Conservative media rushed to attack a White House report on the epidemic of campus sexual assault by attempting to cast doubt on studies showing that one in five women will experience sexual violence while in college.
White House Issues Report On Protecting College Students From Sexual Assault
Report Outlines Administration's Strategy To Protect Students From Sexual Assault. On April 28, the White House released a 20-page report detailing its strategy to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Included in the report was the finding that at least one in five women experience sexual violence of some kind while in college, citing a 2007 report called the Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) study:
One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases, it's by someone she knows - and also most often, she does not report what happened. And though fewer, men, too, are victimized.
The Administration is committed to putting an end to this violence. That's why the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.
Today, the Task Force is announcing a series of actions to: (1) identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, (2) help prevent campus sexual assault, (3) help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted, and (4) improve, and make more transparent, the federal government's enforcement efforts. We will continue to pursue additional executive or legislative actions in the future.
These steps build on the Administration's previous work to combat sexual assault. The Task Force formulated its recommendations after a 90-day review period during which it heard from thousands of people from across the country -- via 27 online and in-person listening sessions and written comments from a wide variety of stakeholders. [WhiteHouse.gov, 4/29/14]
White House Cites CSA Study On Sexual Assault Which Mirrors Findings By CDC
CSA Findings, Cited By White House, Mirror Centers For Disease Control Study. The CSA found that 19 percent of respondents experienced attempted or completed sexual assault while in college. The study's findings closely matched a study by the Centers for Disease Control, which reported in the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NIPSV) that in the overall population:
Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration. [National Institute of Justice, accessed 4/30/14; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11/11]
Conservative Media Try To Discredit White House By Attacking CDC Study
Ingraham Hosts AEI's Christina Hoff Sommers To Claim CDC Report Is “A Completely Fraudulent Enterprise.” During an April 30 segment of The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham interviewed American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers. Ingraham asked if the White House sexual assault report was “in some way related to getting out the vote or getting ready for 2016,” while Sommers claimed “these numbers were fudged” and “it's a completely fraudulent enterprise.” As evidence, Sommers attacked the NIPSV:
INGRAHAM: Do you think this could be in some way related to getting out the vote or getting ready for 2016?
HOFF SOMMERS: I think it's a combination of things. It's possible that the president and others in the White House actually believe these statistics. They're not aware these numbers were fudged, that it's a completely fraudulent enterprise. Unfortunately, it's going on at the highest levels. The CDC did a sexual violence study -- the president cited it -- and they counted as sexual violence -- the CDC researchers said to people, “Have you ever had sex -- were you ever pressured into sex because someone told you lies they knew were untrue or made promises they didn't intend to keep?” If you said yes, you counted as a victim of sexual violence.
INGRAHAM: Well, yeah. And I think that, again -- this all kind of collides in a way with the free-love, sex-without-consequences mentality that's fueled in our culture and some of our education.
HOFF SOMMERS: I don't disagree. I think that the hook-up culture and -- what we need is to teach young men to be gentlemen and I think there is a breakdown of young women --
INGRAHAM: Young women are the aggressors often now. Young women are the ones being aggressive. [The Laura Ingraham Show, 4/30/14]
Daily Caller: CDC's Finding Is “A Bizarre And Wholly False Claim.” The Daily Caller attacked the CDC's findings that one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. They went on to push the common myth that sexual assaults are often falsely reported, writing that “the task force seems keen to eliminate the meager protections for falsely accused students altogether” :
The report, which was authored by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, leads with the bizarre and wholly false claim that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while at college. The statistic, originally reported in a Centers for Disease Control report several years ago, is at odds with most other data relating to violent crimes, and has been repeatedly dunked by criminologists.
“The agency's figures are wildly at odds with the official crime statistics,” said Christina Hoff Summers[sic], a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, in a video statement.
Violent crime has plummeted in the last 20 years. If the CDC's estimates were true, U.S. college campuses would be astronomically less safe than the most dangerous, crime-ridden areas of major cities.
“Since there are more than 12 million women now on campus, that would mean that up to 2.4 million of them either have been raped on campus, or will be before leaving,” wrote author KC Johnson at Minding the Campus. “So the White house is saying that the nation confronts a public safety problem of enormous proportions: a higher rate of violent crime (sexual assault is, of course, a violent crime) than the most dangerous urban areas in the country.” [Daily Caller, 4/30/14]
Washington Examiner: One in Five Women Being Sexually Assaulted In College Is A “Ridiculous Statistic.” In a post on April 29, the Washington Examiner also claimed that the one in five statistic was “ridiculous” and perpetuated “a culture of presuming a man is guilty” :
But other recommendations perpetuate a culture of presuming a man is guilty before any evidence is presented.
The report begins with a ridiculous statistic that “one in five women is sexually assaulted in college.” American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers recently debunked this statistic from the Centers for Disease Control by pointing out that the number was wildly different from the Department of Justice's own crime statistics.
Sommers noted that the CDC arrived at their one-in-five statistic by counting all alcohol-induced sexual encounters (even those between committed partners or married couples) as rape, and other outrageous responses. This inflates the statistic and prevents meaningful reforms from taking place. [The Washington Examiner, 4/29/14]
Sexual Violence Organizations Defend Study's Methodology
NSVRC: NISVS Methodology “Makes The Data More Reliable.” In a post on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's (NSVRC) website, the group's director Karen L. Baker argued against Hoff Sommers' claim that the CDC overstates sexual violence, explaining the discrepancy between the NISVS and criminal data and noting that the study's method of determining sexual violence “is actually one of its strengths that makes the data more reliable” :
The editorial by Ms. Sommers criticized the research for using behaviorally-specific questions, rather than asking participants to define their own experiences as rape, stalking, or some other category. Rather than being a weakness of the study, this is actually one of its strengths that makes the data more reliable. Not everyone agrees on what label to give a particular experience, but by breaking it down into specifically-described behaviors, the researchers can be more confident that they are accurately comparing similar types of victimization. In this regard, NISVS data is much more accurate than the previous National Crime Victimization Survey which simply asked women if they had been raped; and also only looked at the prior year.
The results of the NISVS victimization survey differ from other reports for another very fundamental reason. The CDC is not examining the problem of sexual violence from a criminal justice viewpoint, but rather from a public health perspective. This is a broader approach, looking at not only the prevalence of victimization, but also the impact and health consequences over time. This non-criminal framework may increase participant's comfort level in talking about their experiences. [NSVRC, accessed 4/30/14]
CALCASA: Asking “About People's Actual Experiences” Is “A Strength Of This Survey.” In a response to Sommers, David Lee, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault's (CALCASA) director of prevention services, pointed out that it “is a strength of this survey that it asks behavior-specific questions” :
The CDC survey finds so many more victims than the criminal justice-based statistics because it asks about people's actual experiences. It is a strength of this survey that it asks behavior-specific questions and includes many types of unwanted sexual violence experiences, in addition to rape. The FBI -- until this month -- only recorded statistics of vaginal rape that are voluntarily reported by the police departments. The National Crime Victimization Survey asks only about rape as part of series of questions regarding various crimes. The CDC has developed a survey that recognizes sexual violence is not only a crime, but it is also a public health problem.
Instead using [sic] energy that minimizes the prevalence of sexual violence, let's put our energy toward creating more programs to prevent sexual violence and opportunities to support survivors in their healing. [CALCASA, 2/1/12]