At a press conference last week, Vice President Joe Biden released the White House's recommendations for curbing sexual assault on college campuses. Now, some female conservative pundits are questioning the facts that the White House based its recommendations on — namely, that one in five women will be sexually assaulted by the time they leave college.
On Tuesday, Cathy Young complained in Time that the White House's recommendations are "marred by flaws, including alarmist statistics, fuzzy definitions and a polarizing ideology of presumed guilt." Naomi Schaffer Riley writes in The New York Post today that "liberals" have "embraced the claim that every drunken hookup is rape." Christina Hoff Sommers posits that the one-in-five statistic is "wildly at odds" with national crime reports, in a "Factual Feminist" video for the American Enterprise Institute. All three women agree that sexual assault on campus is a problem. They just don't think it's as much of a problem as the White House and the CDC are making it out to be.
So, where does the one-in-five statistic come from? Riley and Sommers aren't even sure. (A public health professor at the University of Arizona in the '80s? The CDC?) Young was the only one to correctly identify that the statistic comes from the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, which was conducted for the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice. Researchers surveyed both college men and women ages 18 to 25 at two large public universities — one in the Midwest, and one in the South. They found that among senior women,
Almost 20 percent ... experienced some type of sexual assault since entering college, with 6.9 percent experiencing physically forced sexual assault and 16.0 percent experiencing incapacitated sexual assault.
This is the research that Obama cited in during remarks at the White House in January and Biden cited at the press conference last week. The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler points out that the research isn't definitive — responses to the study were slightly low, and two universities may not be representative of colleges across the country — but it's the most up-to-date study about sexual assaults on college campuses, specifically.