I was reading a transcript of a Donahue show (via Ms Musings) themed around the question “are women getting a free ride?,” an episode devoted mainly to anti-feminists Warren Farrell, Marc Angelucci and Peter Allemano (Farrell is the author of the men’s rights classic The Myth of Male Power, Angelucci and Allemano help run the National Coalition of Free Men). Also present was Gloria Allred, there to provide feminist counterpoints, and several more anti-feminists to speak on specific anti-feminist issues (a pinch of bitter divorced men, a sprinkling of anti-Title-IX jocks). Plus some dude from Stuff magazine for comic relief.
As usual, a lot of factual claims got tossed around. Many of those claims are things I know nothing about, and so can’t comment on; but there’s quite a few I do know about and would like to comment on – I expect there will be a bunch of posts from me on this subject.
For the most part, I think Allred did a great job, speaking well and refusing to fit into the women vs. men mold the anti-feminists were trying to press her into. But while aruging that “women have a long way to go,” she said “one out of three [women] will be raped sometime in her lifetime.”
According to Dr. Mary Koss’ study (which was conducted in the early to mid eighties), about 15% of college women have been victims of completed rape at some point since age 14.
This result of Koss’ study has been frequently criticized by anti-feminists. But at least three other nationwide studies of lifetime rape prevalence came to similar conclusions; the National Women’s Study found 13% (not available online, sorry), the Centers for Disease Control study found 15%, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics study of college women found 10%.
I don’t think there will ever be a single number that people can point to and say “this is the right answer.” Unreported rape is inherently difficult to measure; there will never be a study that someone can’t find reason to doubt, and every new study will raise new questions. But from the best studies currently available, somewhere between 10% and 15% of American women will be raped in their lifetimes.
So the 33% figure Ms. Allred suggests is way out of line with current research.
Why does this matter? Normally, this isn’t the sort of fact-checking I’d bother posting, because it’s not important to the argument Allred is making: Whether 10% or 33% of women are raped in their lifetime, either way it’s way too high, and either way Allred’s point – that “women still have a long way to go” – is true. From a debate point of view, Ms. Allred’s error isn’t substantial, because correcting the error doesn’t undermine the point she was making.
But there’s more to life than debating. The real statistics, as far as I can make out, are that somewhere between 10% and 15% of American women are raped sometime in their life. That’s terrifying enough; using numbers that are even higher and scarier, especially on national TV, could needlessly frighten people, especially women. The truth is bad enough without exaggeration.
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