A Closer Look at Last Year’s Most Shocking Statistic

In today’s age of easy to access information and grass roots movements, many Americans are finally learning about the reality and prevention methods of sexual assault, especially here at HHS. Last year, all Common Grounds were shown two videos: one was a New Zealand sexual assault prevention PSA and the other was a short video featuring many prestigious celebrities and politicians (including Steve Carrel and President Obama). The second video stated that as many as 1 out of 5 female college students are sexually assaulted, which means, according to The National Center for Educational Statistics as of 2007, 2,080,0001 female college students were sexually assaulted. However, where did this number come from? And is it accurate?

The number came from two studies, The Campus Sexual Assault Study (2007) and the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, conducted by the Justice Department and CDC respectively. The first study only involved two public universities (out of 629 four year public universities in the United States)2 . From those two colleges, 16,162 women were surveyed (out of 10.4 million women attending college). Casting aside the debate on whether or not the criteria the survey used was effective or not, this study alone is too small to accurately represent every single female college student in the United States. An independent study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute at the University of Wisconsin found that only 1,141 reported and unreported sexual assaults occurred out of the 22,329 female students in attendance over a four year period, making the number roughly 1 out of every 20 female students are sexually assaulted4. While this study also isn’t representative of the entire country, it shows how the Justice Department’s study isn’t faultless. The entire survey can be found here: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf

The second survey’s criteria of sexual violence notably differed from what most people consider to be sexual violence. Doing some research on the definition of sexual assault, I found that Miriam-Webster dictionary defined sexual assault as3:

 “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority”

When describing the different types of sexual violence, the study curiously had this definition under sexual coercion.

“Sexual coercion is defined as unwanted sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way. In NISVS, sexual coercion refers to unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sex after being pressured in ways that included being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, being told promises that were untrue, having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority”

Nowhere does it mention the use of violence, despite the survey being used to determine how much sexual violence is committed in the country. That definition sounds a lot more like sexual harassment, which Miriam-Webster defines as:

“uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (as an employee or student)”5

Based off of this definition and the different wordings of many different sexual assault and sexual harassment PSAs that are in circulation, many people would disagree with the study’s criteria of what is sexual violence. The entire study can be found here:


Is sexual assault on college campuses a problem in this country? Yes, in fact it is a problem that every country faces, because until the number of sexual assaults drops down to zero, the problem will always be there. But is it as prevalent as the White House video says it is? According to the facts that have been mentioned, not really. Until a study is conducted that takes a sizeable sample of students from multiple different universities in different areas of the country, and until a set of criteria which differentiates sexual violence from sexual harassment, we will always have to closely examine any study that is presented as fact use our own judgment to decide if it is truly fact or fabrication. The same can be said for any study that one wishes to use as a reference.


1: http://howtoedu.org/college-facts/how-many-people-go-to-college-every-year/

2: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0908742.html

3: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexual%20assault

4: http://www.aei.org/publication/how-about-a-renewed-call-for-the-white-house-to-stop-spreading-false-information-about-campus-sexual-assault/

5: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexual%20harassment

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