New DOJ report challenges that "one in five" women are sexually assaulted in college

The United States Department of Justice released a special report today that, among other things, challenges the National Institute of Justice’s previous finding that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaultedduring their time in college — claiming that only 6.1 percent (or 6.1 per every 1,000 students) of female students are sexually assaulted. 

The report, titled “Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013,” drew its conclusions from data gathered by the National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects information about non-fatal crimes against people aged 12 and older that aren’t reported to law enforcement. The survey is overseen by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

By surveying both students and non-students about sexual assault, the NCVS also found that though women aged 18 to 24 experienced unwanted sexual contact at a higher rate than women in other age groups, non-students within the same age bracket were actually 1.2 times more likely to experience sexual assault (7.6 for every 1,000 people).

If you’re scratching your head about the numbers, so are sexual assault data researchers across the country. Different definitions of sexual assault, sample size and location can all play a big role in data accuracy — a reality that has led many to question which data can be trusted. 

An article published by Slate earlier this month, for example, claims that the NIJ’s 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study “1 in 5” statistic is an overstatement of the number of sexual assaults on campus — and even quotes the study’s leader, Christopher Krebs, saying that the “1 in 5” number is not meant to be “nationally representative.” The article points to the study’s small sample size — a few thousand students from only two different universities — as a likely culprit. 

For the last year or so, the University of Oregon has been dealing with its own sexual assault data gap analysis. On Dec. 3, the university announced that it would conduct two different campus-wide surveys on sexual assault — one overseen by a Campus Climate Advisory Group, which includes UO Psychology Professor Jennifer Freyd, and the other by a contracted research company called Westat. The latter survey is an option presented to members of the Association of American Universities. 

The two surveys represent a tug-of-war between the administration and faculty members such as Dr. Freyd — who conducted her own Campus Climate survey at the UO in October with two of her Graduate Teaching Fellows — over what the ideal survey would look like. Between the amount of surveys and all the dizzying ways they can be conducted, it doesn’t appear that the battle to crunch numbers is going to clear up anytime soon. 

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Dahlia Bazzaz

Dahlia Bazzaz

Dahlia is the 2015-2016 Editor in Chief of the Emerald. Before becoming EIC, she worked as a crime reporter and columnist. She has also interned with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

When she's not in the Emerald newsroom, she enjoys listening to podcasts and figuring out ways to meet Amy Poehler.

You can contact Dahlia via email: [email protected]