Publicized Study Raises More Questions than Answers

by Lucy Kuchma ’18

Since 2007, when a group of analysts released the results of the “Campus Sexual Assault Study,” the statistic that 1 in 5 women will experience some form of sexual assault on college campuses has made countless headlines and sparked national discussions about the safety of our universities.

However, the study authors never intended for the results to represent all American colleges. In fact, the study only reported on findings at two, intentionally selected large public universities, the names of which were not disclosed. Of the 65,000 students between the two universities, to whom the survey was distributed, 5,446 undergraduate women and 1,375 undergraduate men participated.

The voluntary response sampling method calls into question the reliability of the responders; whether or not the students who submitted the survey were more inclined to be victims of sexual assault. Constant reference by major news sources to the results of such a low-scale and relatively poorly conducted survey opens the door for opponents to counter. Those who do not believe sexual assault on campuses is a substantial problem as others suggest can easily call attention to attacks on the unreliability of the 2007 study.

A more recent study by the AAU (Association of American Universities) in 2015 aimed to produce a more valid statistic, and, in the end, the study yielded a similar proportion: “The incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation among female undergraduate student respondents was 23.1 percent.”

All things considered, the result of the 2007 study was fairly close to subsequent research findings, but it was never intended to be a nationally accepted statistic.