One of the best tactics so-called researchers have used to conclude that fully one-fifth of college women will be sexually assaulted is to vastly expand the definition of what it is.
A new study, conducted at Rutgers University, relies heavily on this tactic to stoke fear and encourage witch hunts of college men across the country.
Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown dissects the study, noting the definition of "sexual assault" and "sexual violence" included everything from "remarks about physical appearance" and "persistent sexual advances that are undesired by the recipient" to "threats of force to get someone to engage in sexual behavior, as well as unwanted touching and unwanted oral, anal, or vaginal penetration or attempted penetration."
There's an ocean of difference between someone saying you look good today and someone physically pinning you down against your will. To include both under the category of "sexual assault" is just ludicrous, and certainly not a serious way of studying the issue.
"So what have we really learned here?" Nolan Brown asked. "That one in four female undergrads experienced something between rape and catcalls before coming to Rutgers; one in five female Rutgers undergrads experienced something between forced vaginal penetration and unwanted kissing at the hands of another student-or-not-student, somewhere in the universe, since starting college; three percent of students were perhaps physically threatened, perhaps mildly pressured into sexual activity; and four percent of students have been subject to something between forced oral, vaginal, or anal penetration and an unwanted caress while they were either asleep, totally passed out, or had had a few beers."
The Rutgers study comes on the heels of a new University of Oregon study also purporting to show that one in five college women have been victimized. That study is based a similar 2014 study by the same researcher, whose methods were flawed enough that her own university distanced itself from the survey he created.
Jennifer Freyd, the researcher, is back with a study little changed since 2014, purporting to find the same number of women as victims. To be clear, the women who took the study aren't necessarily claiming they were ever victims — Freyd and her researchers determined that they were victims based on questions answered. Freyd's only acknowledgement that there might be a flaw to her methodology is that factors like "poor memory" might make the numbers lower than they should be — that is, many women might have forgotten they were assaulted.
Of course, this study will be used as a model for other schools, meaning again and again the myth that one in five women will be sexually assaulted will continue. That myth will be used to continue to claim that due process rights are an impediment to justice, leaving young campus men vulnerable to witch hunts.
As I've written before, replicating a flawed study does not make it true.