As part of the ongoing discussion regarding Silence Is the Enemy (go read, click, donate), there is a commenter, Thomas, in this thread who is terribly concerned that rape statistics in the U.S. are inflated. He’s citing this article by Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers (PhD in philosophy) suggesting that several studies on rape prevalence shouldn’t be quoted because, well, you can read the reasons if you feel like it.
However, one helpful thing that Sommers does point out in this 2004 article is that the Bureau of Justice Statistics annual criminal victimization survey was revamped to ask about rape and sexual assault directly. It hadn’t before 2004. Really. This means that the numbers are available, although Thomas didn’t go out to find them himself.
So I did.
The question as asked in the survey is pretty simple and does not describe what is included in sexual activity. When kids who take abstinence pledges don’t seem to understand that oral or anal sex is still sex, this is an important consideration. Nor does it specify what constitutes coercion.
Incidents involving forced or unwanted sexual acts are often difficult to talk about. (Other than any incidents already mentioned,) have you been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by –
(a) Someone you didn’t know before –
(b) A casual acquaintance –
(c) Someone you know well?
The overall annual rate was 0.1%. Note, that’s an annual rate–0.1% of people in the U.S. over the age of 12 reported being raped or sexually assaulted in 2007. Those numbers are 0.01% for males and 0.18% for females. 71% of those assaulted were under age 25.
Doing some not-so-fancy multiplication of annual rates by years at that rate and adjusting for the gender difference, that gives me a 5.5% victimization rate for women before age 25, 10.4% lifetime, only counting assaults that happened after age 12. This doesn’t count revictimization separately, because the data doesn’t capture that. However, given the looseness of the question, I’m not going to sweat it.
Now these numbers are significantly lower than the numbers Sommers criticizes, 27.5% by college age and 12.5% lifetime. However, there’s one more thing at the Bureau of Justice Statistics site.
Rape rates (and note that this just includes rape, not other sexual assault) have been dropping along with rates of other violent crime. The study on rape among college women was done in 1985, when rates of rape were approximately three times higher than they are now. That means we’re looking at a one-in-six statistic instead of a one-in-four statistic at that time. Are you comforted?
The lifetime rates that displease Sommers, which were generated in 1990, look particularly grim if that same three-times multiplier is applied. Even counting for significant revictimization, which would become a greater factor over time, the one-in-eight figure from 1990 looks quite reasonable, if not conservative.
Nope, I’m unimpressed with the claims that anyone is “crying wolf.”