As college students poured back into classrooms this week, ABC Nightline breathlessly reported (and other news outlets and blogs echoed): “A recent study from the Department of Justice estimated that 25 percent of college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year college period.”
The short statement is enough to make parents think twice before sending their daughter to college. Despite the seriousness of the claim, the hook is riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations — not least of which is the actual statistic.
Indeed, nearly 50 percent of the “rape victims” referred to in the report said they had not been raped.
The document in question, “Acquaintance Rape of College Students,” by attorney Rana Sampson, is not a study but rather a report combining and relying on several studies — the largest of which remains problematic.
Sampson released her report more than four years ago and though the Justice Department provided her with some funding, she was not a Justice Department employee. “The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the U.S. Department of Justice,” the report disclaims.
The one-in-four statistic, according to footnotes, is derived from a study conducted in 2000 called, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” (SVCW), by Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen and Michael G. Turner.
Dr. Neil Gilbert, a professor of social welfare at University California, Berkeley, told The Daily Caller that the SVCW’s numbers are severely inflated due to the study’s broad definition of rape and the manner in which subjects were questioned.
According to Gilbert, the SVCW study results found a rate of rape that was 10 times higher than when the methodology for the National Crime Victimization Study (NCVS) was used. Namely, “the National Crime Victimization study had a check to make sure that the codes [or definitions of rape, force, etc.] of responses reflected the interviewees precise description. The SVCW study did not use this type of control on coding,” Gilbert explained.
In the SVCW study, researchers asked subjects to explain what happened to them and then decided, using their own definitions, what was and was not rape. The study defined rape in exceptionally wide terms: “Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Includes attempted rapes, male as well as female victims, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.”
The inclusion of the phrase “psychological coercion” as part of the definition greatly increased the number of “victims.”
In an interview with TheDC, Sampson made no distinction between violent rape and regret after seduction. “Rape is rape is rape,” she said. “I think that the kind of harm that one experiences during rape is not something we want to belittle.”