May 1 2014
Sexual assault is heinous. Young women and college administrators must take particular care to prevent such violations, and perpetrators must be severely punished.
So why am I not cheering the new White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault?
Well, because the whole campaign is based on phony statistics. With phony numbers, you get phony solutions.
We’ve already linked to the Factual Feminist’s debunking of the claim made by President Obama and others that 1 in five young women on campus is the victim of sexual assault. This is an outrageously high number, the product of what the Factual Feminist (also known as Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute) calls “advocacy research.”
Now the Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute explores the ramifications of the White House’s phony numbers:
There are 22,329 female students at UM-Madison, and if 1 in 5 was sexually assaulted over four years, there would have to be 4,465 sexual assaults during that time period. Since there were only 137 sexual assaults reported at UW from 2009 to 2012, that would mean there would have to have been 4,328 unreported sexual assaults (3 every day) to get to the “1 in 5″ claim over four years. That would also mean that only 3.1% of sexual assaults get reported, a level far below the 12% reporting claim made by the White House.
It would also mean that there were more than 32 unreported sexual assaults for every one reported at UW, which seems pretty unbelievable. So either the White House claim of “1 in 5″ is way too high, or its claim that only 12% of assaults get reported is way too high. Either way, at least one of the claims is false.
While even one sexual assault is too many and unacceptable, shouldn’t it also be unacceptable for the White House to spread false, exaggerated and misleading data about campus sexual assaults?
The government is about to spend a lot of money on this project. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend it wisely?
The other problem with the phony one in five number is that it is propaganda, used to promote the notion that we live in a “rape culture,” a claim “advanced by a cadre of feminist activists and bloggers, has been gaining mainstream currency.” Measures (such as disregarding due process for the accused) that are not traditionally part of our legal culture can be justified if we posit a rape culture on campus.
Please don’t get me wrong. I support stringent punishments for men who abuse women. But to use wildly unrealistic numbers and create an aura that we live in a rape culture won’t help us address instances of sexual assault.
But this campaign, while possibly not that valuable to young women, is valuable to the White House. It will help the White House and by extension Democrats facing tough races in the midterms, depict themselves as sympathetic to women. What’s a phony statistic with such a noble goal in mind?