Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Economist: the government's one-in-five number doesn't add up -- using the government's own numbers

Mark Perry, an economics professor for the University of Michigan and a visiting scholar at the AEI, said this: "If you look at virtually any university in America and take the number of reported sexual assaults, and use that number in conjunction with the White House's under-reporting percentage, you don't get one-in-five. Nowhere near." See here

Prof. Perry's information is important because the one-in-five canard is routinely trotted out to justify diminishing the due process rights of presumptively innocent men who are accused of sexual assault. A recent blog post at Ms. Magazine Blog is an example of this blatant hostility to due process -- read it here -- it starts off with this: "One in five college women are sexually assaulted . . . ." (But read the comment after the story by "Fran," who identifies as a feminist -- she sums up the problem better than we could.)

In his recent infamous column on rape, George Will relied on Prof. Perry's study, and was attacked for it. One writer said this: "Will’s interpretation of the data, which relies on a dubious analysis from the American Enterprise Institute — a right-wing group that has a long history of downplaying campus sexual assaults." In fact, Prof. Perry is principally associated with the University of Michigan, but it sounds more evil to tie him to a conservative group. One attack on Prof. Perry's analysis claimed that many sexual assault reports don't make it to campus authorities when local police handle a case. Professor Perry answered their criticisms: It's the White House that claimed the numbers added up in the first place, he said. "If you think there's a problem with these statistics, then you should be looking at the White House."

The fact is, rape laws and policies are shaped by surveys where every rape allegation is uncritically accepted. So uncritically, in fact, that rape victims' advocates don't bother to make sure the one-in-five number is consistent with their own numbers about underreporting.

But there is another, even more troubling, problem about relying on rape surveys where every allegation is uncritically accepted:  none of the claims reported in surveys are tested against competing claims of innocence. Dr. Lisak's work shows us that the majority of rape claims that are reported can't be classified as actual rapes or non-rapes, so why is every claim on a survey -- the majority of which were not reported -- uncritically accepted?

A recent scientific study shows that some women lie on surveys to minimize their consensual sexual encounters, likely because of societal double-standards that find it acceptable for men, but not women, to engage in sexual activity. These lies are designed to bring women in sync with their expected gender role. When women believe they can lie and get away with it, they understate the number of their sexual partners. In contrast, when women are hooked up to a polygraph and believe their lies will not go undetected, they generally report more sexual partners than when they felt no such compulsion to be honest.

Should it surprise anyone, then, that some women report in surveys that they've been subjected to unwanted sex even when the sex was consensual in order to be in sync with societal expectations about gender roles?

The study shows men lie too -- but in the opposite direction: they exaggerate the number of sexual partners when they think their lies won't be detected. Is it any wonder that men don't report that they've been sexually assaulted? Such a claim would not be in keeping with the masculine "ideal" that men are up for sex all the time.

In any event, the impact of sexual assault surveys on public policy is significant, even draconian. Perhaps the best example is that the infamous April 4, 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter cited one such survey as a justification to diminish the due process protections afforded persons accused of sexual misconduct on college campuses (almost always young men). That letter stated: "A report prepared for the National Institute of Justice found that about 1 in 5 women are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault while in college."

It is time for a national conversation about the uncritical acceptance of sexual assault surveys that produce the one-in-five number, and for a critical, unbiased look at their reliability.Unfortunately, the sexual assault milieu is so terribly politicized that attempts even to broach the subject typically are met with vitriol and name calling, not serious, much less respectful, dialogue.

Sexual assault is a serious problem; diminishing due process rights, and justifying it with dubious numbers, is not the way to attack it.