A poll conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 20 percent of women who attended college in the past four years were sexually assaulted, contrary to claims in the right-wing media that the problem of campus sexual assault is overblown.
The poll of 1,053 men and women, conducted by phone between January and March, found that 20 percent of women and five percent of men reported being sexually assaulted either by force or while incapacitated. A further 11 percent of women reported an attempted assault.
The poll also underlined the problem of under-reporting in sexual assault cases, with three-quarters of victims saying they told someone else, but only 11 percent saying they told the police or college authorities. 89 percent said no one was held responsible or punished for the incident.
Men and women in the poll were sharply divided on what they perceive to be the rate of campus sexual assault, too: “58 percent of men believe the share of women sexually assaulted at their school is less than 1 in 5. An identical majority of women believe the share assaulted is 1 in 5 or greater.”
The Post story highlighted the stories of some of the women who were given follow-up interviews:
A 21-year-old at a public university in the Southeast who participated in the poll said she was raped by a male student who escorted her out of a nightclub after she suddenly became woozy and separated from a group of friends. Someone, she suspects, had slipped a drug into her rum drink.
“In the morning, I woke up and my lip was so swollen,” the woman said. “I just remember sobbing and sobbing and sobbing the next day. You learn a lot of lessons.”
Like most who said they had been assaulted, the woman did not report the incident to university officials or police. She said she worried about whether she would ruin the man's future and wondered what to make of what had happened: Had there been a misunderstanding? Should she have been more vehement in saying no? She remembers clearly crying during the attack. She knew it was rape. But how would others see it?
Many in the right-wing media have downplayed concerns about college sexual assault. Previous studies with similar findings caused widespread outrage among right-wing media figures when the White House cited them in its campus sexual assault strategy launch, with the Daily Caller describing a Centers for Disease Control study that found one in five women is sexually assaulted in college as “bizarre and wholly false.” On an NRA News show, The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow claimed that the “one in five myth” was driving “hysteria” on campuses. And Rush Limbaugh went so far as to call the issue of college sexual assault “fake” and “made up.”
Last year, the Post's own George Will described efforts to combat such assaults as an attempt to “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege,” calling a 20 percent assault rate “preposterous.” Not long after the poll's publication, the Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler tweeted that he was removing the single “Pinocchio” that he had given President Obama for his citation of the one-in-five statistic.