For years, we have heard that that 1-in-4 or 1-in-5 college women are victims of rape or sexual assault. The studies behind the statistic tended to be agenda-driven and unscientific, but now according to hundreds of news stories, there’s a new, more comprehensive survey that confirms epidemic levels of sexual predation on campus. Could these researchers be right?

“The Association of American Universities released the findings of its massive new report on campus sexual assault,” says Sommers. According to the study approximately 1 in 4 women report instances of unwanted sexual assault during their college tenure. However, the authors caution those estimates may be too high because of the large non-response rate of the survey itself. While close to 800,000 students were sent the survey, only about 150,000 completed it. Students who had suffered sexual assault may have been more likely to complete the survey than those who had not, skewing the percentages upward.

Survey participants were not asked if they had been raped or sexually assaulted, but were asked about a bevy of other behaviors, including whether or not someone had rubbed up against them in a sexual way at a party. Though such advances may have certainly been uninvited, they can’t rightly be lumped in with rape.

Despite the author’s repeated warnings that the statics rendered were over-simplified and likely not accurate, the AAU study is often presented as accurate.

According to Sommers, the most reliable data on the subject comes from the Justice Department. The DOJ says that 1 in 4 number is closer to 1 in 53 — a BIG difference.

Presenting bad statistics as fact detracts from instances of actual sexual assault, demeaning the trauma of its victims. College students should be protected from sexual violence whenever and where ever possible. But, “misleading research undermines those efforts,” says Sommers.

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