Have One In Five College Women Been Sexually Assaulted? It’s Not Certain


The Washington Post has again analyzed the oft-reported statistic that one in five women on college campuses are sexually assaulted. Such reports prompted the White House this year launch a task force on the issue, and President Obama used the one in five figure, which was also in the first sentence of the group’s April report. The statistic is derived from a 2007 study conducted for the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice. Researchers led by Christopher Krebs of RTI International surveyed undergraduates at two large public universities, one in the Midwest and one in the South. A total of 5,446 undergraduate women took part in a random sample. The response rate was low.

The Post says “information that is localized to the seniors at two colleges has now been extrapolated by politicians to the universe of college experience.” NIJ says that rapes and other forms of sexual assault are among the most underreported crimes, but that “researchers have been unable to determine the precise incidence of sexual assault on American campuses because the incidence found depends on how the questions are worded and the context of the survey.” This month, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new study on the subject that suggested much lower levels of sexual assault than indicated in the 2007 study. The Post’s fact checker analyzes “issues” with various surveys on the subject. “Given the uncertainty of the research–and various surveys and anecdotal accounts indicating there likely is a serious problem of sexual assault on campuses across the country,” the Post awards this statistic a single “Pinocchio.”

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