The Trouble with Numbers promotes a likely myth | Guest Column

Submitted by Philip Cook.

Editor Heather Spaulding in the Editorial “The Trouble With Numbers” misses a basic journalistic ethic-Be skeptical in reporting “facts” from advocacy groups-especially from those that you personally or politically feel yourself aligned with. This is not the first time Spaulding has done this in these pages.

Spaulding declared ”One in five women are raped.’’ She added: “I had a debate with a close relative about that last number. He didn’t believe it despite the fact that I was reading it directly off the website from the National Sexual Violence Center.”

So what is this organization? Is it a government agency? No. Academic-based publisher of peer-reviewed journals? No. According to their website: “Provides research and tools to advocates working on the frontlines to end sexual harassment, assault and abuse.”

Nothing is wrong with that of course, but they are admitted advocates for their own point of view regarding these issues. It is not atypical of many such groups of all political persuasions to engage in exaggeration and lack of nuance at least in creating a narrative that can be best described as fear-mongering. It’s a crisis! Support us!

Different surveys such as the Koss surveys in which the thirty-year-old stat of one in five is based show different results. The Koss type surveys for example rather than asking students if they were sexually assaulted ask students if they were subjected to certain behaviors. For example, they ask if students ever had sex after their partner ‘expressed displeasure’ or criticized their attractiveness. Students who answer affirmatively are counted in the one-in-five statistic.

By contrast, a survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (the research wing of the Justice Department) asked students if they had ever been raped or sexually assaulted. The survey produced results far lower; “less than one percent of women reported that they had been sexually assaulted in any given year.”

The Washington Post One in five women in college sexually assaulted: the source of this statistic – The Washington found that ”The National Institute of Justice notes 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.” NIJ adds: “Regardless of which studies are most accurate, the often-quoted statistic that one in four American college women will be raped during her college years is not supported by the scientific evidence.”…

“Nonetheless, several studies indicate that a substantial proportion of female students — between 18 and 20 percent — experience rape or some other form of sexual assault during their college years.”

Spaulding in a front-page non-editorial headline has previously declared that there is an “epidemic” of campus rape crimes. There is simply no evidence to support such a contention that it is a growing phenomena. In fact, one of the safest places for young women to be is on a college campus.

Spaulding could begin the journey to being a better journalist-start with being skeptical; beware of being used by those with an agenda of any sort. Be Careful. Stay local.

Philip W. Cook is a former A.P award-winning daily broadcast journalist who says one of his favorite anthologies that he has contributed to is entitled “Abuse Your Illusions.”(Disinformation Press). Among the peer-reviewed publications he has written for, he likes the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment (Volume 4 No. 4). Now retired and living on San Juan Island