Lies, Damned Lies, and Military Rape Statistics

Over at Slate Star Codex, Scott Alexander has been running a series called “Lies, Damned Lies, and Social Media” wherein he uses facts to rain on the parade of feel-good social-justicy memes that make their way effortlessly through social media.  His most recent entry, part 5, addressed sexual assault statistics, and his criticism of conventional wisdom is pretty damning.  It even sparked a response by another writer who argued that perhaps Scott shouldn’t be interjecting facts into such a sensitive discourse.

A few days later, this thread crossed my Facebook feed: How One Colonel Is Tackling Military Rape the Right Way

Since then, Hinote has applied his experience at Kusan AFB. He began by setting up 86 tripods with a helmet and a placard on each one – one for each of the sexual assaults that had been reported over seven years – along a quarter-mile track on the base. On each placard: a brief outline of the assault. Then, during the course of the morning, Hinote had six commanders bring in as many as 500 people at a time to walk, single-file, past the tripods. (Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had declared a “stand down” that day for commanders to focus on sexual assault.)

“I’ve never had anyone do the walk and then say sexual assault wasn’t a problem at Kusan,” Hinote notes.”

Of course no one believes sexual assault isn’t a problem.  All sexual assault is bad.  The question is, do we really live in the midst of a rape epidemic?  Is ours a rape culture?  Do we need tribunals at colleges to expel men based on mere accusation?  Was there some dire circumstance that led the DoD to adopt un-Constitutional practices towards men accused of sexual assault in 2006?

This article was linked in the comments of the above article, and it strongly suggests that the hysteria is unwarranted and counterproductive: Providing Context to Military Sexual Assaults

But I want to tackle this issue from a different perspective.  The perspective of the average guy-on-the-street, who doesn’t have the time or inclination to do research like Scott Alexander.  Someone who just listens and thinks about what he’s told, via the authority of official channels.

So here’s some napkin math.

We’re given that 86 assaults were alleged in the last 7 years.  Kunsan has a population of about 4000, which is about 20% female, which has 100% turnover every year.  Let’s further assume that all 86 allegations were true, and all were male-on-female.

86 assaults / 7 years = 12.3 assaults per year

4000 people * 20% female = 800 females

12.3 assaults per year / 800 females = 1.54% of females assaulted per year

1.54% per year hardly seems acceptable.  But let’s continue on.

This is 1.54% per year.  Let’s extrapolate this out by assuming a female is most likely to be assaulted between the ages of 15 and 55…a span of 40 years.

1.54% * 40 years = 61.6% of women are assaulted in their lifetime!

The most commonly briefed figure in the military is the infamous 1/4 statistic, so how is is that my napkin math based on official data makes the official statistic seem to be off by a factor of 2.5?!

But we’re not done yet.

We are also told that sexual assault is a very sensitive subject, and only 2-10% of assaults are ever reported.  Let’s figure this in.

61.6% of females *reported* assaulted in their lifetime / .10 reporting rate = 616% of females *actually* sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

61.6% of females *reported* assaulted in their lifetime / .02 reporting rate = 3080% of females *actually* sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

Clearly we have reached the point of reductio ad absurdum.

But none of this is tin-foil-hat speculation on my part.  This is not original research, not figures conjured up by some “rape denier.”  These are all official  figures that are prominently and repeatedly presented as facts in repeated mandatory educational sessions by the supposed experts on this problem.  And they clearly fail the common sense test of even a casual observer.

Sexual assault is a serious crime.  It deserves honest, careful, mature analysis and well-thought out countermeasures.  Fighting it hinges on the attitudes of young men.  The calculated deceit and hysteria-mongering has left military leadership and their hired-gun experts with zero credibility in the eyes of those they must convince.  They owe it both to the victims of sexual assault and those charged with preventing sexual assault to stop the propaganda and engage in real, honest problem-solving.

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