Headlines citing a study finding one in three college men would rape a women if they could get away with it are splashed all over Feminist Internet — despite the fact that this stat is based on a survey of just 73 guys at the University of North Dakota.
These headlines seem like a pretty big jump: “Study: 1 in 3 Men Would Rape if They Wouldn’t Get Caught or Face Consequences” (Cosmopolitan), “Study Finds That a Third of College Men Would Rape if They Could Get Away With It (Feministing), “1 in 3 Male University Students Would Sexually Assault a Woman “If They Could Get Away With It” (Crave Online), and “1 in 3 College Men Admit They Would Rape If We Don’t Call it ‘Rape’” (Jezebel).
As the Jezebel headline suggests, the details of the study reveal that while 31.7 percent of respondents said they would act on “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if they could get away with it, only 13.6 percent of them said they would act on “intentions to rape a woman” under the same circumstances. This means that 23 guys said they would force sex on someone if they could, and 13 guys perhaps did not realize that this would be rape.
The fact that anyone would say these things is obviously disturbing — but so is representing something so serious disingenuously. Seventy-three men from a single college do not accurately represent the views of “college men.” A survey at one school is of course not representative, and such a small sample size statistically means the 31.7 percent number could probably be off by double digits.
Sure, the outlets eventually explain how small the study was in the body of their posts. But we live in an age where most people don’t read beyond headlines or tweets. This is how false information spreads. Many people will see this “news” and assume that it represents the views of college men in general, because that is what these headlines (falsely) assert.
This movement’s repeated use of these tactics, like the debunked one-in-five-sexually-assaulted statistic, will eventually discredit it — something that is particularly devastating when we’re talking about an issue as serious as rape.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.