Sexual Assault on Campus: A Case of Battered Statistics Syndrome

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve been reading about the recent White House study showing that one in five women will be the victim of rape at some point in her life. As a mother of twins (a boy and a girl) who are graduating high school, I’m scared for my daughter’s safety and I’m worried that my might do something unspeakable. What can I do to protect both of my children?

A: The first thing to do is calm down. For as much media coverage as the White House study got, it is one of the most flawed, inflammatory, and just plain incorrect pieces of “research” I’ve ever seen.

Let’s start with the numbers. To come up with its 1-in-5 statistic, the White House task force relied on a 2011 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which used a very broad definition of “sexual violence,” Besides forced genital and oral sex (whether by violence, drugs, or threats—the kinds of things that most people would consider rape), the CDC included “forced kissing” and “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes.” That behavior shouldn’t be tolerated. But dirty dancing is not rape. To suggest that it is just plain wrong.

The CDC study also includes as victims of “sexual assault” women who answered Yes when asked whether they had ever had sex with someone who had pressured them by “telling you lies” or by making “false promises about the future they knew were untrue,” or “by showing they were unhappy.” Again, not nice, but regretting a sexual encounter after the fact doesn’t make it rape.

Besides relying on the results of ambiguous questions, the White House also claimed that just 12% of campus sexual assaults are reported—meaning that 88% aren’t. Mark Perry, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan—a guy who know a thing or two about statistics—carefully looked at the data and came up with a very different story. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 137 sexual offenses reported at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If that’s 12%, the other 88% would be 1,004, bringing the total to 1,141. Dividing that by the 22,330 female students and the University (51.6% of 43,275), reveals that a female student’s actual chance of being sexually assaulted is 5.1%–a quarter of what the what the White House is claiming—and that’s still counting dirty dancing and being lied to as rape.

The report has a number of other flaws. For example, it completely overlooks a growing body of solid research finding that sexual assault on campuses is hardly a one-way street. In fact, young men and young women are equally likely to admit to having pressured someone else into having sex.

But a more serious problem is the report’s recommendations to essentially strip accused male students of their legal rights. The report states that “[t]he parties should not be allowed to personally cross-examine each other.” Um, the Constitution’s 6th Amendment, however, grants anyone accused of any crime anywhere that exact right.
Obviously, this is a much bigger issue than I can tackle here. But the bottom line is this: talk with your son and your daughter about unwanted sexual advances and about the statistical distortions the White House is peddling. As a parent, I’m sure you don’t want your daughter thinking of herself as a victim—and I know you don’t want your son to become a victim of overzealous college administrators who see every young man as a rapist waiting to happen.

Snips and Snails vs. Sugar and Spice

Dear Mr. Dad: As a woman who grew up in the 1970s, I’ve always supported feminism, which did a great job of getting people to pay attention to women’s issues. But now, as the mother of three boys, I think we might have gone too far. Girl power is everywhere these days, and it has become perfectly acceptable to make fun of boys and cut them down. I see how this affects my sons and I’m really worried. What is going on here?

A: This may set off a firestorm, but here goes. First, you’re right—what feminsm accomplished in improving the quality of life for women and girls has been nothing short of spectacular. And I’d never want to take any of that back. Unfortunately, while females were advancing, boys and men have been losing ground. A lot of ground. Here are just a few examples.

  • Women live five years longer than men and have lower death rates of nine of the top ten causes of death. Females 12 and older are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, but four times more men than women commit suicide.
  • Seventy-eight percent of the jobs lost in the current recession had been held by men. In our society, where we tend to rate men by their paychecks, the “He-cession” has already led to increases in male depression and suicide.
  • Boys are bombarded with messages about how bad/dangerous/stupid males are. Girls as young as four believe they’re smarter, work harder, behave better than boys, according to a 2010 study. By age eight, boys also believe that girls are superior in these areas. The fault apparently lies with primary school teachers (about 90 percent are female) who demand that boys conform to a more feminine (AKA quieter) style of behavior, and reinforce the idea that boys are academically inferior. Teachers’ positive expectations for girls—and negative ones for boys—become self-fulfilling prophecies, say the researchers. No surprise, then, that in 8th grade, girls are twice as likely as boys to be proficient in writing, and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading? Or that throughout school, boys get worse grades, are expelled three times more often, and are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out entirely? Given that, it’s easy to understand why men account for only 43 percent of college students and receive only 40 percent of advanced degrees.

There’s a major crisis brewing in this country and we need to do something about it. Now. In 2009, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls. For the past six months, I’ve been part of a group of men and women whose goal has been to create a similar council for men and boys, hoping to achieve for males what the women’s movement so brilliantly did for women. Sadly, the Administration has been reluctant to even look at the proposal.

I know that some people will say that it’s only fair that girls are doing better than boys. After all, the logic goes, men have historically done better than women. Whether that has ever been true is debatable—we’ll talk more about this in future columns. But as the father of three girls, I don’t want my daughters growing up seeing themselves as victims anymore than you want your sons to see themselves as victimizers—or hopeless cases. As a country, we can’t allow ourselves to focus so much on past perceived injustices that we ignore what’s happening right in front of our faces.