A new survey released Monday purports to prove that 1 in 5 women (or more) will be sexually assaulted while in college.
The survey, conducted by the Association for American Universities, included responses from 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities, including many Ivy League schools. Despite this large number of responses, the survey still suffers from the same problems as so many others trying to prove the existence of "rape culture" and scare colleges into expelling innocent students based on no evidence (or evidence to the contrary).
The researchers who developed the survey acknowledged fairly up front in their report that a "non-response bias" may have resulted in estimates that are "too high because non-victims may have been less likely to participate." The researchers also acknowledged the large difference in estimates across the 27 schools, meaning that "1 in 5" is not the national percentage of victimhood, despite what every other news outlet will be claiming.
"[M]any news stories are focused on figures like '1 in 5' in reporting victimization. As the researchers who generated this number have repeatedly said, the 1 in 5 number is for a few [institutions of higher education] and is not representative of anything outside of this frame," the researchers wrote. "The wide variation of rates across IHEs in the present study emphasizes the significance of this caveat."
Next, the survey's developers "specifically avoided" using the words "rape" and "assault" so that, as they said, "respondents would use a set of uniform definitions when reporting on the types of events that were of interest."
A skeptic might see this as an attempt to get higher responses by avoiding such harsh words. Indeed, that's what the Washington Post did, as they admitted, to get "dramatically" higher results.
The other major problem with this survey and all others is the expansion of the definition of "sexual assault" to include everything from a stolen kiss to forcible rape. When broken down, 11.7 percent (about 1 in 9) of students across all 27 universities "reported experiencing nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation" since enrolling in college.
While on paper forced kissing sounds bad, think of how this has been employed in movies without it appearing to be sexual assault. (Remember when Indiana Jones sexually assaulted someone? Neither do I.) Again, on paper this seems bad, and we can all imagine a scenario where a forced kiss is indeed sexual assault, but it seems absurd to assume that all of them are.
And that brings us to the next problem with this and other surveys: Respondents not believing they were victims of sexual assault. Nearly 60 percent of students who had responded to what researchers defined as sexual assault said they did not report the incident because they did not consider it serious enough. Vast majorities of students gave this as the reason for individual classifications of assaults, including harassment (78.6 percent), sexual touching due to physical force (75.6 percent) and sexual touching due to incapacitation (74.1 percent). These were the types of "sexual assault" most students said they had experienced.
That might imply that students themselves don't believe what they experienced was sexual assault in the way that the media and the White House want them to believe.
One final note about the survey: It had a lower response rate than other campus sexual assault surveys. The surveyors reached out to nearly 800,000 students, but only 150,000 responded – a response rate of 19.3 percent.
"The overall response rate of 19.3 percent is lower than several other surveys on sexual assault and misconduct," the surveyors said. "Other surveys that are cited in this report have rates that range from 30 percent to 86 percent."
The researchers insist this doesn't necessarily mean the estimates are bad, but with so many other factors pointing toward survey bias, it's hard to ignore.
Media outlets looking for clicks and wanting to further the "rape culture" myth have already run with the alarmist statistic that this study is more proof that an absurd number of college women are victimized routinely. The truth is that this is just another flawed survey, and as I've written before, replicating a flawed study does not make it true.