Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Demagoguery: 1-in-5 Women Sexualy Assulted on Campus Edition

Mark Twain popularized the phrase,  'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'  From time-to-time media outlets report on topics that raise my ire because the statistics quoted to support the argument that there is a crisis somewhere are incredible - without creditability.

From Mark Perry's Carpe Diem:
In a January 2014 report titled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” (which led to the creation of the “Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault” headed by Biden), the White House made the following two statements:
White House Statement 1. Sexual assault is a particular problem on college campuses:1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college (pages 1, 2, 10, 14).
White House Statement 2. Reporting rates for campus sexual assault are also very low: on average only 12% of student victims report the assault to law enforcement (page 14)."
If 20% of the women in college where assaulted in the traditional sense of the word, you'd find parents with pitchforks at the doors of college administrators.  The figure is simply incredible - without credit.

But first, it isn't the traditional sense of the word.  Most of us think of Sexual Assault as Rape or violence close to it.  These reports expand that definition.  Christian Hoff Sommers notes in Time, that academics critical of the study point out that the data are based on an overly broad definition of sexual assault. Respondents were counted as sexual assault victims if they had been subject to “attempted forced kissing” or "engaged in intimate encounters while intoxicated."

The lack of pitchfork armed parents is, in part, due to the fact that kissing while drunk isn't on the sexual assault list for most parents.  Clear minded people might argue that it should be, but I'd doubt they'd win.

She goes on to point out:
"The one-in-five figure is based on the Campus Sexual Assault Study, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and conducted from 2005 to 2007. Two prominent criminologists, Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox and Mount Holyoke College’s Richard Moran, have noted its weaknesses:
“The estimated 19% sexual assault rate among college women is based on a survey at two large four-year universities, which might not accurately reflect our nation’s colleges overall. In addition, the survey had a large non-response rate, with the clear possibility that those who had been victimized were more apt to have completed the questionnaire, resulting in an inflated prevalence figure.”"
So, another reason the ramparts are not manned is that many folks who where not assaulted under any definition perhaps didn't respond to the survey, thus increasing the proportion in the result of those who suffered.

Next as Mark Perry goes on to point out, even if you use the White House method to gross up the reported statistics from the "under reported" actuals you get small numbers.  He points out at University of Florida this would yield 1.27%.  All real sexual assault, as defined in our criminal code, is crime, but 1.27%, 41 actual "forcible sexual offenses" multiplied by the White House's under reporting multiplier yields a 342 estimate of the 27,000 under graduate females.  He has run other analysis using actuals at University of Michigan and Ohio State with similar results.

Arguments abound that women should not have to be in danger while intoxicated on or near college campuses.  This is true.  That reporting sexual assault is a problem for the victim and that authorities don't respond correctly.  This is probably also true.

But buttressing those arguments with statistics blown all out of proportion in order to create the impression of a crisis fostering action is demagoguery.  Merriam-Webster defines a demagogue as a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason.

The primary action urged has been to make such widely defined 'assaults' subject to extra-legal punishment delivered via the college administration rather than courts.  This is a very bad idea. 

Accurate Reality:  Sexual Assault on or near college campuses is not happening at anywhere near the rate used to justify the alarm.    Obama is engaged in demagoguery with this study and his use of the bully pulpit to sound an alarm and urge action.  If action needs to be taken to ease the ability for victims to make allegations without public censure or to ensure authorities act appropriately, then do so.

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