Rape statistics are in the limelight after several women made uncorroborated and contradictory claims that new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them. The allegations turned Kavanaugh’s nomination into a circus.
As politicians voted and pundits debated, the public policy research group Just Facts produced a 6,900-word analysis of the most credible available data related to forcible rape. (As opposed to statutory rape.)
Disclosure: Just Facts is a former client of this reporter.
Just Facts’ analysis notes that “although precise figures on rape don’t exist,” more than one in nine women say they have been victims of acts that fit the legal definition of forcible rape, 40 percent of those women say they were raped before turning 18 years old, and false rape claims may be far higher than the 10 percent ceiling often claimed in media reports.
Just Facts also examined rape prevention efforts. While the best method is for men to stop raping women, the fact is that we live in a fallen world. Since some men will commit this crime, women and the men who care about them must do the next best things – such as avoiding the loss of inhibitions in certain environments, and learning self-defense.
While 2014’s Miss USA was shredded online for touting self-defense as a method of rape prevention, Just Facts cited one paper which showed “’forceful physical resistance’ like ‘punching, biting, scratching, kicking’ reduced the odds of rape completion by 85%.”
Again, rape statistics are not comprehensive due to the nature of the crime. Just Facts noted that “rape victims often don’t report these crimes” to police. According to a 2014 report from the National Academy of Sciences, which cited other studies and investigations, from 2007 to 2010 almost two-thirds of rapes and other sexual assaults were not reported to police.
Just Facts laid out the reasons:
- 28% said they feared reprisal or getting the offender in trouble.
- 20% said they dealt with it in another way or considered it a personal matter.
- 13% said they thought the police wouldn’t help.
- 6% said they felt the incident was not important enough to report.
- 33% gave another reason or said they didn’t have a single most important reason.
Police have also been found to undercount rape claims. One investigation found that Detroit police had not tested thousands of sexual assault kits which were in their possession, and Just Facts cited “a 1998 Philadelphia Inquirer article which quoted Philadelphia police officers and other sources to show that ‘downgrading major offenses to minor ones to polish the image of commanders and police commissioners and make the city look safer—has been a reflex in police station houses for decades.’”
Thus, notably, Trump’s argument that Ford is unbelievable on Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault against her because she didn’t go to police right away is not valid.
How many women have been forcibly raped?
Just Facts closely examines a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study which surveyed women about the incidence of rape. The report notes that 11.5 percent of adult women claim to have been victims of acts that fit the legal definition of forcible rape – but the survey’s limitations mean the real number of rape victims could be higher.
Just Facts notes that those limitations include, but are not limited to, lower likelihood of reaching higher-risk populations such as those who live in prisons or shelters or are homeless; women in abusive relationships or who recently were victims of severe violence; false rape reports; and the use of rape drugs.
None of these statistics include statutory rapes, or attempted rapes, which means many more women may be just barely avoiding becoming part of the 11.5 percent.
False reports are more common than reported
Just Facts notes that a number of prominent mainstream media publications cited the American Psychological Association and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to claim that false rape accusations make up something between two to 10 percent of claims.
However, these cited statistics woefully undercount what could be a much larger percentage of false rape claims. For example, the study which underpins the two percent claim notes that number only relates to claims which were “clearly categorized as a false report and the alleged victim was either charged” or warned that “she would be charged unless she dropped the complaint.”
Fully 27 percent of claims fell into categories where accusers faced legal actions for false claims, complaints were withdrawn, and police were “reasonably confident that the accusers made false reports,” according to Just Facts. And a 2016 analysis cited four studies which examined “suspected” false rape claims and “found false reporting rates above 40%.”
Just Facts notes at the very beginning of its section on self-defense that “nearly all findings in this area are tentative…” However, certain apparent truths can be determined from the data cited by Just Facts. First, the intentional use of drugs and alcohol – as opposed to date rape drugs, another topic addressed by Just Facts – is common among women who have been sexually assaulted. Two large studies published in 2004 and 2009 show that rape victims tend to be drunk and/or under the influence of drugs.
Second, women who use weapons to deter a rapist are generally able to succeed – according to two studies cited by Just Facts, at least 90 percent of the time. This is despite one study showing that about 90 percent of those who attempt or complete a rape of a woman do so after being known to the woman, and most rapes take place in living quarters.
In other words – my words, not Just Facts’ or any studies’ – women may be less vulnerable to rape if they have weapons nearby, because they are most likely to be assaulted in a familiar environment by a familiar person.
Just Facts delves into other key ways to defend oneself, citing Tom Patire on tactics such as being selective about associates, travel pathways, timing of self-defense efforts, and proactively informing police of stalking or harassment.
Just Facts’ in-depth treatise closely examines the facts surrounding date rape drugs, rape incidence rates at colleges, and the importance of understanding survey methodologies for the purposes of examining rape statistics. This piece highlighted Just Facts’ important findings for the three areas most relevant to policymakers, the media, and the wider public.
Each of Just Facts’ sections of research and analysis can be found below. Just click the link to get to each section:
Reports to Police Are Not Comprehensive:
Scientific Surveys Can Be Accurate: