‘Bad studies’ uses bad definition of rape


Heppeard says bad definitions of sexual assault overlook behaviors that are considered sexual assault including “obtaining consent under false pretenses” and “unwanted kissing”

ANDREW HEPPEARD, Opinion Columnist

Editor’s note: Andrew Heppeard’s piece is in response to a column titled, “Bad studies don’t help rape victims” published in the March 30 edition of the Northern Iowan.

Last Thursday, our paper printed an article by columnist Kyle Day. Normally, I do not give this particular columnist my time, but the topic was too near to me not to read it. If you have troubles reading articles about violence or sexual assault, I implore you to turn the page until such a time you are ready to consume such material.

As a rape survivor myself, I wanted to see how survivors could be negatively impacted by the studies Day’s article referenced, and I must say that at first, I agreed with what was said — a whole two paragraphs in, and I found nothing out of place with what was written.

The third paragraph is where the rabbit hole took a dark twist.

We’ll start with definitions first, just to be sure we are all on the same page. Rape is legally defined in Iowa as forced penetration of the vaginal (for cis or post-surgery Trans* women), oral or anal cavities, including obtaining consent under coercion. Sexual assault is not limited by penetration and includes examples like forced kissing.

Now, as for “coercion,” what exactly does that mean? In Iowa, this means that the assailant uses some form of authority over their victim, as a boss might over an employee. In many states, like Michigan and Rhode Island, this includes obtaining consent under false pretenses — with or without authority playing a role in the relationship of the involved parties.

What this means is that Day’s examples of “false promises” and “unwanted kissing” are in fact sexual assault, whether or not he wants them to be counted among US campus statistics for whatever unimaginable reason Day may want them to be overlooked.

Used by a number of articles published in Inside Higher Ed by Scott Jaschik and Jake New since early 2015, one study conducted by Brown University (Providence, RI) has shown that over 18 percent of freshman women on selected campuses have been a victim of attempted or completed rape.

You can find a 2015 article about one study in particular in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s publication, EurikaAlert!

To be clear, a 1-in-5 rate of sexual assault — not just rape — would be 20 percent, and this study shows that the statistics for attempted and completed rape alone reach nearly that in one year on said college campus. This study did not cover other types of sexual assault, like unwanted groping or kissing.

This study surveyed upstate New York. In 2012, the Washington Post reported statistics for reported sex offenses on campus — rather than anonymous surveys as in the study above, which often have higher numbers due to reluctance to publically report sexual assaults — and of the highest reported percentages, New York was not featured until Bard College at number 12.

Grinnell College in Iowa was second highest in the nation.

As a matter of fact, all of the highest percentages for sexual assaults have been on private campuses — the first public institution ranking 46th.

The 1-in-5 claims made by President Obama, supported by several surveys and studies, are shown to be accurate to all but extremely narrow and selective scrutiny. [The kind that is avoided in the majority of the Northern Iowan’s pages].

Here at NI, we try not to silence one side of a social or political debate, and our editors have made an effort to make sure that we as writers are given space for our voice to be heard. As an opinion columnist — the same title Day holds — I am given a bit more leeway, as other columnists usually must take pains to keep qualitative opinionated claims out of their work.

In my articles, I have always shown research that I have done to support my opinion, so that readers may have an informed opinion rather than recycled Fox “News.” This is not a standard for the opinion section, but one I have for myself.

Day has shown research, at least in his later work, and even cited articles for his piece last Thursday. We have both gone on record as to the limitations our allotted space imposes, and I understand not citing everything as if this was a paper for the Masters in Public Policy (MPP) program.

My problem arises when someone redefines information so that a source loses its credibility, such as equating all cases of sexual assault to reported rape alone. This past article was nothing but a fallacious rant which accomplished nothing but the re-victimization of sexual assault survivors.

Though it did not make the situation any better, I understood the context of some claims made in Day’s article when I learned that the MPP program no longer requires a course in ethics. I can think of a few that would do some good to the program.