Bad studies don’t help rape victims

KYLE DAY, Opinion Columnist

I am continually surprised and saddened by the number of people, particularly women, in my life who have been sexually assaulted. From fellow undergraduate alumni to friends from church to new friends I’ve made in my short graduate studies here at UNI, so many have been affected by this in one way or another.

Especially as a happily married man, I don’t understand the very desire to force others into participation in sexual activity, much less the mental gymnastics it takes to justify actually following through on such desires. I see it as a horrific, barbaric crime that must be met with the fullest force of the law wherever it is found, and steps ought to be taken by individuals and institutions outside of the justice system to lessen its frequency and effects on the lives of innocents.

That is why I cannot abide most sexual assault awareness campaigns. It is abundantly clear to me that most of them are not primarily about addressing sexual assault but are rather making the campaign participants feel better about themselves. Rather, these campaigns are routinely based upon half-truths, exaggerations and even outright lies about sexual assault.

Focusing on campus rape specifically, the now-infamous assertion that “one-in-five college women will be sexually assaulted” is just not true. If it were true, as Emily Yoffe pointed out in Slate, that would mean that many US university campuses are as dangerous as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rape was used as a weapon of war. Does anyone actually believe this to be true of any American college campus?

So why does this figure go flying around public discourse, including in the Student Wellness Services’ article in the Northern Iowan last Monday? Because it’s arrived at by studies that are almost universally based upon terrible survey methodology, with the usual suspects being vaguely or badly worded questions and low response rates from self-selected, non-representative samples.

The bad questions will ask respondents about things like unwanted kissing and even whether they had been told false promises as a means of getting them to consent to sex. While unconscionable and violating, these behaviors simply do not meet any legal or rational standard of “sexual assault,” and are unfortunately included in calculations like the “one-in-five” figure.

Because they are included, “false promises” and “unwanted kissing” rhetorically become “sexual assault” and then “rape” in the minds of average people, who lack either the time, capacity or inclination to read these awful studies themselves and understand what they really mean.

The most reliable estimates come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the US Department of Justice, who put the figure for college women being victims of sexual assault is not one-in-five, one-in-10, one-in-25: it’s one-in-53.

By claiming “one-in-five,” the feminist activists and gender advocates are literally blowing up the problem to be more than 10 times greater than it actually is. In fact, that figure is a 16-year-low, with campus sexual assault going nowhere but down.

One rape is too many. But one in 53 is a serious problem, not a crisis, and certainly not an epidemic. But this perception of epidemic-level severity (propelled by this and other myths about sexual assault) skews our perspective of the problem and causes us to pursue heavy-handed, misguided and just plain wrong means to combat it.

From mandatory consent training to kangaroo courts in which the accused is guilty until proven innocent even to the point where male victims of sexual assault are expelled purely on the word of their female accusers (looking at you, Drake University), we are pursuing awful solutions to a manufactured crisis.

So, as March warms into April, for the sake of my friends and all other victims, I ask you all to take up the challenge urged by the activists behind Sexual Assault Awareness Month: educate yourself. Do what you can to learn about the reality of sexual assault as it is, not as the activists want you to think it is. Don’t be content with feel-good halfway measures that only support your own moral narcissism.

Think critically about the sociologically-established link between sexual assault and alcohol consumption. Support measures that both enhance security for victims and preserve due process, and oppose those measures that fail to do either.