The Campus-Rape Myth Exploded (Again)

Three and a half years ago, during the debate over Heather Mac Donald’s piece on the campus-rape myth, I took a look at Department of Justice statistics and concluded that she was right: While any rape is more rape than there should be, college women have nowhere near a one-in-four chance of being raped during their time on campus. In the report, the highest annual rape/sexual assault statistic I found was 3.2 per 1,000 people (in the 16-to-19 age bracket). Even if you double that rate (as it includes men, who are rarely raped) and then quadruple it (to cover four years of college), you’re still left with only a few percent of women being assaulted, and only a little over half of these cases are completed rapes. If a quarter of college women were raped, this number would be much higher, even if non-college women were never raped at all.

Now, John Lott has published a table from a different Department of Justice report that breaks the numbers down by gender and college attendance. This allows me to make an even bolder assertion: Women are probably safer in college than they are outside of it. For non-student females between the ages of 18 and 24, the annual rate of rape and sexual assault is 7.9 per 1,000. (This translates to a little more than 3 percent of women being victimized over a four-year college career.) For student females, the number is 6.0 (a bit over 2 percent over four years).

I say “probably” because correlation is not causation: Women who go to college tend to come from richer families, and might for other reasons be less likely to be victimized (less likely to hang out with antisocial men, less likely to abuse alcohol, etc.). It’s possible that the numbers reflect that, rather than proving that campuses have an anti-rape effect.

Cutting in the opposite direction, however, is age: The older women in the sample are both heavily non-college (because those who go to college often either graduate or drop out by age 24) and relatively unlikely to suffer rape (victimization drops quickly after women leave their teens; see table 3 here).

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