Campus rape statistics are misleading

Roman Goldstein

Rape is a horrible, despicable act. The forced violation of someone’s body (including all forms of physical violence) is a serious offense, and rape has the additional aggravating factor of being violent in an intimate setting. That said, the law and society have always had a great deal of trouble with rape: how to define it, who to believe, and what to do about it. In all of human history, rape has never been a black-and-white matter. I wonder why the intelligent students at Washington University seem to think it is.

First off, no one seems to question the “truths” about rape that campus anti-rape organizations present. The supposed prevalence of rape is one example. Certain groups promote the startling statistic that “one in four” women will be rape victims in college. A lot of people on campus now go around parroting this statistic, without citing the source-which should make anyone skeptical. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s “National Violence Against Women Survey,” nearly 18 percent of all women have been victims of rape or attempted rape. That figure is closer to one in six than one in four. Furthermore, the study concluded that the majority of rapes happen to women under age 17. Seventy-five percent of all rapes happen off college campuses. The Justice Department has found that, in fact, only 1.7 percent of college women were rape victims, in addition to 1.1 percent who were victims of attempted rape.

The study that produced the “one in four” statistic was conducted in 1985 by Mary Koss for Ms. magazine. Koss interviewed 3,000 randomly selected college women. But the study measured the lifetime prevalence factor of rape, not the prevalence factor on college campuses, like the “one in four” posters claim. A woman was defined as having been raped if she answered “yes” to any of several questions, such as, “Have you ever had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” The hard number: 73 percent of Koss’ “rape” victims said that they were not raped. Either Koss’ criteria were too broad, or three in four college women are disastrously ignorant, unaware of their own thoughts, or brainwashed.

“Rape” for Koss included any sex play that the woman gave in to (note the implication of consent), including kissing. Koss herself has made at least one statement that throws her impartiality into doubt. In 1982, she said that “rape represents an extreme behavior, but one that is on a continuum with normal male behavior within the culture.” The methodology of the study as well as the objectivity and credibility of the investigator seem suspect, to say the least.

The problem here is the definition of rape. According to WU pamphlet “Coping with Sexual Assault,” Missouri law defines rape as the crime of genital or anal penetration, committed by use of force and without consent. That note, “without consent,” is ambiguous. Consent can be verbal or nonverbal. What about the case where a couple has sexual relations, excluding intercourse? Unless the woman makes it clear that she does not want to have intercourse, is it not reasonable for the man to interpret the course of events as leading to consensual intercourse?

But the real killer is the requirement that force be used. For a man to be a rapist, he must restrain the woman (or have previously used or threatened violence to gain compliance) while he has nonconsensual intercourse with her. No, for a man to be a rapist, 12 people must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a man used force to have nonconsensual intercourse with a woman. Calling a man a rapist without him passing this test is nothing short of slander. That’s the slander the “one in four” study commits.

Anti-rape groups at WU have their hearts in the right place. Not so for their heads. Rape is a concern anywhere in the world, and should be eliminated. One rape is one rape too many. However, the methods employed by some groups are not acceptable. Not citing sources; using flawed, old, and inaccurate statistics; and not considering competing studies is wrong. Criminalizing many men by implication, without giving them due process or even a chance of defense, is wrong. And finally, pretending to promote “rape awareness” for both women and men, while never even mentioning that a man in Missouri cannot be raped (by legal definition), is somewhere between wrong, hypocritical, and deceitful. If anti-rape activists truly wish to accomplish their goals, they should use sound reporting techniques to ensure the credibility of their statements.

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