President Obama’s latest attempt to shine brightly before America’s college students may be losing some of its luster.
A victim-advocacy group is crying foul over the administration’s latest crisis in need of intervention, claiming the White House’s new campaign to combat sexual assault on campus is touting trumped up statistics for “ideological” reasons.
On Jan. 22, the White House issued a “A Renewed Call to Action to End Rape and Sexual Assault” that establishes a new task force to “protect” college students from what Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett described as “jarring,” “stunning” and “alarming” rates of sexual assault on campus.
“We need to encourage young people, men and women, to realize that sexual assault is simply unacceptable,” Obama said. “And they’re going to have to summon the bravery to stand up and say so, especially when the social pressure to keep quiet or to go along can be very intense.”
But an organization called Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, or SAVE, is warning the statistics – notably that one in every five women experiences rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, often on college campuses – are artificially inflated and actually do more harm than good.
“SAVE calls on the Obama Administration to fulfill its promise of policymaking based on science, not ideological persuasion,” the organization asserts. “No woman should have to fear rape, [but] inflating the numbers only invites ridicule and doubt.”
SAVE notes Jarrett’s numbers are based on Center for Disease Control, or CDC, studies that have been widely criticized.
The CDC, for example, claimed that in 1.3 million American women were raped in 2010, with an additional 12.6 million women and men victimized by sexual violence, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports only 188,380 rapes and sexual assaults for the same year.
Why the discrepancy?
There appears to be a significant problem in defining what does and doesn’t constitute “sexual assault.”
“Consider,” wrote Christina Hoff Sommers in a Washington Post commentary on the CDC’s report, “interviewers did not ask participants whether they had been raped. Instead of such straightforward questions, the CDC researchers described a series of sexual encounters and then they determined whether the responses indicated sexual violation. A sample of 9,086 women was asked, for example, ‘When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people ever had vaginal sex with you?’ A majority of the 1.3 million women (61.5 percent) the CDC projected as rape victims in 2010 experienced this sort of ‘alcohol or drug-facilitated penetration.’”
SAVE notes the women were not asked to differentiate between being raped while incapacitated in a state of drunkenness and merely consenting when inebriated – as a couple after a New Year’s Eve party or even a husband and wife might do.
Other questions reportedly led the CDC to label it “sexual violence” if a woman consented after a suitor wore down her defenses by “repeatedly asking,” “showing they were unhappy” or “making promises about the future they knew were untrue.”
“The study fits into the administration’s effort to apply the advocacy agenda of the women’s lobby to rape research,” suggested Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Who Stole Feminism?” and “The War Against Boys.” “The report also called for more research on ‘sexism’ and urged ‘collective action’ against media messages that ‘objectify and degrade women.’ In the familiar jargon of feminist theory, the CDC said: ‘It is important to continue addressing the beliefs, attitudes and messages that are deeply imbedded in our social structures.’
“Survivors of sexual violence would be better served by good research and sober estimates,” Sommers concluded, “not inflated statistics and sensationalism.”
SAVE also quotes Newsday columnist Cathy Young, who writes, “It is too early to tell what new remedies for sexual assault on campus the task force will propose. So far, however, the initiative relies on the same old approach: wildly inflated numbers, the rhetoric of female victimhood, and complete disregard for any rights that the accused may have.
She continues, “There is no doubt that sexual assault on college campuses –sometimes involving physical aggression, sometimes assaults on genuinely incapacitated women – is a real issue. But the chase for the phantom rape epidemic can only trivialize this issue, redefining sexual assault to include sex under the influence or due to ‘verbal pressure’ – and cast suspicion on male students, believed to have an army of rapists walking among them.”
In fact, Young cites a study by Carnegie Mellon business professor Chad Hermann, who found the government’s “one in five” and “college campus” rhetoric wildly at odds with actual crime records.
Hermann analyzed the number of sexual assaults reported at three major campuses, finding for example, that of the 14,800 female students at the University of Pittsburgh, not one in five (about 3,000 girls), but a grand total of four Pitt students reported a sexual assault in 2009, the most recent year for which full statistics are available.
Even by multiplying the number of victims by 10 (in order to factor in the common notion that 90 percent of such assaults go unreported) and accounting for a single woman to spend five years at the university, Hermann calculated only somewhere between 1 in 130 and 1 in 925 Pitt students would experience sexual assault.
SAVE, which advocates both for victims of sexual assaults and for victims of false sexual-assault charges, also noted the government’s statistics fail to take into account the frequency of false accusations in rape cases.
Citing a number of university and Department of Justice studies, SAVE asserts the false-accusation rate in rape cases may be as high as 50 percent.
“Knowing that half of the cases in the CDC report do not meet any common-sense definition of rape, and about half of all rape allegations turn out to be false, the actual incidence of rape is closer to 5 percent, not 20 percent,” SAVE concludes.
So not 1 in 5, SAVE says, but at most 1 in 20 women actually experience a sexual assault in their lifetime, and creating a culture of fear on America’s campuses or a false crisis for government to come in and solve – based on phony numbers – is not the way to address the very real problem of sexual assault.
“Five percent is an unacceptably high number, SAVE believes, and calls on all sectors of society to respond to the problem,” the organization asserted in a statement. “But the White House 20-percent figure defies reason and undermines the credibility of the nation’s efforts to end rape.”