The 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Statistic is False // Words and How They Matter in Activist Spaces: A Response

The 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Statistic is False

by Tre Ayer ’20

In 2007, the Campus Sexual Assault Study (CSAS) reported that approximately one woman attending college in five (19.8 percent) would be sexually assaulted before graduating. This appalling statistic spurred a necessary discussion around campus sexual assault. However, in spite of the good the statistic accomplished in spurring discussion, it is false.

In December 2014, Christopher Krebs and Christina Lindquist, the primary authors of the CSAS, published a letter to the American people in Time Magazine clarifying their results. The one in five statistic related to all forms of sexual assault on college campuses, not only rape, a common misconception; only victims of completed sexual assaults were included in the one in five statistic.

In addition, there are many statistical fallacies which make the results questionable, if not invalid, including non-response bias and lack of randomization. Most importantly, the statistic is not nationally representative, as only the populations of two large universities were studied. In summation, the one in five statistic should not be used when discussing sexual assault on American campuses.

In the same month that Krebs and Lindquist published their letter, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which found contradictory evidence to the CSAS. Rather than being one woman in five, as the CSAS claimed, the NCVS found that one woman in 164 has been sexually assaulted in college (6.1 sexual assaults per 1,000 female college students, or 0.61 percent).

More interestingly, the NCVS found evidence which contradicted the perception created by the CSAS that female college students were more likely to be sexually assaulted than females of the same age not attending college. The report found that women not attending college were 1.2 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than college-attending women. This means that, contrary to popular belief, women are more safe from sexual assault on campus than off.

No contradiction of the one in five statistic means that sexual assault on campuses is an insignificant problem. But when it comes to sexual assault, any number greater than zero is unacceptable. We as a nation should build off of the momentum created by the one in five statistic to find the true rate of campus sexual assault.

Despite being false, it is because of this appalling, albeit hyperbolic, statistic that colleges across the nation have developed programs designed to prevent sexual assault and have provided resources to students who have been sexually assaulted (although many of the processes through which sexual assault allegations are handled are problematic, if not unconstitutional). It is because of this false statistic that the prevalence of sexual assault is still fresh in every student, professor, administrator and even legislator’s mind.

Now that we are all thinking of sexual assault and how to end it, we must use accurate data in order to track the progress the collegiate world has made and any future progress it will make. It is unacceptable that we live in a society in which sexual assault exists. It is even more unacceptable that 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, according to the NCVS, because many women feel that the disadvantages of reporting sexual assaults outweigh the benefits.

Thanks to the one in five statistic, we have made great progress in addressing these issues in the past decade. Now that we are on the right track, we must stop using this false statistic so that we may more accurately track our progress. An issue as important as this requires the most accurate information and the most just processes to be used to ensure that any progress made is not reversed on legal technicalities.


Words and How They Matter in Activist Spaces: A Response

by Angela Hyde ’19

Why Am I Writing This?

I write this article in response to the one above, a fellow editors piece, as I am experiencing one of the most important moments in my life. I’ve come to the Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference at Hampshire College for the second year in a row, and here I’ve learned, grown, developed, and been empowered in a movement that surrounds me and so many more than me: POC, indigenous people, non-binary and trans humans, queer people, violence survivors, disabled individuals, and more. I’ve been reminded of my duty, my privilege, and how to use those things in tandem to be the absolute best activist I can be.

And that is what I’m trying to do now, as I take time from my conference experience to write this. I hope I am practicing what I preach when I speak up for things that I find problematic. I hope that at all moments I truly am the best activist I can be.

First of all, I want to respectfully thank Tre Ayer for acknowledging the heinous nature of sexual assault and rape, and thank him for having the courage to speak his mind. That’s the beautiful thing about America is we have the right to speak our minds, and no one can silence us – except when we are. We, survivors of sexual assault, and many more oppressed peoples, are silenced.

The Big Picture

Every day individuals who have experienced sexual trauma feel silenced. I don’t need a statistic for that.

Even as I speak out about my rape I feel silenced – by society and culture, my own internalized blame, by the invisible presence of my rapist in every movement of my body. The act of me sharing my story is political, and that carries weight. Almost ten-years after, I now use my experience to inform my activism, and that is what I want to do with this space I’ve been given; I want to talk about words, specifically words used in the article above, and why they contribute to the silencing of rape survivors.

When looking at statistics, you can never trust those disseminated from an oppressor. You would never trust a cigarette company to tell you the statistics on lung cancer. I as a woman, as a survivor, as an ally, would never trust a government organization to tell me true statistics on reproductive justice – and sexual assault prevention is part of reproductive justice. This and many past government administrations have shown how unsupportive they are of the movement, and if you can’t trust a body who was made to represent your interests to hold to that inherent political promise, how can you trust them to tell you what your experience looks like in a number?

The answer to this conundrum of who to trust isn’t hard. It’s simple.

Just shut up, and listen.

It’s Not Just Statistics

No one knows oppression better than the oppressed. And I as an individual cannot speak for a movement. Here, now, I am speaking for myself as a survivor, and someone who found the above article problematic. When someone speaks about sexual assault survivors as an ally, as I believe Ayer is attempting to do by dispelling “false” statistics, the ultimate goal should be to support, hear, and give voice to them. I can’t speak to Ayer’s experiences or life. But what I hear from the article as I read it, as I have at least five times in the past hour, is “I don’t believe you. And I won’t, until you prove it to me.”

Forget the small college campus; in the adult world, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, according RAINN, whose information was compiled from the Department of Justice. Ayer compares the statistics of women in college and those not – to compare these two in this setting, to imply that college campus’ are safer simply because less women are raped. It just proves that the numbers are higher than reported; women are raped anywhere, at any time, by anyone.

If you ask yourself, ‘Angela, why use a stat now?’ I have thought long and hard about this question.

I support non-profits like RAINN, or the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, because they are just as sceptical of the oppressor’s language and studies as I am. At the end of their statistics page for victims of sexual violence, they write the following: “Sexual violence is notoriously difficult to measure, and there is no single source of data that provides a complete picture of the crime.

This acknowledgement of the silencing, and the larger problem of oppression, is something left out of government statistics. What this says to a survivor, like myself, is that we are heard, trusted, and believed when we say something that doesn’t necessarily support this data – we are not data. We are the voices that have been brave enough to speak our truths, and if we become data it is often not our choice.

Where Do We Stand?

Ayer writes in his article that the one in five statistic is “false.” While this is grammatically true, we can never know if it is truly a false statistic, just as we can never know that the DOJ is reporting truthfully – because of the silencing culture, there are incredibly few safe spaces for women to report. But using the word “false,” synonymous with “lies,” comes with a lot of baggage for a survivor. I challenge Ayer, and others who wish to do the work of outing false information, to use language that supports survivors, and other oppressed individuals. Language like “inconsistent,” or “inaccurate,” or “regressive.” Language that attacks the system of oppression, rather than the oppressed.

I want to end my response by stating that the statistics I have used are separate from those which state to represent trans-women and non-binary individuals with vaginas. Their stories are even harder to document because of their all too prevalent suppression, and the erasure of their experiences from our sexual assault narrative.

There is always more to be said. And I will always say more when I feel I need to. If you need a space to share, you, reading this, I am always here to listen. And I will believe you, always. If you want to expand your knowledge and your activism, email me. I’m always here to empower you as best I can, if I can. Thank you.