Team Obama is now aggressively targeting campus sexual assaults with a new White House Task Force led by Joe Biden, see news reports from the Washington Post, the LA Times and NPR. Unfortunately, it’s another White House effort with good intentions – to help women (and get their votes) – but is a campaign that is based on inaccurate, misleading and false data about the frequency of campus sexual assaults.
In a January 2014 report titled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” (which led to the creation of the Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault headed by Biden), the White House Council on Women and Girls made the following two statements:
1. Sexual assault is a particular problem on college campuses:1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.
2. Reporting rates for campus sexual assault are also very low: on average only 12% of student victims report the assault to law enforcement.
But there’s a big problem here. Taken together, those two claims above from the White House, if both are accurate, mean that nowhere near 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college. As I reported in January on CD after the release of the White House’s “renewed call to action” report:
The problem is that the two sets of numbers the White House uses don’t work together. If you look at virtually any university in America and take the number of reported sexual assaults, and use that number in conjunction with the White House’s under-reporting percentage, you don’t get one-in-five. Nowhere near. Do the math yourself.
So let’s do some math using actual crime statistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the four years from 2009-2012 (summarized in the table above) and the White House’s under-reporting assumption of 12%. Over that four year period, there were 137 reports of sexual assault on the Madison campus, in university residence halls, on nearby non-campus property, and on public property adjacent to campus. We’ll assume that 100% of the sexual assaults victims were female. Using the White House claim that only 12% of sexual assaults get reported, there would have been slightly more than 1,000 unreported sexual assaults at UW during that period, bringing the total number of sexual assaults (reported + unreported) to 1,141 (see table).
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a student body of 43,275 students, of which 51.6% are female. Dividing the 1,141 sexual assaults over a four-year period by the 22,329 UW female students would mean that only 5.1% UW women (or about 1 in 20) would be sexually assaulted while in college. Certainly that’s still too high, but nowhere close to the White House claim of one in five female students being assaulted while in college.
An analysis of crime data from the University of Michigan shows a similar 1-in-18.5 chance (5.4%) of a female student being a victim of sexual assault during four years in Ann Arbor. At the University of California-Berkeley, crime data suggest that the chances over four years of a female student being sexually assaulted are only 3.1%, or one in 32 women. Do the math yourself (and share with me if possible) with crime statistics from any other college campus, along with the White House under-reporting assumption of 12%, and I’m confident that there’s no college campus in America where anywhere near 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college.
Bottom Line: To paraphrase my AEI colleague Christina Sommers, victims of sexual assault are best served by the truth. Team Obama asked for a “renewed call to action” in its January 2014 report on rape and sexual assault. Just as important, I think we need a “renewed call” for the White House to stop spreading wildly exaggerated and false information about important issues like campus sexual assault. I think it’s time to call upon Washington Post Fact-Checker Glenn Kessler, and ask him to investigate. I’ll forward this post to him.
Related: In her latest “Factual Feminist” video below, Christina Sommers debunks the frequently reported CDC claim that 1-in-5 US women will be a victim of rape in their lifetime, a figure that is wildly inconsistent with Department of Justice crime statistics. The CDC’s exaggerated rape numbers get in the way of genuine solutions to the problem, and calls for accurate data and real solutions to help end the scourge of sexual violence.