Rape@UNH: We're Unclear on the Concept

Both Pun Son and Pun Daughter are current UNH students, so a UNH news article titled "New Report Details Unwanted Sexual Experiences at University" got my attention. The opening paragraph:

A new study conducted by the University of New Hampshire about the unwanted sexual experiences of students shows the vast majority of incidents at the university are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, which is in direct contrast to the stereotype of the perpetrator being a stranger.

The report got nationwide attention from Inside Higher Ed. Our local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, also picked up the story in an article by Jason G. Howe:

University of New Hampshire students beware; friends are more likely to make unwanted sexual contact or commit rape than a stranger.

Whoa. Although the Foster's reporter didn't hesitate to use the word "rape", the actual report is much more reluctant to do so. The entire PDF report is here. And the words "rape" or "rapist" do not appear in the report. They don't show up in the official UNH press release either.

Why does UNH shy away from that term?

Do they want to avoid legalisms? Maybe, but the report has no problem with using "victim" (28 instances, including "victimizing", and "victimization"). Nor are they reluctant to use the term "perpetrator" (49 instances). The closest we get to something-that-might-be-rape in the report is in a single sentence:

3% of the women reported unwanted sexual intercourse when a perpetrator used force or the threat of force.
That's close. But is it rape? The report doesn't say, because that's not what they asked in their survey.

Probably required reading at this point is Heather MacDonald's City Journal article on "The Campus Rape Myth". These paragraphs seemed possibly explanatory:

During the 1980s, feminist researchers committed to the rape-culture theory had discovered that asking women directly if they had been raped yielded disappointing results—very few women said that they had been. So Ms. [magazine] commissioned University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss to develop a different way of measuring the prevalence of rape. Rather than asking female students about rape per se, Koss asked them if they had experienced actions that she then classified as rape. Koss’s method produced the 25 percent rate, which Ms. then published.

Koss’s study had serious flaws. Her survey instrument was highly ambiguous, as University of California at Berkeley social-welfare professor Neil Gilbert has pointed out. But the most powerful refutation of Koss’s research came from her own subjects: 73 percent of the women whom she characterized as rape victims said that they hadn’t been raped. Further—though it is inconceivable that a raped woman would voluntarily have sex again with the fiend who attacked her—42 percent of Koss’s supposed victims had intercourse again with their alleged assailants.

Ye gods. Is that what's going on here? Certainly there's a lot of talk about "rape culture" here at UNH, and there's probably a small fraction of people with an ideological investment in the concept. A big enough fraction to cause self-reported "unwanted sexual contact" to be overstated? Maybe.

At Phi Beta Cons, Robert VerBruggen compares UNH numbers with DOJ crime statistics on rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault, and concludes:

… the most-assaulted demographic group [females age 16-19] had a rate of about 6 per 1,000 over a whole year. If 3 in every 100 female students at the University of New Hampshire get forcibly raped every six months, that's at least ten times the rate in the general population. Either the 3 percent number is high, or there really is a campus rape crisis of ridiculous proportions — and we need to sex-segregate higher ed immediately.
My guess, and probably VerBruggen's guess as well, is that the number is high, inflated by vague language used in the report and survey, where it's easy to conflate criminal behavior with poor judgment and misread signals, and there's no incentive to be precise and honest.

Just so there's zero misunderstanding: rape is a serious issue, and should be dealt with with compassion for the victims and mercilessness for the perpetrators. This kind of report, at best, fuzzes up the issue; it doesn't help anything.

URLs du Jour—2008-05-09

  • Looking to see how well your Congressional representatives are doing in promoting economic liberty and prosperity? If you can stand the bad news, the Club for Growth has released its 2007 scorecard based on votes on key issues. My NH-specific observations:

    • After scoring a perfect 100% in 2005 and 2006, Senator Sununu dropped to a 75% last year, only good for 23rd-best in the Senate. Could he be "moderating" his stands in preparation for his re-election bid?

    • Senator Gregg's scores: 99%, 92%, and 79%, good for 4th, 11th, and 19th place, respectively.

    • Oh, but wait. It gets worse. In her first year as a House member, Carol Shea-Porter earned a 1% score, putting her in a solid 394th place among her colleagues.

    • Paul Hodes, also a House freshman, scored an almost-as-dismal 6%, for 326th place.

    • Elections matter. Both Shea-Porter and Hodes replaced Republicans with mediocre, but not bottom-dwelling, scores.

  • But there's good news out of Great Britain: Great tits cope well with warming. With pictures!

  • Yeah, I'm like, ten years old. That was via Rich Galen.