Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Understanding The Diversity And Limitations Of Rape Statistics

I've blogged about a variety of statistics related to sexual violence and will often highlight individual reports such as the National Crime Victimization Survey which estimated the number of sexual assaults against those in the US aged 12 and above is over 200,000 and a survey of women in Utah which found 29% of women had been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

In many of my posts I don't reference these estimates because there are people who take one look at even the most conservative estimate and assume it must be false because they don't know anyone who has been sexually assaulted and set out to derail any discussion away from the topic of the post or they simply stop reading.

People who attack numbers provided in official reports based on their personal perceptions ignore the fatally flawed methodology of their own estimates. Some of these negative responses to statistics on sexual violence come from entrenched and intentional denial, but some of it comes from people who mistake their lack of understanding in a variety of related areas for proof that all the data must be disregarded.

A post titled: New US Crime Reports: Flawed Methodology Sharply Underestimates Rape Rates Against Women and Persons with Disabilities on the blog Legal Momentum does a great job of highlighting why the National Crime Victimization Survey results need to be viewed as an severe underestimation of the data they are trying to measure rather than as a true estimation.
Yet a 2007 study by some of the most highly regarded researchers in this field sharply disagrees. Drug-facilitated, Incapacitated and Forcible Rape: A National Study was conducted by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, Director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, along with colleagues from the Medical University of South Carolina. Professor Kilpatrick and his colleagues concluded that in 2006, approximately 800,000 women were subjected to forcible rape, 300,000 women were subjected to drug-facilitated rape involving drugs or alcohol deliberately administered by the perpetrator, and 300,000 women were victims of incapacitated rape, rape committed when they had voluntarily ingested drugs or alcohol and were too high or drunk to consent.

The reason this survey got more positive responses is the exact reason many people will attack it. The questions didn't ask about victimization by label, it asked about victimization with behaviorally-based questions which are a closer match to the contents of criminal statutes.

This survey data highlights that dismissal of rapes after victims are drugged is incorrect. Unfortunately, many people will assume the 300,000 number must be wrong and only measure women's paranoia or refusal to take responsibility for their own behavior based on faulty analysis of what toxicology tests don't show.

According to some of the critics of this type of survey if you don't correctly label what was done to you as a rape or sexual assault then it must not have been traumatic or a real violation. This response ignores the pervasiveness of people who will tell rape survivors that the violence done to them doesn't count as a real rape because they waited too long to say no or because by calling what was done to them rape that they are minimizing the harm done to real victims.

By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different data sets we can get closer to understanding the actual scope of sexual violence in the measured populations. This can help us know how much we don't know and that can lead to important new research. This research is critical not only for awareness, it is critical for primary prevention of sexual violence.

The more people who understand why the same crime-related facts can be estimated with statistics which are so different and seemingly contradictory without any falsification of data the more buy-in we are going to get for changing the facts of sexual violence.

Many people incorrectly assume that crime reporting statistics are not estimates and should be viewed as an actual measure of the number of rapes which were reported. These numbers are underestimates since they do not measure the raw data on what people reported. Earlier this year, the reporting statistics from New Orleans came under fire since over half of the rape reports were classified as non-criminal complaints.

The issues are two-fold: who is excluded from having their experiences measured and how closely do answers match the reality of what researchers are trying to measure.

These issues can be especially important for sub-groups of our population who may be at higher risk than the general population. For example, the National Crime Victimization Survey only surveys regular households which has a greater impact on statistics for persons with disabilities since none of the crimes committed against those who are institutionalized were included.

I highly recommend that everyone who uses rape statistics or has seen them used to deny the full reality of sexual violence read a recent publication by Dr. Kilpatrick called, Understanding Rape Statistics.

H/T: Feministing


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 11:38 AM   0 comments links to this post


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