Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dear George Will – Let’s Get Real about “Real Rape” and Its Prevalence on Campus

I didn’t leave the factory without the math chip being installed. But, frankly, I have not found it as necessary in serving the needs of the persons and communities around me until just now.
George Will, in his June 6 column for the Washington Post’s website (you’ll find it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/george-will-college-become-the-victims-of-progressivism/2014/06/06/e90e73b4-eb50-11e3-9f5c-9075d5508f0a_story.html), draws the ire of many in the sexual assault victims’ advocacy community by using sexual assault statistics as a means for condemning the federal government’s continuing intrusion into all matters public and private alike. He’s free to confront expansive government all he wants. But I do object to his misguided and inaccurate marginalization of those who are being objectified, exploited, oppressed, and destroyed by the continued pattern of sexual violence on American college campuses.
He suggests that what he perceives to be over-reporting of sexual assault (i.e., “We’re just making this up,” is what I understand him to claim.) is a result of the fact that rape victims enjoy “a coveted status that confers privileges” with the result that “victims proliferate.” Well, I would agree that victims continue to proliferate. But it is because of marginalization and shaming like that in his op-ed piece more so than it is by throngs of young women eagerly seeking to “join the club” by experiencing sexual assault.
If George Will is right about the statistics (which would depend upon the definitions used by those collecting the statistics—specifically, he mentions the Ohio State University officials to whom just 98 “sexual assaults” were reported “in the years 2009 to 2012”), then we should accept his assertion that the claim is spurious that “one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college.” But only if his math checks out (and only if he isn’t playing sleight-of-hand by conflating “real rape” and “sexual assault” statistics and, since he doesn’t footnote as an "opinion writer," it’s impossible to tell).
His calculations: 98 assaults reported, taken to be 12% of the assaults which actually occurred. Thus, 817 assaults total among a population of 28,000. He gets that as 2.9% rather than 20% of the population. Now, in any “averaging,” anomalies abound. It could be that Ohio State is so far outside the norm as to be roughly 85% safer than most other college campuses. It could also be that there are some missing statistics in Will’s calculations.
For one thing, can we count to four? No. We’ve been out of school too long, apparently. Statistics from Ohio Statue University for the “academic years 2009-2012” (2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12 – for a total of 3 years) is not the same as “for the calendar years 2009-2012” (4). Multiply the statistics for the three selected years (which are, remember, suspiciously low) by 33%. Still, we’re now only talking about 130 assaults, instead of the 98 that Will represents in those “four” years in which, "some claim," there are one-in-five college women assaulted.
On this next matter, though, I have to admit to moving beyond the statistics available. I don’t know if every sexual assault counts in the eyes of Ohio State University officials. But knowing the anecdotal evidence from campus safety officers elsewhere and the vast difference between those and the “officially reported” statistics that show zero reports in categories for which there were definitely incidents on a particular campus, I believe I can be allowed to make the assumption below.
So, consider that there are multiple categories of sexual assault that do not involve the physical penetration of a penis into a vagina. What percentage do we assign to “real rape” as opposed to these other categories? To use an illustration from my previous post, “The Euphemisms of Sexual Assault,” being subjected to an “inappropriate touch” by someone who had become “overzealous” would be unlikely to generate a police report in the campus office that must also share those statistics with potential students and their parents. Is the physical act of penetration completed in 50% of all assaults? Hardly. Is it as much as a quarter of the time? Not according to the counselees who’ve shared their stories with me.
For the sake of the math, let’s assume that the rate of “real rape” is as high as 20% of all sexual assaults committed, only against women, and we'll also limit ourselves to the four year period Will alludes to (though we’ll actually count to four, not three). If we’re right about the assumptions we’re forced to make by Will’s nebulous terminology, then there would be 130 rapes reported. If that figure represents, as he notes, 12% of the rapes which actually occurred, then instead of 817, we’re looking at 1086. Using our highly subjective evaluation that as many as one-fifth of sexual assaults involve “real rape,” then every four years at Ohio State University, on average, a total of 5430 women students should expect to be sexually assaulted.
Will does get one statistic right. Ohio State’s website shows a total enrollment on their Columbus campus of 57,466, with a male/female ratio of 50/50. So, of the 28,000 women about whom he writes: only 19.4% will be victims of sexual assault, not 20%. At least not at Ohio State University during the years that Will selected for his calculations.
Thank you, George. We stand corrected. But we're still not going to run out and try to join the privileged class of rape victims. Far too many of us are already there.

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