When I heard the statistic that one in four women is raped in college, naturally I was shocked. Then I was skeptical. There has never been a crime rate that comes close to 25%. Take Philadelphia, for instance. The total annual violent crime rate is 12.3 instances of violent crime (this includes muggings, robbery, and the like) for every 1000 citizens. Assuming that all women in the survey go to college for four years, that means that the annual rape rate among college students is 62.5 instances of rape for every 1000 college students. The rape rate in college is 5 times that of the total violent crime rate in Philadelphia? So I did some research.
The statistic 1 in 4 comes from a shoddily conducted survey in 1989 where Mary Koss asked women several ambiguous questions and if they answered in the affirmative, she counted them as being raped, including, “Have you ever had sex when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” She considered this sound with the legal argument, however, she left out the most important part of the law, which specifically states that the providing of drugs or drink must be for the purpose of causing the encounter by inhibiting the other person’s judgment. Neil Gilbert, a professor at the Berkeley school of law points out that: “positive response does not indicate whether duress, intoxication, force, or the threat of force were present; whether the woman’s judgment or control were substantially impaired; or whether the man purposefully got the woman drunk in order to prevent her resistance to sexual advances…. While the item could have been clearly worded to denote “intentional incapacitation of the victim,” as the question stands it would require a mind reader to detect whether any affirmative response corresponds to this legal definition of rape.” As many commentators in my sources point out, it could and for many people, does mean that sex that one comes to regret is rape. Koss later admitted that this question was poorly worded and is far too ambiguous to fit the legal definition of rape. When the affirmative answers to this were discounted (however, the questions of duress and force were asked in other parts of the survey), the statistic immediately drops to a more believable, but still horrible 1/9.
However, the most damning statistic in the survey is that by Koss’ own admission, 73% of women whom she labeled as rape survivors did not consider themselves raped. That means that when she asked the question, “Have you been raped?” the statistic is a much more believable 1/16 or 1/15. Although its important to educate people on the definition of rape, to sidestep someone’s own belief about themselves, to ignore their choice in self-determination of their body is just plain wrong.
Rape is a serious evil. To throw around these shocking numbers in a effort to wake people up only undermines efforts to combat it, as it normalizes something that should not be considered normal. One in four is a huge number, so unbelievable that it immediately casts doubt upon itself. Truth should always beat out shock value, but in this case, it appears it has not.