New York U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is not sure what ratio of college students are sexually assaulted, she admitted for the first time in an interview with Politico.
The Democrat has been a leading proponent of legislation to address rape in both the military and on college campuses. In the course of her advocacy she has cited the statistic that “1 in 5” college women experience rape or attempted rape during their time on campus. But Gillibrand quietly scrubbed the ratio from her Senate website recently as the studies backing the claim have come under increased scrutiny.
“You’ve dropped the ‘1 in 5 college women raped’ statistic from your website, which some say is proof this isn’t as big an issue as you make it out. How do you respond?” Politico asked.
“Well, we may not know what the actual rate is, but we know it is prevalent, and we know it’s real,” Gillibrand said.
“And so if somebody wants to hide behind not having the right statistic, they’re actually denying that problem that really does exist,” she continued.
Gillibrand removed the “1 in 5” statistic from her website in December. Critics of the claim have pointed out that the number is based on studies that surveyed students at two large universities. The surveys also had low response rates, raising questions over whether the studies were biased. (RELATED: Senators Exclude Statistics At Premiere Of Campus Assault Documentary)
Besides citing an shaky statistic, Gillibrand’s advocacy has caused her to overstep in other ways, according to her critics. Gillibrand invited recent Columbia University graudate Emma Sulkowicz to this year’s State of the Union address. Sulkowicz drew national attention last year when she began carrying a mattress around campus to protest how her alleged 2012 campus rape was handled by the school. Sulkowicz’s alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, has sued the school and provided sexually explicit social media messages suggesting that Sulkowicz sought to carry on a relationship with him even after the alleged rape.
In her interview with Politico, Gillibrand says she plans to attach legislation addressing campus rape to a higher education bill that is being developed. She said that she plans to hold hearings beginning next month. She said that she has 32 co-sponsors for a campus sexual assault bill so far. Twelve are Republicans.
“I’m hoping to get that number up before we actually get to the hearing,” Gillibrand said. “And I’m optimistic that the more we talk about it, the more we can build support.”