Campus Sexual Assault: I’ll believe it’s a crisis when. . .

Campus Sexual Assault: I’ll believe it’s a crisis when. . . September 5, 2014

This has been floating around for a while:  “Columbia student drags mattress with her everywhere until alleged rapist expelled,” in this case, from the Today Show, as shared on facebook.

OK, so it’s more of a camping-type sleeping pad than a regular mattress, judging from the picture, and she’s a visual arts major, so this is “performance art” and, hence, her senior thesis.  The alleged rapist was found “not guilty” or whatever the equivalent Campus Tribunal terminology is, and presumably she didn’t go to the actual police, because her accusation is that Colombia didn’t handle her case properly.  (Whether she believes that the university didn’t follow reasonable rules of evidence, or didn’t give her claim sufficient credence in a he-said, she-said type of situation, isn’t clear, as there are no details on her allegations.)

But they trot out the same statistic we’ve seen before:  “One in five women are raped or sexually assaulted in college, according to the Centers for Disease Control.”

Now, to be honest, I hadn’t realized that it was CDC that had developed this statistic, so I looked this up:  it’s from a datasheet which says, “In a study of undergraduate women, 19% experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college” and quotes a study whose name is instructive:  “College women’s experiences with physically-forced, alcohol- or drug-enabled, and drug-facilitated sexual assault before and since entering college.”  Which indicates that this is the same old bit of, “if you had sex, are a woman, and were drunk at the time, you were sexually asaulted.”

But think about this for a minute:

Glen Reynolds likes to say of global warming activists who jet to exotic locales (in private jets, to boot) and have enormous mansions, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when they act like it’s a crisis.”

This statistic says that, assuming a 4-year college career (considering that some take more, and some leave college earlier, without graduating), every year, one out of 19 women is assaulted. (I did the math.)  If that were really true in a real sense of the word, if every year, on average, every female college student knew at least one friend or acquaintance who was assaulted, then the atmosphere would be quite different.  An article like Emily Yoffe’s piece in Slate from a year ago, arguing that college women shouldn’t be binge drinking, would be treated as common sense rather than as an insult and abrogation of women’s rights.  More significantly, future female college students would be looking, first and foremost, at the safety of their chosen schools, and those with high sexual assault rates would find their enrollment falling.  The fact that this isn’t happening is a clear sign that this 1 in 5 figure is bogus — and that the CDC has no business, as a credible organization, promoting it.

(UPDATE:  so this is what an “instalance” looks like.  Thanks, Glen, and welcome, everyone!)


I figured that the original study would be behind a paywall, which it was, but, turns out, this was the subject of a Washington Post fact check.  Even without knowing how they developed their data in any detail, the very nature of their data collection raises serious suspicions:

In the Winter of 2006, researchers used a Web-based survey to interview undergraduates at two large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South. A total of 5,446 undergraduate women, between the ages of 18-25, participated as part of a random sample. The survey was anonymous and took about 15 minutes to complete. (Participants received a $10 certificate for participating.) . . . Moreover, the response rate was relatively low.

In other words, their data is about as reliable as customer reviews — since those who have experienced an assault of some kind, or who have had a defective product in the Amazon analogy, are far more likely to respond than those who haven’t.

Another update:  Apparently, trying to access the study directly doesn’t work, but the Washington Post link, above, has a link that brings to you a PDF.  So hang tight; I’ll read it after the kids are in bed, or tomorrow at the latest.

Another update:  Well, I read the report.  See here for my summary.  It’s all very murky.

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