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02 May 2014

How many women can expect to be subjected to a sexual assault while they attend college?

According to a report cited by the White House, the answer is 1 in 5. Unfortunately for the White House, they screwed up the math in coming up with that figure. Badly. Mark Perry explains:

In a January 2014 report titled "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action" (which led to the creation of the Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault headed by Biden), the White House Council on Women and Girls made the following two statements:

  1. Sexual assault is a particular problem on college campuses: 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.
  2. Reporting rates for campus sexual assault are also very low: on average only 12% of student victims report the assault to law enforcement.

But there's a big problem here. Taken together, those two claims above from the White House, if both are accurate, mean that nowhere near 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college. As I reported in January on CD after the release of the White House's "renewed call to action" report:

The problem is that the two sets of numbers the White House uses don’t work together. If you look at virtually any university in America and take the number of reported sexual assaults, and use that number in conjunction with the White House's under-reporting percentage, you don't get one-in-five. Nowhere near. Do the math yourself.

Now, rather than make everyone suffer through the kind of post-traumatic stress disorder associated with reliving one's experience in Algebra class, we thought we'd take the math and automate it in the tool below, so you can correctly do the kind of math that the President's White House staff cannot.

The default data is based on four years worth of sexual assault data reported from 2009 through 2012 for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but you're more than welcome to enter numbers that might apply for sexual assaults on your particular campus of interest:

Data for Sexual Assaults on Campus
Input Data Values
Number of Reported Sexual Assaults (During Four Year Period)
Estimated Percentage of Sexual Assaults That Are Reported to Authorities [%]
Estimated Percentage Involving Female Students [%]
College Campus Student Population Data
Total Student Population on Campus [in Single Year]
Percentage of Female Students [%]

Estimated Total of Sexual Assaults on Campus
Calculated Results Values
Total Sexual Assaults on Female Students (During Four Year Period)
Percentage Probability of Female Student Experiencing Sexual Assault
Odds of Female Student Experiencing Sexual Assault (1 in ...)

So, we see that rather than 1 in 5 women experiencing a sexual assault during their time in college at UW-Madison, a reputed hotbed of sexual assaults among all U.S. college campuses, if we use the White House's own reported figure that only 12% of all sexual assaults upon women on campus are actually reported, we find that the actual odds for a female student to experience a sexual assault during their time in college are closer to 1 in 20.

Unless, that is, you think the White House is lying about there only being 12% of the sexual assaults that occur that are reported. In that case, if you believe the White House's claim that 1 in 5 female students are sexually assaulted during the typical four year period in which they attend college, then you really believe that the police and administrators at these college campuses are only reporting 3.06% of all the sexual assaults that are occurring. Which would mean that the people in these positions are practically endorsing sexual assaults on campus.

These figures also assume that female students represent 100% of those who are sexually assaulted on campus. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) indicates that approximately 10% of sexual assault victims are male, so you might be interested in re-running the numbers in the tool if you set the estimated percentage of female students that are sexually assaulted to 90% of all assaults.

Here's Mark Perry on why getting the numbers right matters:

While even one sexual assault is unacceptable, it should also be unacceptable for the White House to spread false, exaggerated and misleading data about campus sexual assaults – it completely undermines their case.

And now they have no excuses for not getting their numbers right - we've built the tool to do the math properly for them.

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Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

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