The first sentence of the White House’s report this week on college sex assaults echoes what both President Obama and Vice President Biden have asserted in public: “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college.” Where does this oft-repeated statistic come from? The Washington Post cites a 2007 study, The Campus Sexual Assault Survey, conducted for the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice. The researchers were led by Christopher Kreb of RTI International. In 2006, researchers used a Web-based survey to interview undergraduates at two large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South.
A total of 5,446 undergraduate women, between the ages of 18-25, participated as part of a random sample. The survey was anonymous and took about 15 minutes to complete. (Participants received a $10 Amazon.com certificate for participating.) It's important to remember that this is a single survey, based on the experiences of students at two universities. As the researchers acknowledged, these results clearly can be generalized to those two large four-year universities, but not necessarily elsewhere. Moreover, the response rate was relatively low. Most of the sexual assaults were identified as rapes, though the report said “sexual battery” could have included “sexual touching,” such as forced kissing or fondling. Information that is localized to the seniors at two colleges has now been extrapolated by politicians to the universe of college experience.