Sunday, December 28, 2014

One in five women in college sexually assaulted: an update on this statistic

Washington Post     “We know the numbers: one in five of every one of those young women who is dropped off for that first day of school, before they finish school, will be assaulted, will be assaulted in her college years.”
–Vice President Biden, remarks on the release of a White House report on sexual assault, April 29, 2014

“It is estimated that 1 in 5 women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there — 1 in 5.” 

–President Obama, remarks at White House, Jan. 22, 2014

This is an update of an article that originally appeared on May 1, 2014. It now has a Pinocchio rating.

Reports of sexual assault on college campuses spurred the White House early in 2014 to launch a task force to examine the issue. The group’s report was issued on April 29, and the first sentence of the report echoes what both the president and vice president have asserted in public: “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college.”

Where does this oft-repeated statistic come from? We dug into the data so you don’t have to.

The Facts

This statistic is derived from a 2007 study, The Campus Sexual Assault Study, which was conducted for the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. The researchers, led by Christopher Krebs of RTI International, also surveyed men, but the statistic cited by the administration focuses on women so we will look carefully at that part of the study.

In the winter of 2006, researchers used a Web-based survey to interview undergraduates at two large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South. A total of 5,446 undergraduate women, between the ages of 18-25, participated as part of a random sample. The survey was anonymous and took about 15 minutes to complete. (Participants received a $10 certificate for participating.)

So, first of all, it’s important to remember that this is a single survey, based on the experiences of students at two universities. As the researchers acknowledged, these results clearly can be generalized to those two large four-year universities, but not necessarily elsewhere. Moreover, the response rate was relatively low:
“Another limitation of the CSA study, inherent with Web-based survey, is that the response rates were relatively low. Although the response rates were not lower than what most Web-based surveys achieve, they are lower than what we typically achieve using a different mode of data collection (e.g. face-to-face interviewing).”
The survey found that 1,073 women, or 19 percent, said that they experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. The actual breakdown was that 12.6 percent experienced attempted sexual assault and 13.7 percent experienced actual sexual assault. (There was some overlap.) [...]


  1. Do the same or similar statistics apply to an all female university/ seminary?

  2. These statistics are probably not the best look of the actual data. The Bureau of Justice Statistics people do a much better job, and their studies have been called the "gold standard" and much less likely to be ideologically skewed than the work of contractors like RTI. In their study of nearly 20 years of data on sexual assaults on college age women, the BJS up with an incidence of 7.6 per 1000 for non-students, and less for college students.


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