That's almost two-thirds.
Our mission is to give voice to the wrongly accused, not to insist that women routinely lie about rape. Sexual assault is a real problem, and it should not be trivialized by offhandedly asserting that the stats touting its prevalence are lies. But the 62 percent stat might suggest that a serious conversation about the subject -- one that is sensitive to the reality of sexual assault -- is overdue. Stats touting an astounding prevalence of sexual assault do raise concerns, and they might be telling people the opposite of what their purveyors are intending to convey. They might be numbing people into complacency about a serious problem.
If 62 percent of our daughters were victims of armed robbery at college, don't you think there would an international outcry over it? If 62 percent of our daughters were victims of serious car accidents while they were at college, their parents probably would be taking the keys away from them, or at the very least, they'd be calling the daughters every day to remind them to buckle up and drive safely. The reason parents don't do react with similar determination when it comes to sexual assault is not because they think rape is okay, they just don't think it happens that often.
When our insistence that something is an epidemic doesn't match the public's collective sense of reality or experience, aren't we hurting our own cause? Aren't we trivializing a problem that is serious for too many people? When most people hear that fully 62 percent of our college daughters supposedly are victims of sexual assault (however broadly that is defined), many, and probably most, parents will think the stats strain credulity -- and that kind of thinking undermines confidence in the way "sexual assault" is presented in news reports and public service announcements.
What's a more effective way to alert the public about the horrors of rape -- (1) keep insisting that it is happening to a massive segment of the female population when most people aren't buying it, or (2) show actual photographs of high school boys carting off an incapacitated girl to have their way with her while playing the audio of a boy giggling about how his friends used the girl as their personal sex toy (caption: "How would you feel if it was your daughter or your sister?")? The second approach paints a picture that rightly offends the sensibilities of every decent person. The first is ineffective to the point that it may be hurting the cause.
The persons who truly think that 62% of all college women are victims of sexual assault ought to back up their claims with facts. Take a few hundred claims and subject them to rigorous testing -- don't just take the word of the accuser, evaluate all the evidence, including the narrative of the alleged perpetrator. (In the Campus Sexual Assault survey, 19 percent of the women reported experiencing a completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college, while 2.5 percent of the men reported being perpetrators. Why the disparity? The National Institute of Justice suggests as one possibility: "Men and women may have different perceptions of the same incident.") Then subject the evidence to an objective, unbiased evaluation. None of the polls relied on to reach these astounding statistics do that -- they typically rely on the assertions of the women they survey. If done correctly, the results of such analyses will reveal what every seasoned prosecutor already knows: some claims are demonstrably false or otherwise non-rapes; some claims are clearly rapes; the vast majority can't be classified one way or the other. This is the case for reported rape claims, and it wouldn't be any different for unreported claims (except there probably would be more "unknowns" among unreported claims).
Does any of that lessen the seriousness of sexual assault?
We hope, for the sake of sexual assault victims, that the 62 percent stat doesn't gain wide circulation among sexual assault victim's advocates. Here in the U.S., Heather MacDonald was famously skeptical of the claim that one-in-four American college women are raped or have been the targets of attempted rape* as was Christina Hoff Sommers. Chad Hermann took the underreporting statistics commonly used by sexual assault victims advocates (he even used a percentage much higher than the percentage RAINN posits) to demonstrate that the one-in-four statistic isn't even in the same universe as reality. (One radical feminist blogger insisted that we were guilty of spreading "misinformation" by citing to Mr. Hermann's article, but didn't bother to explain why.)
We should all be offended by sexual assault, but that doesn't mean we should accept statistics that are suspect to the point of insulting people's intelligence.
If the one-in-four statistic is correct—it is sometimes modified to “one-in-five to one-in-four”—campus rape represents a crime wave of unprecedented proportions. No crime, much less one as serious as rape, has a victimization rate remotely approaching 20 or 25 percent, even over many years. The 2006 violent crime rate in Detroit, one of the most violent cities in America, was 2,400 murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults per 100,000 inhabitants—a rate of 2.4 percent. The one-in-four statistic would mean that every year, millions of young women graduate who have suffered the most terrifying assault, short of murder, that a woman can experience. Such a crime wave would require nothing less than a state of emergency—Take Back the Night rallies and 24-hour hotlines would hardly be adequate to counter this tsunami of sexual violence. Admissions policies letting in tens of thousands of vicious criminals would require a complete revision, perhaps banning boys entirely. The nation’s nearly 10 million female undergrads would need to take the most stringent safety precautions. Certainly, they would have to alter their sexual behavior radically to avoid falling prey to the rape epidemic.