For the first time since its release, the now-debunked “one in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college” statistic from the National Institute of Health’s Campus Sexual Assault Study has been disavowed by a high-ranking public official, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
According to the Washington Examiner earlier today, mention of the exorbitantly high “one in five” rate of sexual assault of women between the ages of 18 and 21 years was quietly removed from Gillibrand’s own Campus Accountability and Safety Act resources webpage. This removal occurred last week after the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the actual rate of women experiencing sexual assaults while in college was closer to one in 41, not one in five.
Gillibrand’s webpage still links to a lesser known 2005 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study, which in turn links to a 2000 NIJ study that uses a one-in-38 victimization rate derived by yet another contemporaneous study. However, the 2000 study, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” spuriously “projected” (see pp. 10-11) the results to come up with the “one in five” likelihood of a college-aged woman being raped during a five-year undergraduate academic career.
Also, Gillibrand still asserts on her resources webpage that college-going women are more likely to be sexually assaulted than their non-college-going counterparts—something the recent Bureau of Justice Statistics study also debunks.
In spite of the shortfalls of Gillibrand’s unofficial and unannounced revisions to her website, the Community for the Wrongly Accused (COTWA) lauded the move as a “Victory for the Truth” in a post published today on its website: “Sen. Gillibrand’s nod to reality is a good start. All persons of good will need to go on a full-scale offensive to discredit any reliance on the one-in-five statistic.”
COTWA pointed out the long list of “one in five” statistic critics, including the lead author of the one-in-five study, Christopher Krebs, who recently told Slate that “We don’t think one in five is a nationally representative statistic”; The Washington Post, which stated that the stat couldn’t be called representative; and The New York Times, which called the stat “flawed.” “As if none of that were enough,” added COTWA, to top off the list, “Scott Berkowitz, head of the national advocacy group RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network], says the 1 in 5 stat ‘is probably too high.'”
Gillibrand and numerous other lawmakers—including President Obama and Joe Biden—have used the “one in five” statistic to justify legislative and administrative action to erode the rights of the accused in U.S. institutions of higher learning that receive Title IX funding. The most notable policy implemented, the now infamous “Dear Colleague” letter released in 2011 by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, has been criticized by many for its drastic reduction in the standard of evidence used to find the accused guilty. More recently, Gillibrand and fellow Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) have championed the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which, among other things, will impose stiffer penalties for schools found in violation of Title IX policies.
In April of this year, the White House released a report by its very own Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. In its final recommendations, the report states that recent recommendations by the Department of Education should extend into elementary and secondary education institutions.
Gillibrand’s distancing of herself from the National Institute of Health’s Campus Sexual Assault Study comes after several months of highly publicized and controversial claims of sexual assaults on college campuses that turned out to be false. Most recently, Rolling Stone published an article featuring the claims of a woman named “Jackie” who said she had been gang-raped at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia. The story has been widely discredited, and the magazine has faced harsh criticism in the press for what many have labeled irresponsible journalism.
Earlier this year, Brett Sokolow, the president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, expressed concern that there were a growing number of false rape accusations and that the new guidelines for dealing with sexual assaults on campus were “making Title IX litigants” of the accused.