For decades now, feminists have been promoting a male-demonizing narrative on sexual violence using statistics produced by deliberately biased research methods. Legislated changes based on that bias, dictating how American institutions of higher education approach allegations of sexual misconduct on campus, have sparked widespread controversy and reawakened existing criticism of that narrative and the research on which it is based.
The hysteria which is so prevalent today was kicked off in the 1980s with a race among feminist researchers to come up with the method that would produce statistics showing the highest prevalence of male on female rape. As I pointed out in an article in February of 2014 titled Who defines rape, that effort was exposed in The Toledo Blade in 1993, when inflated statistics were being used to lobby congress to replace the gender neutral Family Violence Prevention and Services Act of 1984 with the gender discriminatory, due-process-attacking, research bias funding Violence Against Women act.
The statistics which today are presented as rape culture gospel were hotly debated among feminists in academia in the early 90s. Skeptics criticized claims that sexual violence against women was common, pervasive, and tolerated in society (in other words, the start of modern rape culture theory.) It was pointed out that while feminist researchers’ claims about the prevalence of rape ranged from 1 in 50 to an alarming 1 in 3, U.S. Justice department statistics had steadily remained close to 1 in 820 for the previous 20 years, and the FBI’s tabulation of reported cases to local police showed a rate of 1 in 1300.
Militant feminists ardently sought evidence to prove their beliefs, with more concern for its support than its validity. Researchers were pressured to produce statistics showing increasingly high rates of rape and other sexual violence. Margaret Gordon (University of Washington) told the Blade’s writers “There was some pressure – at least I felt pressure – to have rape be as prevalent as possible. I’m a pretty strong feminist, but one of the things I was fighting was that the really avid feminists were trying to get me to say that things were worse than they really are.”
To achieve that goal, feminist researchers tinkered with definitions and survey methods, avoiding the pesky issue of many women refusing to define and categorize their experiences based on feminist dogma. The most successful of these charlatans was then Kent State University professor Mary P. Koss, whose career received a major boost when Ms. Magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem took an interest in promoting her work.
Steinem sponsored a national survey based on Koss’s campus questionnaire, which used a roundabout method to slap the label “rape” on experiences 73% of her respondents didn’t consider rape. In fact, 42% of them went on to have sex again with their alleged perpetrators.
Criticism of Koss’s survey method is not limited to the fact that it defines women’s experiences differently than the women themselves do. It also used vague wording designed to avoid limiting yes answers to times when women felt genuinely out of control of their situations, substituting the phrase “when you didn’t want to,” which could be interpreted to include “when you didn’t plan to,” or “when it wasn’t your idea,” or even “when you weren’t into it but made the choice for other reasons” where “against your will” would have gotten more accurate responses.
The survey only targeted women, ignoring the possibility that the same experiences could happen to men and boys. These flaws, combined with questions defining intoxicated sex as rape without specifying incapacitation, and treating workplace sex as if women never use it to advance themselves, severely undermined the credibility of Koss’s survey.
With Ms. Magazine’s support behind her and congressmen using her work to promote a legislative attack on due process, Koss ignored her critics, instead choosing to market her bias to other feminist researchers. Her June, 1993 paper Detecting the Scope of Rape, a review of prevalence research methods, advocated ignoring women’s self-interpretation of their experiences when that interpretation would be at odds with the feminist narrative on sexual violence. The excuse that direct questions garner inaccurate results was undermined by her brief, otherwise ignored mention of research showing that when the questions are accompanied by concrete definitions, misinterpretation is not a problem. This paper also revealed another significant prejudice in the design of Koss’s research: She did not believe that her standards for consent and criminality should go both ways.
Koss explained her belief that intercourse forced on a male victim by a female perpetrator should not be considered rape, even when the victim does interpret his experience that way. According to page 206 of her paper, “Although consideration of male victims is within the scope of the legal statutes, it is important to restrict the term rape to instances where male victims were penetrated by offenders. It is inappropriate to consider as a rape victim a man who engages in unwanted sexual intercourse with a woman.”
Koss believes that men’s experience of sexual violence is less than that of women, and less impacting on them than women’s experience is on them.
Check out what she has to say at 7:20 in this interview:
This, despite the fact that research exists which shows that while men are less likely to describe the impact of their experiences, that impact is clearly visible to anyone who cares enough to look beyond their speech. I referenced that research in an article on sexual misconduct by female staff at American juvenile detention facilities.
That’s the Mary P. Koss Formula for Obtaining Sensational Statistics: Overly broad criteria for labeling an experience rape, vague wording designed to widen the net for “yes” answers to questions using those broad definitions, and the use of interpretation to maximize the statistics for female victims of male perpetrators and minimize the experiences of and statistics for all victims of female perpetrators, especially males, often using failure to widely report part of a given survey’s results. Criticism is generally met with thought terminating cliches; accusations of sexism and rape apology, shaming, and threats of ostracism, because who could defend such blatant skulduggery?
Since the 1980s when Ms. Magazine sponsored Koss’s first national survey and then promoted the results with sensationalist reporting, despite heavy criticism of their flaws, these biases have shaped establishment research used to promote every feminist-led approach to sexual violence; the “rape culture” narrative itself is based on them.
Campus campaigns from Take Back the Night to Teach Men Not to Rape have all relied on victim statistics skewed by non-consensual mislabeling of female experiences in hysteria’s favor, and perpetrator statistics skewed by non-consensual mislabeling of male experiences to hide female perpetration. This deliberately biased methodology has been picked up by government agencies and used in research such as the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey and research promoted by the World Health Organization and United Nations.
This bias has been used to lobby for legislation, as well. The Campus SaVE act which has led to a storm of lawsuits against campus administrations for wrongful expulsion and other forms of discrimination, was pushed through by legislators confronted with hysteria-inducing claims based on statistics from Koss-influenced research.
Now, academic feminists are faced with a series of very public false accusation scandals, along with a resurgence of criticism of their narrative, its supporting research, and the “awareness” campaigns and lobbing that have been based on it.
They could take time to reexamine their methodology and its impact on campus legal, academic, and social environments. They could choose to modernize their approach by correcting the biases in their research methods to avoid exaggeration and include all victims and all perpetrators. Or they could dig their heels in, double down on the lies, and try to hammer their narrative past their critics using bigger, more authoritative, and more frequent repetition.
That last option seems to be their chosen path, at least according to a report recently released by The Association of American Universities, which cites Koss repeatedly as a source for past research on which methodology is based and contains biases that are consistent with Koss’s work.
The report’s description of the survey’s methodology states that it used questions which avoided the labels researchers intended to apply to respondents’ answers, instead substituting descriptions of specific types of behaviors and tactics the researchers felt constituted assault and sexual misconduct. Rape was defined as penetration, per Koss’s stipulations, thereby excluding victims who were forced to penetrate instead of being penetrated, resulting in exclusion of victims of female perpetrators, especially those who were male. Having defined rape to avoid obtaining yes answers indicating male victimization by female perpetrators, the researchers largely de-emphasized male victims in their report.
“Promised rewards” was included in the criteria for labeling intercourse or sexual contact “coerced” and therefore “non-consensual.” Additionally, examples given to help students understand the researchers’ definition for coercive threats included “threatening to post damaging information about you online.” Failure to obtain “affirmative consent” was also included in the criteria for labeling an incident “non-consensual.” The affirmative consent standard, aka Yes Means Yes, considers consent invalid if it is not explicit, meaning coyness, shyness, or lack of experience can make a consensual encounter fit this standard’s criteria for rape. Descriptions of the standard state that consent can be nonverbal while wider discussions on the topic undermine that caveat by eliminating the potential for anything short of verbal statement to be trusted as an indicator of consent.
None of these fit the legal definition for rape, which does not stipulate that consent is negated by a potential reward for sex or that it must be explicit, or spoken.
The report also contains the admission, in describing respondents’ explanations for choosing not to report incidents labeled sexual misconduct, that “the dominant reason was that it was not considered serious enough,” meaning that once again researchers are defining respondents’ experiences differently than the respondents themselves did.
The study further inflates numbers by lumping attempted, but not completed incidents labeled sexual misconduct in with completed incidents.
This research repeats all of the same elements of bias and misdirection for which previous feminist researchers have been strongly criticized. Its continued the use of methodology with known, widely discussed flaws cannot be considered accidental. It indicates a belief among feminists that a lie repeated often enough actually does become the truth; they seem to believe they can prove their beliefs valid by manipulating information using the academic equivalent of a cup-and-ball carnival game.
Feminist researchers have demonstrated that expanding the definition of a survey’s terms widens its net for yes answers. They’ve shown that excluding from a term’s definition the description of a specific group’s common experiences can mostly eliminate that group from a survey’s results. They’ve revealed that a willingness to take a hypocritical approach to their respondents’ self-determination makes it easier to fit data from surveying them into a narrative.
What has all of that proved? Bias prevents it from making any solid point about the prevalence of sexual violence on university campuses, but it does show a huge gap between feminism’s narrative and the experiences of the general public.
It cannot confirm a gender prevalence in perpetration, but the manipulation of rape’s definition shows a clear bigotry against victims of female perpetrators, particularly if those victims are male.
The false framing doesn’t validate feminism’s narrative on sexual violence, but it does demonstrate great disdain for the right and ability of the average citizen, including victims, to form an informed, independent opinion on the topic.
The fact that they cannot investigate the topic without doing this only indicates that honest research can’t prove feminism’s rape culture narrative valid. If it could, they’d be employing it and inviting public scrutiny of their methodology instead of relying on a combination of sophistry, repetition, and bullying. The only question left is, how long can feminist researchers continue to be taken seriously while presenting research using Mary Koss’s discredited methods?
If you like what you read, please consider becoming Hannah Wallen’s patron. The Brigade runs on donations by readers like you.
Latest posts by Hannah Wallen (see all)
- Boundary Issues! | HBR Talk 52 - September 20, 2018
- “Equality!” | HBR Talk 51 - September 13, 2018
- The ballad of the never ending corner | HBR Talk 50 - September 6, 2018