Twenty years ago Nara Shoenberg and Sam Roe challenged feminist myth making about rape. Let’s take a look at what they had to say in their article, The Making of an Epidemic.
The article shows the connection between Koss, Steinem, and the 1 in 4 myth. It’s on page 8 of the newspaper, page 5 of the archive.
She was a little-known Professor at Kent State University when a male coleague proposed a subject for study: Do college men view women with large breasts as likely rape victims? Women in the study would wear padded bras.
Dr. Koss thought studying students was promising, but “the padded bra study had to go.”
Eventually, she conducted a study of her own: She surveyed Kent State students and found 1 in 8 women had been raped.
There was little media attention, and Dr. Koss, who just had her first child, was considering cutting back on her research.
Then the phone call came.
“I’m calling from Ms. magazine,” the voice said, “and Gloria would like you to come to New York and have lunch with us.”
“My God,” Dr. Koss said to herself. “I’ve just been invited to go to New York and have lunch with Gloria Steinem!”
Ms. wanted to sponsor a national campus rape survey, and Dr. Koss agreed to do one.
The article is an early articulation of many of the same points we see discussed here regarding the surveys feminists have used to make claims of widespread sexual assault against women. Among the things it points out:
- Researchers were pressured for results showing a high prevalence of rape. Margaret Gordon (University of Washington) told the article’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.” Her study found a rate of 1 in 50.
- Scientists responsible for the highest numbers were passionate advocates whose findings may reflect more bias than fact. Diana Russel, whose 1982 study found that 1 in 3 women are victims of rape or attempted rape, went into that work with the attitude that for the most part, male sexuality is predatory.
- Researchers manipulated the statistics by manipulating the definition of the term “rape” and using ambiguous questions.
- The numbers were doubted by other feminists, including other feminist researchers.
- People were afraid to question the numbers, and those who did were demonized.
- These studies were largely ignored until Ms. promoted Mary Koss’s study. The writers credit feminists’ push for public attention to their claims about acquaintance rape for the increased interest. According to the article, “Dr. Koss’s numbers were reported in magazines, newspapers, a national public awareness campaign, and even a book. Colleges featured them in educational workshops.”
- Researchers’ claim to legitimacy? Their studies are published in scientific journals funded by the federal government. (Appeal to authority.)
The article mentions that the Violence Against Women act (the original) was then-senator Joe Biden’s baby, and that the inflated rape stats from a Cleveland study by Mary Koss that she stated shouldn’t be applied nationally were used to promote it.
At the same time as Koss did her study, there was another study by Dr. Linda George at Duke university with different results. A random survey of 1000 women, which used a broad definition that included cases of having felt pressured into sex, found only 1 in 17 had been victims. Numbers from other studies done on sexual assault (a more broad category) in the 80s and 90s include 1 in 50 urban women, 1 in 20 pregnant, low-income women, and according to the U.S. Justice department at the time, 1 in 820 women. At the time of publication, the justice department’s numbers had been stable for 20 years.
In 1993 feminist researchers knew there was reason to doubt claims based on numbers obtained by asking a lot of research subjects ambiguous questions and interpreting the responses, especially given that the subjects often didn’t agree with the researchers’ interpretations. Awareness of that issue led to an effort by researchers to reduce the appearance of ambiguity, but not to actually address the underlying problem: Feminists and the general public just do not have the same criteria for calling a sex act “rape.”
That should have led to a re-examination of the intent behind the manipulation of that research. Feminists should have considered whether they were actually measuring criminal behavior, or attempting to criminalize the acts of half of the participants in mutual behaviors they personally disapproved. Instead of accepting conclusions that so dramatically differed from all other research on sexual violence, they should have been considering the possibility that those conclusions weren’t accurate representations of the experiences of the subjects.
Instead, other research has since been buried under an avalanche of feminist propaganda promoting the 1 in 4 myth, the myth that all men are potential rapists (and most rapists are men), and that society is in the midst of an epidemic of sexual violence against women perpetrated by men. That propaganda has been used to lobby for legal changes like updates to the legal definition of rape, updates to VAWA dedicating grant money to feminist-created and run initiatives, and passing the Campus SaVE act. Feminists have spent the last quarter-century trying to force the public to accept their narrative on sexual violence. They have demonized men as natural sexual predators. They’ve exploited female proxy victim status for power and profit, capitalizing on society’s tendency to protect women. When they found that women disagreed, they brushed that disagreement aside as irrelevant, because… well, who cares what women think when there’s a sexual violence epidemic to create?
- Relational aggression and victim gender – a tale of two standards | HBR Talk 165 - January 14, 2021
- Antifeminism, relational aggression, and the men’s rights movement | HBR Talk 164 - January 7, 2021
- Update with Deborah Powney | HBR Talk 163 - December 31, 2020