I keep hearing this statistic bandied about: 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted on college campuses. As someone who attended colleges this seemed like an alarming number. Although I’m not denying that sexual assault happens on college campuses, it does raise the question then of why more people aren’t arrested and tried for rape. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 2,968 accredited 4 year colleges in the United States, and 1,738 accredited 2 year colleges as of 2011-12 . This adds up to roughly 4,706 colleges across the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in fall 2015 about 20.2 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities constituting an increase of about 4.9 million since fall 2000 . In the same study it is shown that females are to take up the majority of those students with roughly 11.4 million women. So if we were to take that 1 in 5, or 20% statistic and apply it to the 11.4 million projected college students, we would come around with 2.28 million rape survivors. According to the US Census Bureau in 2014 Houston Texas was projected to have a population of 2.239 Million. So if this 1 in 5 statistic is true than the number of rape victims in college campuses across the US could form a city more populous than the current 4th most populous city in the country. Where does this 1 in 5 statistic come from though, and why is it given such merit? And more importantly is it true?
The 1 in 5 statistic came from a 2007 Campus Sexual Assault study conducted by the US Department of Justice . Right off the bat we run into the issue that the study was only conducted at 2 universities. 2 of the over 4,000 accredited colleges in the US is a vastly underwhelming sample size for something as overreaching as campus sexual assault. The next issue comes when it is revealed that 5,446 women and 1,375 men participated in this study. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 10.99 Million students enrolled in 4 year universities . Excluding graduate students, and those enrolled in 2 year colleges this sample size is approximately 0.006% of the collegiate population at the time the study was conducted between 2005-2006. So here we run into issue of a minuscule sample size. It gets even smaller when you read that they excluded those who were not enrolled full or three-quarters time and/or were over the age of 25.
Along with the minuscule sampling of college students, one of the questions asked was concerning drug and alcohol use in relation to sex. In regards to the women’s use, the study says that, “85.9% reported using alcohol, 33.9% reported using marijuana, and 8.6% reported using an illicit drug (other than marijuana) since entering college.” It also goes on to elaborate that, “Over a quarter of the sample (26.3%) reported consuming alcohol or drugs before sex once a month since entering college, and 20.7% reported being drunk or high during sex at least once a month since entering college. When asked if they had been given a drug without their knowledge or consent since entering college, 5.3% of the women responded affirmatively.” So only 5% of those women were given drugs without knowledge or consent. This means that most of them consented to the drugs.
On the Men’s side of things, “84.9% reported using alcohol, 41.2% reported using marijuana, and 12.1% reported using an illicit drug (other than marijuana) since entering college…consuming alcohol or drugs before sex (27.3%), and being drunk or high during sex (21.5%). Compared with 5.3% of women, only 2.9% of men reported having ever been given a drug without their knowledge or consent since entering college.”
Let’s digest these statistics for a moment. More women than men consumed alcohol in this sample. More men than women consumed marijuana and other drugs. Yet at the same time, more men than women reported being high or drunk during sexual intercourse. The recent campaign to raise the idea of drunk sex being non-consensual sex wouldn’t the logical conclusion following that line of reasoning be that more men were raped by that definition than women? With a smaller sample size no less. Not only that, but only 5.3% of those women were given drugs without their knowledge. They knowingly participated in the taking of those drugs.
Before we go any further let’s take a minute to talk about victim blaming here, because I know that there will be people who will take me to task for blaming the rape victims and trivializing rape across college campuses. This is not the case. True rape is never the victim’s fault and I will hear nothing to the contrary. The problem arises when people bring up the idea of drunk sex and drugged up sex. There is a sense of personal responsibility that must come into the conversation. I know that I might crack my head open if I ride my bike. There are certain precautions that I can take that will prevent that from happening, such as wearing a helmet, making sure my brakes are well taken care of, using lights at night etc. When it comes to sexual assault there are certainly precautions one can take to lessen the chances of sexual assault. This is not victim blaming. It is giving women as well as men agency to take care of themselves and not rely on others to take care of them. There are certain situations in which you must rely on yourself and take care of yourself. This is not victim blaming it is victim preventing.
Back to the topic at hand. The study discussed previously has suspect methods, suspect sample size, and suspect analysis of the results. The question is whether the study can still be considered trustworthy. In fact,the leader of this study himself is quoted as saying, “There are caveats that make it inappropriate to use the 1-in-5 number in the way it’s being used today, as a baseline or the only statistic when discussing our country’s problem with rape and sexual assault on campus.” . The conclusion that the researcher comes to is that the rate is more likely 1 in 7, or in 2015 real numbers roughly 1.7 million women. This is still an absurdly high rate that demands more research but is nowhere near the 2.28 million of the 1 in 5 statistic often spouted as truth.
So if this research has been shown to be deeply flawed and ineffective at best, is there an alternative study that we can read? Well the Bureau of Justice Statistics did an analysis and even with only 44% of all violent crimes being reported, rape only constituted 1.3 of all violent crimes per 1,000 people aged 12 and older . That is a significant difference than the 1 in 5 statistic that even Obama has used.
The question then remains as to how two studies of similar statistics could find such polar opposite results. Are college campuses more of a hotbed for sexual assault than every day life? Well the answer isn’t easy to answer given that as stated above, 44% of violent crimes go unreported. Extrapolating this number to the entire populace is difficult on its own, especially when attempting to apply it to college campuses which are only a portion of the entire populace. It stands to reason that even if we were generous and took the 1 in 7 statistic as the final number, 1.7 million rapes in the college demographic alone would account for less 0.005% of the US population of about 300 Million. The fact of the matter is that we don’t know the exact number of sexual assaults across the nation, let alone College campuses.
It doesn’t help the fact that the definition of sexual assault is becoming broader, some people even going so far as to include cheating on your partner and then having sex with your partner as rape as seen in the recent Zoe Quinn scandal that kicked off the whole GamerGate push in 2014  A more popular definition of rape is that sexual intercourse under the influence of drugs and alcohol at any point in time is rape , and even that consent must be given for every stage of sexual intercourse or it is rape as demonstrated by this video which is not safe viewing for work. With such a broad definition of rape, it’s easy to see how people could be so alarmed and believe the 1 in 5 statistic that is based on a flawed study and was even said BY THE LEAD RESEARCHER to be taken with a grain of salt.
In conclusion, yes, sexual assault is bad, whether it’s on college campuses or in your own home. But at the same time we are so focused on teaching people how they’ve been “victimized” and “assaulted” that rape has become more of a punch line than a talking point. The 1 in 5 statistic while alarming is not what it appears to be. We need to start teaching women and girls to actually be empowered and take charge of their own well being and stop relying on strangers to do it for them. This is not victim blaming, this is agenda blaming. Broad definitions are not going to help make sexual assault go away. Consent classes are not going to make rape go away because the people who do commit sexual assault simply don’t care. It’s time to stop teaching women and men how to be victims and teaching them how to be empowered to take control of their own lives.