Deflating the Date Rape Scare:
A Look At Campus Police Records

Guest article byMichael P. Wright
Scientific Social Research
Norman, Oklahoma

It's not unusual for alcohol to accompany sex. This is particularly true in the opening stage of a sexual relationship. Alcohol helps dissolve inhibitions. It is often a feature of sexual communication. A man and a woman who agree to share alcoholic beverages during an evening spent alone together are very likely hinting their sexual attraction towards one another. Surely, no sensible woman would agree to be alone with a man late at night and share drinks with him if she found him unattractive.

It's not uncommon for a couple to have a few drinks together, loosen up their inhibitions, and have sex. The next morning, the woman may wake up and have a few regrets about it. Maybe some guys don't look as good in the sobriety of morning light as they do under dim light after a few drinks. Episodes of morning-after regret have likely been commonplace in our society. Should this fact justify alarm? I don't think so.

On the contrary, reasonable people should be alarmed about the fact that an ideologically-biased survey purporting to measure the problem of sexual crime in university environments has incorporated such events into its definition of rape, and has been used to generate the belief that "one in four" college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape during their years on campus. For more than a decade, this fear has been promoted in the annual gender warfare campaign known as "Rape Awareness Week" conducted on campuses throughout the nation.

Our information about the survey comes from a critical review of it by Christina Hoff Sommers, associate professor of philosophy at Clark University. According to Sommers, the survey had been the subject of a 1985 MS magazine report by Mary Koss, who was chosen by MS to direct it. Koss and her team interviewed about three thousand college women, randomly selected. For purposes of tabulating results, a respondent was counted as a "rape victim" if she answered "yes" to any of several questions, including this one:

    Have you ever had sexual intercourse when you didn't
    want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?

Any woman who ever had the experience of sharing alcohol, having sex with a man, and later regretting it for any reason could answer "yes" to this question. By counting "yes" answers to this as affirmative evidence, Koss was able to reach the conclusion that a total of 27.5 percent of the respondents had been victims of rape or attempted rape. Interestingly, many of those she counted as victims did not see it that way themselves. Only about a quarter of the so-called victims in this survey labeled what happened to them as rape. About half described the incidents as "miscommunication."

In spite of the dubious scientific merits of the survey, the results claimed by its director have become established dogma driving the annual "Rape Awareness Week" events now institutionalized on many of our nation's campuses.

Every year, The Oklahoma Daily, student newspaper of the University of Oklahoma, gives generous uncritical coverage to Rape Awareness Week. During the fall 1996 term, without interviewing any skeptical scholars who might question it, the Daily reported that "one in four college women will be sexually assaulted during college" (November 11, 1996). Rape awareness literature passed out at OU during earlier years has repeatedly made the claim that "1 in 4 women report being a victim of rape or attempted rape during their years in college."

The "1 in 4" claim has been made with reference to rape, sexual assault, and attempted rape. Although there are legal distinctions to be made with respect to these forms of sexual misconduct, females untrained in legal nuances can be led to believe that they simply have "one chance in four" of being raped during a college student career.

The problem is that the "1-in-4" chant bears little relationship to reality. A review of OU enrollment data and information supplied by campus police yielded the estimate that the annualized rape risk for 1996 freshmen women at OU was 1 chance in 476. That's a little less alarming than 1-in-4. The remainder of this article describes the methodology for arriving at this estimate.

The first step was to call Neal Stone of the OU Police Department (OUPD), and ask how many on-campus rapes have been reported for the year. He answered two rapes for the first ten months of calendar year 1996. On a 12-month basis, this would convert to an annual rate of 2.4 rapes.

The Oklahoma Daily article reported that from 70% to 80% of all rapes are "acquaintance rapes." Stone was quoted saying that only 10% of these are reported. Accepting 10% as an estimate of the reporting rate, the true number of OU annual rapes would be 24, which is 10 times 2.4.

The next step was to project how many female members of the 1996 freshman class could be expected to be raped in the course of a 6-year undergraduate career, if the 1-in-4 claim is true. For this it was necessary to estimate the average annual size, over the 6-year period, of the entering female cohort for 1996, after adjusting for expected drop-outs. After Provost Emeritus J.R. Morris provided drop-out rates, this table was constructed:

    Fall 96Freshmen women:1904
    Year 2Retention:1409
    Year 3Retention:1323
    Year 6Retention:967

For the six years, the average size of the cohort would be about 1400. A freshman female operating on uncritical acceptance of the 1-in-4 claim would calculate that 350 members of her class will be rape victims during their college experience. Over 6 years, the average annual number of rapes expected by her would be 58 for the 1996 first-year group (350 / 6).

The next step is to compare the expectation derived from reliance on the 1-in-4 claim to that indicated by local evidence supplied by the OUPD. After adjusting for under-reporting, from 1996 data we accept 24 as the estimated annual number of OU campus rapes. Since the analysis is based on a 6-year undergraduate career, members of the 1996 freshman class can expect to be victimized at the rate of 4 per year (24/6).

Reliance on the 1-in-4 claim leads to the estimate of 58 rapes annually for the 1996 freshman cohort, and magnifies the perception of risk to be 14.5 times greater (58/4) than can be justified by examining police reports of actual rapes and adjusting substantially for under-reporting.

For 1996 freshmen women, the annualized rape risk can be obtained by dividing the number of expected rapes (based upon police data) by the size of the female freshman class. The result is 4/1904, or 1 chance in 476. The creation of the numerator 4 was obviously affected by some imprecision, since not all cohorts are the same size, and cohort membership can change due to differing rates of academic completion. After allowing for this, it still remains clear that an examination of local evidence adjusted substantially for expected under-reporting does not come close to justifying the level of rape anxiety being promoted by OU Date Rape Awareness campaigners.

The true number of OU annual rapes might not be as high as 24. This estimate relied upon the assumption that 90% of all rapes are not reported. Since no local survey evidence was cited by The Oklahoma Daily to justify this, it must be taken as highly speculative. If the true under-reporting rate is lower than 90%, then the actual number of rapes will be smaller than 24, and the degree of discordance between officially-promoted rape anxiety and the level justified by actual risk will be even greater.

Copyright © 1998, by Michael Phillip Wright

Additional information concerning this subject, along with updated references and data, can be found here.

See also: Date Rape's Other Victim by Katie Roiphe.

Michael Wright is a sociologist, health researcher, writer, and musician residing in Norman, Oklahoma. The recipient of four federal research grants for the study of computer risk assessment for sexually transmitted diseases, he is listed in the 24th and 25th editions of Who's Who in the South and Southwest, published by Marquis, and has written for both health science and general interest publications.

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