Taking a Reasonable View of Brown Sexual Assaults

Given everything that has to get done in a day and the limited number of battles a guy can fight at one time, I’ve been debating whether or not to highlight a few things I’ve noticed about the survey supposedly proving that one-quarter of female undergraduate students at Brown University are the victims of rape or sexual assault.  The fact that Lynn Arditi is reporting things that are simply false in the Providence Journal — and in a way that is clearly in line with activists’ intended use of the survey data — suggests that somebody has to offer a bit of leaven to the hysteria.  Unfortunately, nobody else has stepped forward to take the arrows.

Here’s the false statement in Arditi’s article:

Most of those students who did not report the incidents   — about 48 percent — said that was “because they did not think anything would be done about it,” the survey found. Others said they feared the report would not be kept confidential.

“They have a lot of work to do to create a climate where victims feel supported,” [Peg Langhammer, executive director of Day One, a nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of violence] said, “and I think at every campus that is true.”

The first paragraph is both extremely sloppy and completely wrong.  The 48% number appears to come from Table 3.9a of the survey results, but that’s not the number for all incidents; it’s the number just for female students who said they’d been the target of a completed or attempted penetration by force, who make up just 5.4% of undergraduate females and 1.4% of graduate females.

Among female students whose completed or attempted penetration happened while they were incapacitated (i.e., sleeping or drunk), the percentage saying they didn’t think anything would be done was 35%.  For “sexual touching” by force, it was 26%; for “sexual touching” while incapacitated, it was 25%.  For male students, the percentages were even lower.

Inferring some numbers from other tables and putting them all together, only 28% of all “victims” said they didn’t report the incident because they didn’t think anything would be done.  I put the word “victims” in quotation marks because the reason Arditi’s report is simply false is that the actual explanation that “most of those students” gave for not reporting incidents was that they didn’t feel that “it was serious enough to report.”  Overall, that response was given by 74% of the “victims.”

Among female students, that response was given by 71% in the forced penetration group, 84% in the incapacitated penetration group, 74% in the forced touching group, and 82% in the incapacitated touching group.

These findings present a much different picture than Arditi and the activists promote.  In fact, it looks a lot more like young adults entering an environment of new freedom and experimentation and having a pretty realistic acceptance that their peers may do things that aren’t wholly appropriate from time to time.

Getting the reporting right is just the first step to a mature reaction to surveys like this.  Ashe Schow, for example, points out that the survey’s authors admit that their results likely suffer from a “non-response bias,” meaning that people who haven’t had any problems with sexual assault on campus are less likely to bother participating at all.  One possible example of this bias arises in the fact that a very-high 17.5% of respondents say that they are “non-heterosexual,” and the results find that “non-heterosexuals” are twice as likely to report having experienced some sort of “nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching” (including just attempts).

Then there are issues of definition.  “Sexual touching,” for example, includes kissing (anywhere on the body, apparently), buttocks-touching, and rubbing against somebody in a suggestive way (perhaps while dancing, it would seem), “even if the touching is over the other’s clothes.”  A large percentage of such incidents occur off campus, many at restaurants, bars, and clubs.

Another conspicuous data point that hasn’t gotten much play is that by far the greatest numbers of incidents — especially forceful penetration (completed or attempted) — occur in university residence halls or dorms.  Among females in the forceful penetration group, residence halls/dorms account for 84% of incidents, versus 56% in off-campus private residences, and 22% in fraternities or sororities.*  This is stunningly disconnected from the typical image that the media presents and would constitute a risk to a major source of revenue for the university if it were to be a major takeaway from the report.

If these results were reported accurately and honestly, and if the public debate were conducted maturely, the public’s conclusions would surely be much more measured.  And they would blow to pieces the politically motivated spin of everybody from local activists to the President of the United States.

* Note that only a small percentage of students at Brown actually join fraternities or sororities, at 14% for men and 8% for women, according to the College Board.  However, as the comments on this site attest, many non-Greeks attend parties and events at the houses, which is in keeping with the fact that such houses are comparable to bars, restaurants, and clubs for incidents of sexual touching.

Thanks to Instapundit for the link.

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