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Sexual Assault Month: Take Back the Lies

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Haven’t you heard? April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month, UC Irvine’s Campus Assault Resources and Education Program (CARE) is sponsoring events such as The Clothesline Project, Denim Day USA and has invited groups like “Take Back the Night” and “One in Four” to raise awareness through a candlelight vigil. CARE hopes to combat sexual assault on our campus and others. Many UCI students have undoubtedly received the mass e-mail inviting concerned citizens to participate.

As part of its call to arms, CARE and its associates have informed us of some alarming statistics. In particular, we have been told that during a four-year span, there will be roughly 3,000 female students at UCI who become victims of sexual assault.

In the e-mail, UCI students were invited to view the Red Flag Project, where “almost 3,000 flags will be staked [by the UCI flag poles] … to demonstrate the number of women at [UCI] that are, according to national statistics, likely to experience an attempted or completed sexual assault before graduation.”

Such estimates are based on the frequently quoted statistic that “one in four women in college will be victims of rape or attempted rape,” so it has escaped scrutiny from the college administrators who endorse organizations like “Take Back the Night” and the appropriately named “One in Four.”

Their math is simple. UCI has roughly 22,000 undergraduate students. of which roughly 52 percent are female. In a student body of about 12,000 females, one in four will be victimized during their stay at UCI. Therefore, roughly 3,000 female students will be victimized during a four-year span. CARE did not share the details of its arithmetic; they merely claim that their projection of 3,000 victims in the next four years is based on national averages.

However, a close examination of the national statistics on sexual assault and UCI’s own statistics and police reports reveal a totally different picture. By any reasonable measure, the claim of rampant sexual assault at UCI is a gross exaggeration at best.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were about 0.5 reported incidents of sexual assault per 1,000 people nationwide in 2005, excluding prison rape (which predominantly affects males) and molestation of victims under the age of 12. Since the vast majority of reported rapes involve female victims, that rate is comparable to one report of sexual assault per 1,000 females in 2005. Since crime rates fluctuate from year to year and it has been estimated that sexual assaults may have risen by as much as 25 percent since 2005, one can generously assume that there were as many as 1.25 reports of sexual assault per 1,000 females in 2008. If the rate is more or less steady, that translates into as many as five reports of sexual assault per 1,000 females every four years.

If one were to use the national average to approximate the average number of sexual assault victims over a four-year span at UCI, then one would conclude that there would be less than 60 reported victims at UCI. That number is 50 times less than 3,000, which is the number claimed by CARE.

In all likelihood, CARE and other sexual assault awareness groups would counter by claiming that the majority of sexual assaults that occur go unreported. Indeed, the Department of Justice has estimated that as many as 61 percent of sexual assaults never reach the police, but even adjusting the numbers for underreporting leaves the estimated number of sexual assaults at UCI at around 154, which is 2,846 short of 3,000. The estimate would still fall short by 1,800 even if one were to assume that as much as 95 percent of sexual assaults are unreported (as some activists have taken the liberty of doing).

Furthermore, the phenomenon of underreporting may exist, but false claims of sexual assault exist as well. So far in this discussion, all reports of sexual assault were assumed to be entirely genuine for the sake of argument. However, someone familiar with the Duke University lacrosse team scandal or the Kobe Bryant scandal might object to such a broad assumption.

Clearly, a gargantuan gap exists between the national averages and the estimates provided by CARE for UCI, but local statistics and statistics obtained specifically at UCI are more appropriate. Moreover, one could certainly claim that sexual assaults occur more frequently on college campuses than elsewhere. Might such statistics shed a kinder light on the estimates made by CARE? On the contrary, it makes their claims appear even more astronomically inaccurate.

According to UCI crime statistics, as reported by the UCI police department, there were two reports of sexual assault in 2008 and 2005, and three reports in 2007 and 2006 (one arrest was made). Using those statistics, one could extrapolate that about 10 reports of sexual assault are reported every four years at UCI. If one assumes that such a modest number is due entirely to the underreporting of sexual assault at UCI to account for the gap between an estimate of 10 reports in four years and CARE’s estimate of 3,000 incidents of sexual assault, then one arrives at the astonishing conclusion that only 0.33 percent or one out of 300 incidents of sexual assault involving UCI affiliates are ever reported to UCIPD. In that light, the estimate of 3,000 sexual assaults in four years at UCI is either very alarming or alarmingly preposterous.

To put the degree of such exaggeration into perspective, the claim made by CARE is the arithmetic equivalent of claiming that 900,000 people died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the moral equivalent of using that statistic as a bludgeon to justify the global war on terror.

Feminist activists and organizations like UCI’s CARE, Take Back the Night and One in Four are willing to claim that 95 percent of all sexual assaults in the U.S. go unreported in an effort to raise the threat level. So what’s stopping them from claiming that 99.67 percent of sexual assaults of UCI students are not reported to the UCI police? April is going to be a long month if the answer to that question is their capacity for embarrassment.

Mitchell Kong is a graduate student in the mathematics department. He can be reached at