One in Four

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.



16 thoughts on “One in Four

  1. The two sources you cited were pretty heavily biased in their tone (I pretty much stop reading anything once it uses the words “radical feminist”), and they only addressed one specific study. One in Four’s website doesn’t cite that study; they cite a number of sources, so if you want to find people debunking all of them, feel free to go ahead:

    I’ve more regularly heard the figure of one in six, which matches my personal experience pretty well. But the exact ratio isn’t that relevant; the important thing to glean from the figures is that, in all likelihood, almost everyone personally knows someone who has survived rape, and many people know a survivor very well (even if they don’t know that person is a survivor of rape). It could be a sister, an ex-girlfriend, a close friend, a teacher, your own mother. I can assure you that, even if the statistic isn’t one in four, it’s staggeringly high, and much higher than many of us want to admit. That doesn’t mean that all of it was stranger rape, or even violent rape; often it’s subtle coercion or being taken advantage of when they’ve had too much to drink. I’ve heard from way too many survivors who show characteristic responses to rape (fear of sex and emotional intimacy, self-blame, even self-mutilation) who won’t describe what happened to them as rape because of a feeling of responsibility, or the belief that, because it was theoretically possible for them to do something differently (like drinking less alcohol), what happened to them wasn’t rape. Even more confusing is the fact that, if they know the man well, they may know that he didn’t think of what he did as rape. And in many circumstances, this is true; many men commit rape without intending to, and without knowing the consequences of their actions. A man doesn’t have to meet the legal definition of committing the crime of rape (or our psychological stereotype about what someone who commits rape “looks like”) for a woman to have the subjective experience of being raped.

    In my mind, arguing about whether the statistics meet the legal definition of rape is essentially invalidating that experience of trauma that many survivors go through. Those statistics aren’t there for shock value, they’re there to capture all women who suffer any traumatic response to a sexual encounter, regardless of the circumstances that started the encounter and the mindset of the man in the encounter (whether he’s violent or just aroused and failing to see what the woman’s going through). Maybe one in four is higher than that actual number; I can’t say. But I can say that sexual coercion or even misunderstanding that ends with tragic and traumatic consequences almost definitely happens way more often than violent crime in Philadelphia (especially since the most rape, even violent rape, isn’t reported).

    My apologies for only focusing on female survivors in this post; I did so because those were the statistics mentioned, but men are often survivors of sexual assault as well, which can have equally traumatic impact (particularly when they start to question their own strength and their masculinity).

    • QTF:

      “Those statistics aren’t there for shock value, they’re there to capture all women who suffer any traumatic response to a sexual encounter, regardless of the circumstances that started the encounter and the mindset of the man in the encounter (whether he’s violent or just aroused and failing to see what the woman’s going through). Maybe one in four is higher than that actual number; I can’t say. But I can say that sexual coercion or even misunderstanding that ends with tragic and traumatic consequences almost definitely happens way more often than violent crime in Philadelphia (especially since the most rape, even violent rape, isn’t reported).”

      Sexual coercion IS rape. Rape is a crime, and all rape is violent. Therefore, 1) rape IS violent crime, and 2) as shocking as it might sound (sarcasm), this means that reported violent crime statistics in Philadelphia are too low, just like reported rape statistics are.

  2. OP – Thanks for this post. I would really like to discuss this with you further in private, if you’d be willing to do so. Is there any way you could post an anonymous-looking email address that I could use to get in touch with you? If not, I could post one and you could email me first. Please don’t feel obligated; I just thought it might be great if we could find a safer space to keep talking. Thanks!

  3. I’m the OP, and I feel fine posting what I have to say here. I checked their sources, and they cited a book that used Koss’ flawed survey, which again, makes no sense. Perhaps the incidience of rape will be slightly higher, but 5 times that of THE TOTAL acts of violent crime? That I find impossible to believe. And again, saying its underreported doesn’t deny the fact that in 1990, at the time of this story, less than 1000 rapes were reported on college campuses. There were 7.5 million women in college. I acknowledge rape is underreported, but according to the survey, 468,750 rapes occurred. That means that 99.8% of rapes aren’t reported? Again, that number is absurd. I would even buy into the wild claim that 95% of rapes are not reported. But 99.8%? No.

    And I have a serious problem with you claiming that the numbers don’t matter. The numbers are the only thing that matter. By spreading false information in an attempt to make people feel victimized, you refuse them the right of self-determenation, the most fundamental right a person can have. If a person does not feel s/he has been raped, they have not been. We are in no position to make judgment on them, undermining a basic human right.

    Furthermore, do you consider a regretful one-night stand rape? Is a “misunderstanding” rape? Where do we draw the line? Subtle coercion? Did the person who you claim was raped give consent? Even if it was after a little (I used a little on purpose) prodding, if it was not under duress, and the person gave consent, they could have done something differently. Someone has every right to think that they could have done something differently, because in many of these drunken hookup scenarios, they could have. Let’s imagine a hypothetical here. Let’s say that someone gets drunk, hooks up with someone, and claims to get raped. I genuinely feel that that is awful. Let’s say they do it again. And again, and again. Where do we draw the line? When does someone actually have to be responsible for their actions, instead of blaming it on the alcohol or the other person? No means no. “Okay” doesn’t mean no. “Fuck yes,” but I regretted it later because I was drunk doesn’t mean no. A misunderstanding doesn’t mean rape.

    Look, if you broaden the definition of rape to mean anything sexual anyone’s ever done while intoxicated and later regretted, then yes, the number is probably 1/4. But by doing so you undermine what people who have actually survived rape go through, and you create internal demons in someone’s head. When you convince someone they are raped, you can do them a disservice by making what happened to them worse. They can deal with whatever symptoms they have without calling it an explicit rape. The stigma associated with that word will often make it worse.

    PS. Plenty of people self-identify as radical feminists (Andrea Dworkin, Melissa Fairley). They’re proud of the label “radical feminist.” It’s an accepted branch of feminism. You should look it up before dismissing it.

  4. *Trigger Warning*

    This is one of the most willfully ignorant things I’ve ever read. Are you seriously going to argue that something doesn’t count (/shouldn’t be counted) as rape because it doesn’t match the legal definition? Are you saying you don’t believe that rape means engaging in sexual activity with someone (there’s no point in discussing which specific activities) who is not consenting (it’s an active thing, not necessarily specifically verbal…)?

    And as for the statistic, 4 out of 7 of my best friends have been raped, based on the current FBI definition, as have I. Another one of my 7 best friends is a survivor of attempted rape, as in a guy (fellow student) drove up to her as she was walking down the street at her college, dragged her into his car, hit her, held her down, pulled up her skirt, and started to unzip his pants. She managed to reach for his baseball bat, defend herself, escape from the car, and run away. So if I am going to make a statistic based on the 8 of us (from a total of 4 different schools), it would be more accurate to say that 3 out of 4 women will be victims of rape or attempted rape in their lives. (And don’t you dare try to pass some kind of personal judgment on my friends and me. You have no idea who we are. For the purpose of my argument, I might as well be your mother, or Mother Theresa’s mother… unless you’re going to go say that all women are whores anyway, in which case I apologize for attempting to take you seriously.)

    Why do you feel such a strong need to convince everyone that 1 in 4 is an overestimation?

    • I’m saying that it is impossible to know when consent is cut off, and if someone gave consent and did not explicity take it back, it is not rape. “Yes” then silence doesn’t mean no. The other person cannot be expected to know that the yes didn’t apply. They can’t read someone elses mind. And I’m saying that even if someone was somewhat drunk, if they were consenting and appeared to have control of their actions (not staggering or unable to talk normally) it’s not rape.

      I feel a need to convince people because with the exception of genocides, there has never been a violent crime rate that comes close to 25%. It’s incredibly high. It flies in the face of every other statistic I have ever seen. And I’m sorry for what happened to you and your friends, but a sample size of eight people isn’t going to convince me otherwise.

      • Right, my bad. Accepted statistics and the status quo are always accurate. Nothing about the way people talk about or have ever talked about any issue needs analysis and revision. In fact, I hear slavery is in the best interests of and enjoyed by everybody, especially black people, and NASA’s recent mission to the edge of the earth confirmed our knowledge that the world is flat.

      • By the way, “yes”, then silence, and then “no” or “stop” or “that is really, really hurting me” or crying with a painful facial expression CAN reasonably be expected to mean “no.” Or they it is at least a reasonable expectation that the other person ASKS and makes sure that they are CONTINUING to get ACTIVE CONSENT.

        Also… “And I’m saying that even if someone was somewhat drunk, if they were consenting and appeared to have control of their actions (not staggering or unable to talk normally) it’s not rape.” This is not an accurate statement based on many legal definitions as well as many university’s policies. Two can play the legal definition game, you know.

    • Also, “So I did some research.”… Oh, you did, did you? I mean, congrats on figuring out how to use Google Scholar, and congrats on being able to twist your words well enough to sound like you’re making a legitimate criticism of one article or you know what you’re talking about. Can you please get over yourself now?

  5. OP – Regarding my earlier email request: I completely respect your right to remain anonymous, so I won’t keep bothering you about getting in touch outside of this forum. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t trying to establish contact so I could criticize/harass you, but because I’ve been waiting since the beginning of this campaign last semester to hear someone say exactly the things you’ve been saying. It’s been such a relief to hear you articulate what I’ve been thinking all along, but have been unable to put into words. I feel that we could have a very mutually satisfying conversation if you’d be willing to find a way to talk. Again, I respect your right to refuse, but I’d be sorry to see this opportunity slip away.

  6. One poorly conducted study does not debunk the 1 in 4 statistic. If you want to get into methodological sanctity, it is poor form for you (or the authors you cite, whoever started this ridiculousness) to first debunk a study for its methods, and then use the same study to make a different conclusion regarding the instances of rape and sexual assault (i.e. concluding it is 1/15 or 1/16, even if it makes it “much more believable.” The 1 in 4 figure is not based solely on Koos’ study. For more supporting evidence, see the CDC’s info sheet on sexual violence (, or one of the major studies they cite from 2000 (, which states that 20-25% of college women have experienced a rape or attempted rape. Since sexual assault and rape are such under-reported crimes, they are extremely hard to study, so I would ask for a bit of appreciation for the sheer methodological difficulty of this line of research. The government is not trying to inflate the rates of sexual violence on college campuses– they are trying to capture it despite how under-reported it is (steps of research soap box).

    You say that it takes away agency to call something rape if the survivor doesn’t. I have heard many stories from survivors (at Speak Out even) that they did not know they had been raped/assaulted until our yellow posters went up and people at Haverford started talking about what consent actually means. Maybe for some it is worse to introduce this terminology (as you claim), but from every single person I have heard from in the wake of CiS/ASC, with this realization has come a sense of understanding. This was my experience as well. After I described my assault to my roommate, feeling very confused about what had happened and why I felt horrible, she introduced the term “coerced consent.” Calling my assault an assault didn’t make me feel more victimized. I was already experiencing the traumatic aftermath… emotional withdrawal, spontaneous crying, sleeplessness, self-harm, feelings of emptiness, other depressive symptoms. Giving it a name helped me on my path to recovery… it legitimated my emotional experiences and led me to a wonderful community (SOAR) where I began to heal. Saying you have been raped is not easy. Sometimes it’s easier to call it a “bad night” or even an “assault” (not that assault is less traumatic, but for me it is easier to say.) Legally, I was raped. To this day, only sometimes can I comfortably think of it as such. Though I detest your manipulation/abuse of statistics, it would not be shocking to me to find out that only 98.5% of rapes are reported (and reported to whom, exactly?) Maybe at some point I will be able to comfortably speak about my experience using the word rape, but maybe not. If I can’t even think about it myself, how can I be expected to report it as such publicly, especially when survivors are so commonly scrutinized/blamed more than the person who assaulted them in the first place?

    You also talk about how maybe drunken mistakes happen 25% of the time, but it is inconceivable that rape could occur that often. In response to this, I would just like to clarify: rape is not the survivor’s drunken mistake. Please see 10 ways to End Rape. This is not just CiS/ASC getting all radical on people– the CDC and other public health research organization define sex that is coerced (with or without the aid of alcohol) as rape. The study I noted above included within its questions the following:

    Since school began in fall 1996, has anyone made or tried to make you have sexual intercourse or sexual contact when you did not want to by simply being overwhelmed by someone’s continual pestering and verbal pressure?

    For me, the answer is yes. When consent is coerced, it is not consent. The argument over this (well it was just a little bit coerced!) just shocks me every time. I was coerced into sex, and though you may not consider that rape, the psychological aftermath says that is was. He coerced and intimidated me until I was ready to do just about anything to get him to leave. This is rape. On the other hand, my most amazing, fulfilling sexual experiences have been the most consensual. It goes beyond “Can I insert my __ into your __” and into the realm of “Do you like…” and “Ooh I like it when you…” Why do we need any coercion in the first place? How much better/sexier/hot is it to have your partner beg for more than to lie there in silence? What kind of sex are we having here people???

    So OP, you are right—it is inconceivable that 1 in 4 (or 1 in 5) college women experience rape or attempted rape, and that is the reason ASC exists… because that figure is absolutely ridiculous and I personally will not stand for it.

    • Thank you so, so much for writing this. The original post on this thread had pointed me back down a path my mind often takes: I often blame myself for being raped simply because I had originally felt attracted to and excited to sleep over with (because I had wanted to make out and cuddle) the person who then proceeded to rape me. (Needless to say, or at least I hope it is needless to say, I am now utterly disgusted by that person.) For a long time after it happened, I kept thinking I only felt completely violated because I had been “dumped” the following weekend. However, a year later, I realized that having regular nightmares about being raped by that person was different from any conceivable “normal” reaction to being “dumped”. These days, I can occasionally stop blaming myself for long enough to remember that repeatedly begging “please stop” had absolutely, 100% demonstrated my complete LACK of consent. I felt a huge wave of relief the first time I put two and two together, because I knew there wasn’t just something wrong with me.

      Reading the original post on this thread made me feel guilty for having felt violated in the first place and having ever used the word “rape” to describe my experience. In contrast, Amy, your post made me feel relieved, empowered, and so much less alone; I know that labeling my experience as “rape” does too. Your post is poignant and beautifully written, and it has given me something I have been searching for for years: language to describe my experience.

      On a much different note, I’m happy you mentioned that enthusiastic consent makes sex so much better. I cannot tell you how huge of a turn-on it is to hear my boyfriend tell me precisely how turned on he is by my telling him how much he turns me on. And who knew that being told “I want you so bad” in a tone of voice indicating he’s aching for me to ravish him (and with the unassuming, open, quietly confident, and entirely respectful body language to match) was all the foreplay I’d ever need? I know those are super confusing run-on sentences, but that’s how mind-blowing even just the memory of enthusiastic, consensual sex is. So Amy, thank you for giving me an excuse to think about smoking-hot consensual sex. I’m excited for the opportunity to have more of it in the future.

  7. Regardless of who is “correct” in this conversation, it demonstrates quite well why ASC is an ineffective and (I feel) harmful group on this campus.

    I am a survivor. I am a feminist. I am an advocate for education, dialogue, and understanding. I passionately believe that we have the capability to improve our world. But I am disgusted by the way ASC has behaved. I am disgusted by the insensitivity they displayed in the timing of their original poster campaign. I am disgusted by their insistance that they are right and everyone else is wrong. I am disgusted by their “holier-than-thou” attitude and the implication that if you are not with them, you are against them. I am disgusted by the confusing, belittling, and often downright offensive nature of some of their posters, new and old. I am disgusted by how readily they alienate huge swaths of the student population. I am disgusted with both them for creating an atmosphere that stifles open dialogue, and disgusted with myself for being too cowardly to speak publicly about my qualms, and with the discomfort I feel now having to put my name to this, even if it is only for the moderators to see, because of the hostile and judgmental comments I half-expect them to send me.

    What is needed here is compassion, understanding, and patience – for everyone, not just survivors. Instead, ASC is hostile, ignorant, and close-minded. It deeply saddens me that survivors on campus are being taught that ASC’s way is the “correct” way to be a survivor. We are a Quaker school. We have an Honor Code. That means something more than a catchy phrase in the admissions booklet; it is a way in which we should strive to live our lives. Rape and assault do not fit into that lifestyle, but neither does the angry and, frankly, hateful behavior of ASC.

    • Guest,

      Please, please, please explain to me how we are being offensive, holier-than-thou, alienating, and stifling dialogue. Honestly, I would really like to why you are so upset. If you don’t agree with what we are doing, come to one of our meetings, and help us make it better! We are 100% open to the entire community, and put out meeting info on almost every poster so people can come and share their opinions. We have deliberately created dialogue (as evidenced by to 16,000 hits on this blog since it was launched in December), and created a space where this can occur anonymously so that people can say what they actually feel, without fear of retribution. If we seem holier than thou, perhaps it is because many of us have strong opinions rooted in both personal experience and scholarship. However, we have tried very hard to create a platform from which people may speak against us (as evidenced by the approval of your comment and many others). There have been offensive comments on this blog that I don’t agree and also offensive ones that I do agree with, but we have approved them either way, because that is the very point of this blog- to allow people to discuss and challenge each others ideas. Sexual violence is a complicated issue– I don’t purport to be an expert or to have all the right answers (if there can be said to be right answers). We all share our opinions with the expectation (and hope) that they will be challenged. We are creating teachable moments, and learning from each other.

      I would also like to know how we have been alienating and hateful, particularly this semester. These issues are themselves often alienating and very difficult to talk about, and we have worked very hard to try and move past this reality. This semester ASC has done the following:
      -Run a postering campaign attempting to open up people’s perceptions of what sexual communication, consent, and not consent might look like
      -Run a postering campaign designed to raise awareness about RASA month and it’s associated events
      (note: for both campaigns we deliberately distinguished between triggering and not-triggering posters, and refrained from posting triggering posters in bathrooms or dorms, in response to previous comments/critiques)
      -Had a s’mores social where we handed out free condoms with “Got consent? Ask before unwrapping” labeled on them
      -Created the “Stepping Stones Project” by the library, a place of reflection where people may place stones in honor of the survivors in their lives
      -Hosted 1 in 4, a men’s group from Penn who gave a presentation on how men (and women) can support survivors and prevent sexual violence
      -More events to come! Stay updated on the blog to find out about them.

      For these and other events, we have partnered and received support from the Women’s Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the Dean’s Sexual Misconduct Advisory Committee. Because Christine and I both sit on this committee and head ASC, pretty much everything we have done has been seen by a Deans, administrators, faculty, non-ASC students, and Women’s Center staff before being put into action. We’re coordinating with groups on and off campus to improve the educational opportunities available to students around these issues. In short, ASC is fulfilling the College’s legal obligations under Title IX. And we’re doing for free, at next to no cost.

      I guess I am just having trouble understanding how these are hateful acts? Please know that I am not trying to attack you, just to understand where you are coming from. Our mission is not to alienate and be hateful, but to create a safer community through awareness, education, and dialogue (I’m practically quoting the mission statement here.) I think we’re doing a much better job this semester (I would even say kick ass job but I’m biased), thanks in large part to institutional and student support. However, there are always ways to improve, so please please please, explain in more detail where you are coming from, either anonymously here or at our next meeting.

      On a more personal level, I do not believe there is one way to be a survivor. We all find our own ways to heal, and ASC has in a large part been essential to my own healing process. Not everyone wants to call it “rape,” not everyone wants to be a “survivor,” not everyone wants to talk about it, not everyone is okay with people knowing what happened. I am very deeply, personally sorry for having made you feel there is one way to be a survivor. I swear, I would never ever think that or try to espouse that idea. I really don’t know how to be more sincere, but I am sorry.

      I hope this has not come off as hostile or judgmental. I really just want to understand. If you can, explain. If not, that’s okay too. I respect your feelings on this matter, but must also thoughtfully disagree.

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