while in school…”

If you follow the link to the CDC site it says this:

“An estimated 20%-25% of women in college in the United States reported experiencing an attempted or a completed rape during college.”

Salon.com quotes an NYU study:

“A recent NYU study reveals that one in five college women are raped during their student years.”

But in fact the NYU site only repeats statistics from the National Institute of Justice.

Newsmax quotes “federal statistics”:

“Federal statistics from 2010 estimated that 25 percent of college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year period'”

UniversityChic is slightly more pessimistic (emphasis is mine):

“[T]he U.S. Department of Justice reports that one out of five college women will be raped during their college years.”

If this seems like one of those bullshit statistics created by victim advocates and uncritically accepted by the media, that’s because it probably is:

The original source of all these “one in four” or “one in five” numbers seems to be a 2000 National Institute of Justice report called “The Sexual Victimization of College Women.”

In the report, the authors use reported rape statistics to estimate that 1.8% of undergraduate females would experience a rape while in college, and another 1.3% would experience an attempted rape.

However, the authors then take those numbers, which were for a single semester, and multiply them by 2 (for one school year) and then by 4-5 (for total years in college), which is where the 20-25% (or “one in four to one in five”) comes from.

Although the authors admit that these numbers are merely “suggestive” and that “longitudinal research” is needed, the “one in four” statistic is nevertheless repeated as though it is fact.

Chad Hermann, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, actually crunched the numbers a few years ago and figured out that the actual statistic is closer to 1 in 188–and that’s granting that “90 percent of rapes go unreported.” If you go by reported rapes alone, the statistic is more like 1 in 1,900.

Here’s another way of looking at the numbers: If a woman has a 1 in 4 chance of being raped* during her 4 years at college, that means she has a 1 in 16 chance of being raped during any particular school year. If a school has 16,000 female students and they are equally distributed by year (4,000 per class), each class of females should experience 250 rapes, which means that the campus as a whole should experience about 1,000 rapes or attempted rapes each school year. Assuming that 9 in 10 of these incidents go unreported, there should still be 100 reported rapes every year!

The “one in four” college rape statistic clearly does not match with the reality. And what does that statistic say about college men? In order to believe that “one in four” college women will be a victim of rape, one must believe that a similar proportion of college men are rapists or would-be rapists, right?

The fact is, rape rates–like those of other violent crimes–are declining, and college campuses remain relatively safe.

Certainly, it does not benefit college women to minimize their risk of rape on campus or to pretend that it never happens, but it also does not benefit them to exaggerate the risk of being raped at college.

Young women should go into college with a realistic understanding of the risks they face, which include rape and sexual violence. Telling them that they have a better chance of being penetrated against their will than making the Dean’s List, however, is not the right way to empower them.

*Note that when I say “rape” in the context of this blog post I’m referring to forcible rape or rape involving a woman who is passed out or asleep and therefore cannot give consent. For the purpose of clarity, I am not including sex in which one or both participants was intoxicated and/or regretted it later. The line between rape and consensual sex when alcohol or drugs is involved is not always crystal clear. Certainly if the definition of rape was expanded to include drunken encounters which the girl regretted the next day, the “one in four” statistic might very well be accurate. Regardless, with this post I choose to address only incidents in which the sex act was unambiguously non-consensual.
This entry was posted in Media, Sex and Sexuality, Skepticism, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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