By Sarah Waters
We’ve all heard the statistics: 1 in 5 women are raped in college. Or 1 in 4. Or was it 1 in 3? These scary, ever-changing statistics are fed to women before they even get to college. The problem? They’re complete bull.
Before you start screaming that I’m a rape apologist, you should know that I myself am a survivor of campus rape. It is unbearably difficult to heal from repeated rape by a fellow classmate. But I’m trying. And I know these false rape statistics can hinder or reverse healing. It is critical to me as a survivor to call out and expose the lies that harm our well-being and sense of safety.
How did we get to this point? These numbers can be traced back to the 1970s, to a study by Mary Koss. Her study was very flawed in methodology and received a very low response rate. The biggest flaw of this study is that Koss defined sexual violence much more broadly than the general public, and did not make this clear to participants. Koss’ 1976 study made broad generalizations about responses, including defining sexual encounters involving alcohol as rape, even in direct contradiction to women’s own negative responses to the question “have you been raped?” Koss did not allow women to define their own experiences, instead lumping together a woman who drank a glass of wine and made a poor decision to a woman who was passed out drunk and gang raped at a frat party. Koss eventually admitted the faulty and ambiguous wording of her questions, yet many other researchers still continue to follow her methods today, producing artificially-inflated statistics in exchange for grant money.
Other studies that asked directly about rape and sexual assault found a much lower rate of rape on college campuses. In 1981, Professor Margaret Gordon conducted a study that found 1 in 50 (2 percent) women had been raped. This is also the finding in a 1993 phone survey by Louis Harris, in which 98 percent of women responded negatively to the question of whether or not they had been raped or sexually assaulted within the past five years. Sexual violence researchers and experts Dr. Linda George, Dr. Naomi Breslau, and Dr. Eugene Kanin expressed concern at Koss’ study and others that followed similar methodology, stating the headline-catching findings were wildly inaccurate.
Despite better studies’ findings and criticism from experts, Koss’ misleading and manipulated statistics opened the floodgates to mass hysteria and rape paranoia. Rape, apparently, is around every corner. No man can be trusted. The bowl of M&Ms is poisoned. Men and women are terrified of dating, the latter for fear of rape, the former for being accused of rape. These men’s fears are not unfounded. In 1993, Oberlin College picked a random male freshman’s name out of a hat and publicly branded him “rapist of the month,” despite the fact that he was never accused of rape. Campus feminists firmly stood by the disgusting stunt, claiming that since the campus rape epidemic harms so many women, one innocent man getting his life ruined can help “balance it out.” This happened. This is real. These statistics can and do hurt people. Perhaps most ironically, it can hurt survivors.
False rape statistics fuel hysteria on college campuses, making students, especially survivors, feel unsafe and fearful. April, a University of Michigan student who expressed extreme fear of campus rape, stated that there is “a big difference if it’s 1 in 3 or 1 in 50. I’d have to say, honestly, I’d think about rape a lot less if I knew the number was 1 in 50.” Rape survivor and activist Monica Trumble described the ridiculously inflated statistics leading to her retraumatization through overwhelming fear.
Perhaps worst of all, every state and federal dollar funneled to addressing a false campus rape crisis is taking away financial resources from other populations that face a much greater risk of sexual assault. Women without a college education, especially women of color and those living in poverty, are sexually assaulted much more than women privileged enough to be getting a higher education. Congratulations, feminists. You’ve stolen from vulnerable communities to fuel your sham of a movement. Well done.
It’s high time we stood up for truth in anti-rape advocacy. There is no good reason to perpetuate lies. It harms people from every walk of life. 2 percent may not be as flashy as 33 percent, but it is certainly more accurate. Standing up for survivors is a noble cause. On behalf of survivors, I ask you, please, do not advocate for us with discredited falsities. Only the truth will set us free.