Here is one statistic that has always bothered me:
"One in four college women have survived a rape or attempted rape."
This just seems so intuitively wrong. How could the rate of victimization be so high? If this statistic is true, the situation is even more dire than it may appear.
If we assume that roughly 75 percent of female undergraduates have sex while they're in college (the actual number may be even lower), this would mean that 1 out of every 3 sexually active college women has survived a rape or attempted rape.
Why, then, is the reported rate of victimization so low? How do we account for this enormous disparity? (See these crime statistics from Rutgers University for a representative example.)
I can think of only two explanations. Either the rate of under-reporting is astoundingly high, or the "one in four" statistic is dramatically overstated. Perhaps some combination of the two.
Unsurprisingly, many advocacy groups have uncritically adopted the "one in four" statistic, insisting that it proves the rate of under-reporting is well above 90 percent. For years, these groups have argued that "one in four" points to a "rape epidemic" on college campuses, requiring enormous and ever-more-expensive resources.
But from a policy perspective, isn't important to know whether the scope of the problem is actually as large as these organizations claim? Knowing the scope of the problem means knowing how to properly allocate resources.
The more I read, the more I suspect the "one in four" statistic may be bogus . . .
Update: I should add that I do believe that many rapes go unreported. The issue, in my mind, is the scale of the under-reporting and the methodology employed to measure that scale.
I highly doubt that the scope of under-reporting is as large as many advocacy groups claim, and I think that many of the studies that are used to investigate this question suffer from serious design flaws.
If nothing else, we should all acknowledge that statistics on rape are some of the most complex statistics out there.
Update II: I think this is the key point:
[T]he most serious indication that something was basically awry in the Ms./Koss study was that the majority of women she classified as having been raped did not believe they had been raped. Of those Koss counts as having been raped, only 27 percent thought they had been; 73 percent did not say that what happened to them was rape. In effect, Koss and her followers present us with a picture of confused young women overwhelmed by threatening males who force their attentions on them during the course of a date but are unable or unwilling to classify their experience as rape. Does that picture fit the average female undergraduate? For that matter, does it plausibly apply to the larger community?
As the journalist Cathy Young observes, "Women have sex after initial reluctance for a number of reasons . . . fear of being beaten up by their dates is rarely reported as one of them." Katie Roiphe, a graduate student in English at Princeton and author of The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, argues along similar lines when she claims that Koss had no right to reject the judgment of the college women who didn't think they were raped. But Katha Pollitt of The Nation defends Koss, pointing out that in many cases people are wronged without knowing it. Thus we do not say that "victims of other injustices--fraud, malpractice, job discrimination--have suffered no wrong as long as they are unaware of the law."
Pollitt's analogy is faulty, however. If Jane has ugly financial dealings with Tom and an expert explains to Jane that Tom has defrauded her, then Jane usually thanks the expert for having enlightened her about the legal facts. To make her case, Pollitt would have to show that the rape victims who were unaware that they were raped would accept Koss's judgment that they really were. But that has not been shown; Koss did not enlighten the women she counts as rape victims, and they did not say "now that you explain it, we can see we were." Koss and Pollitt make a technical (and
in fact dubious) legal point: women are ignorant about what counts as rape. Roiphe makes a straightforward human point: the women were there, and they know best how to judge what happened to them. Since when do feminists consider "law" to override women's experience?