Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Unfair and Irrational Criticism of George F. Will on Rape Statistics

Wow.

I almost never agree with George F. Will, and I haven't carefully thought about the column that got him in trouble...

But the criticism I'm seeing of him is dishonest and irrational.

In the original column, here's one thing he wrote:
The administration’s crucial and contradictory statistics are validated the usual way, by official repetition; Joe Biden has been heard from. The statistics are: One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college 12 percent of assaults are reported Simple arithmetic demonstrates that if the 12 percent reporting rate is correct, the 20 percent assault rate is preposterous. Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute notes, for example, that in the four years 2009 to 2012 there were 98 reported sexual assaults at Ohio State. That would be 12 percent of 817 total out of a female student population of approximately 28,000, for a sexual assault rate of approximately 2.9 percent — too high but nowhere near 20 percent.
Will's point is straightforward: On the assumption that the OSU numbers are correct and representative, one of the following has to be false:

(a) 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted while in college

(b) 12 percent of sexual assaults are reported

Something's wrong somewhere.

Some liberals are freaking out about this--but largely because they are blatantly misrepresenting what Will wrote. Jen Gunter, for example:
George Will continues with his assertion that it is mathematically impossiblefor 1 in 5 women to have been sexually assaulted while in college.
But that is not what Will has asserted--or, rather: argued. It is clearly not what he has argued.

I normally don't have occasion to write such a sentence, but:

George F. Will is right here; his critics are completely wrong.

In fact, it's baffling that anyone could make such an obvious error. How on earth can someone mistake "A and B cannot both be true" with "A is false"?

Gunter's irrationality doesn't end there, however. In fact, her post is really painful to read. Consider:
To imply there is a false epidemic of sexual assault while purporting to be concerned about sexual assault is the height of double speak. If we confined the discussion to the 7.5 to 11.9 percent of women who are raped between the ages of 18 to 24 we still have a “scourge of sexual assault,” so I don’t get the point of challenging the experiences of women who got away with only the revolting sour taste of an unwanted kiss or furtive glances over their shoulders for weeks after a party unless of course you don’t think that those experiences should be counted as sexual assault.
Whew.

I'm not going to spend a bunch of time on this, but, briefly:

(1) "To imply there is a false epidemic of sexual assault while purporting to be concerned about sexual assault is the height of double speak."

This is utterly, blatantly, ridiculously false. One can quite easily both (i) be concerned about sexual assault and (ii) think that the statistics are inflated.

I'm concerned about sexual assault, and I suspect that the figures are inflated. To assert that there is some kind of inconsistency here is ridiculous.

And this tactic is fairly common on the left. Question the numbers? Then you don't think rape is all that bad. Utter madness.

(2) "If we confined the discussion to the 7.5 to 11.9 percent of women who are raped between the ages of 18 to 24 we still have a “scourge of sexual assault,” "

Will says as much elsewhere in the column. Very clearly.

(3) "...so I don’t get the point of challenging the experiences of women..."

Ah, here we go. A favorite ploy on the left: unless you unquestioningly accept every claim about any injustice, you are an oppressor, Jack. Even pointing out that two (three, actually)  figures are mathematically inconsistent is "challenging the experiences of women."

What nonsense.

Will is not "challenging" anyone's experience. In fact, it's repulsive that Gunter would use this kind of sickening ploy. She's pretending that Will is telling some particular woman that her rape was not a rape--and she's pretending this in order to make Will stop thinking about problems with the statistics. Nonsense. In fact, it's Gunter who is using people's experiences of assault as a political stalking-horse here.

Furthermore, many women do not classify their experiences as sexual assault. In fact, if we simply look at their descriptions of their own experiences, we get a number that is far lower than 1 in 5. We get to that figure only by classifying some events as sexual assaults when the women in question do not classify them as such. So: "questioning women's experience" is verboten...unless, y'know, they don't say what activists think they ought to be saying... Reclassify experiences in a way that makes the number of rapes go down: not allowed. Reclassify experiences in a way that makes the number go up: allowed.

(4) ...who got away with only the revolting sour taste of an unwanted kiss or furtive glances over their shoulders for weeks after a party unless of course you don’t think that those experiences should be counted as sexual assault.

Again, completely unfair to Will. This seems to switch attention to Will's questions about expansive definitions of rape and sexual assault, but that's a different point. And, uh, look: if we take what Gunter writes seriously: no: "furtive glances over your shoulder for weeks after a party" is not sexual assault. Not even close. That can't be what Gunter means, but that's what she wrote. God knows what she could have meant...
And: Will certainly nowhere says nor suggests that a non-consensual kiss is not sexual assault. Again, it is unfair to suggest that he does.

Furthermore, Will is right to worry about expansive definitions. According to some of them, having sex while you are intoxicated (note: not blacked out...not even extremely intoxicated) constitutes having been sexually assaulted. Everyone ought to be concerned about those insane definitions. And concern with them in no way entails that you aren't concerned with actual sexual assault.

You should be concerned about this for these reasons:

Will's critics are wrong
Will is being treated unfairly, and accused of being callous about a terrible type of crime
The people doing this are, in some sense, representing liberalism

Then, of course, there's the bigger problem of the inconsistent statistics...  Something's wrong somewhere...

The good news is that rape may be much less widespread than we're being told.

And that would be really good news indeed.

But activists do not like to be told that the problem with which they are concerned is less serious than we thought. Activists have an incentive to make the problems they are concerned with seem more widespread and more serious. We don't know whether the problem of sexual assault is being exaggerated--but everyone needs to realize that that's a real possibility.

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