Obama Uses Discredited Statistic on Sexual Assault

Rate of sexual assault has declined since 1990s, according to Justice Department

• February 9, 2015 4:29 pm


President Barack Obama repeated sexual assault statistics during the Grammys on Sunday night that have been thoroughly discredited.

In a video during the broadcast of the awards ceremony, Obama said that almost one in five women has been a victim of rape or attempted rape. "It’s not OK. It has to stop," the president said.

However, that one-in-five figure has been widely questioned. American Enterprise Institute (AEI) researcher Caroline Kitchens noted in October 2013 that the statistic was derived from a questionable study:

Statistics surrounding sexual assault are notoriously unreliable and inconsistent, primarily because of vague and expansive definitions of what qualifies as sexual assault. Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute explains that the study often cited as the origin of the "one in five" factoid is an online survey conducted under a grant from the Justice Department. Surveyors employed such a broad definition that "‘forced kissing" and even "attempted forced kissing" qualified as sexual assault.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics' "Violent Victimization of College Students" report tells a different and more plausible story about campus culture. During the years surveyed, 1995-2002, the DOJ found that there were six rapes or sexual assaults per thousand per year. Across the nation's four million female college students, that comes to about one victim in forty students. Other DOJ statistics show that the overall rape rate is in sharp decline: since 1995, the estimated rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations has decreased by about 60 percent.

The DOJ’s most recent study, released in December, also reported a decline in the rate of rape or sexual assault for females since 1997, according to the Federalist:

The full study, which was published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division within DOJ, found that rather than one in five female college students becoming victims of sexual assault, the actual rate is 6.1 per 1,000 students, or 0.61 percent (instead of 1-in-5, the real number is 0.03-in-5). For non-students, the rate of sexual assault is 7.6 per 1,000 people.