2006 Fox News Study Misrepresents Statistics

Dear Editor,

There are five women in this cafe. We probably have much in common, something to look forward to, stress, a hurt we wish would heal. The grim reality is that one of is also, statistically, the victim of a sexual assault.

According to a comment that ran in the Guardian, that person was probably lying. This is a demonstrably false claim that violates our Principles of Community and must be corrected.

The Department of Justice claims 20 to 25 percent of women will graduate having experienced a sexual assault. When our Principals of Community claim a commitment to “decency toward all,” it is hypocritical, cruel, and unfair to print the false statistic that these women are probably lying. The citation used is an incorrect interpretation of data originally printed in an online publication. Doing so invalidated and re-victimized our sexual assault victims by bringing their experiences into question for literally no reason at all.

“False Rape Accusations..,” by Wendy McElroy, appeared on FOXNews.com in 2006. McElroy is not a social scientist, which may explain her incorrect interpretation of a 1996 report by the National Institute for Justice. In her article, she claims that DNA evidence has invalidated 25 percent of rape accusations. It has not. It has invalidated 20 percent of convictions referred to the FBI for reinvestigation.

The National Crime Victimization Survey tells us there are 237,868 sexual assaults every year. 40 percent are reported to the police, and 3 percent of perpetrators serve jail time. The study McElroy references investigated convicted rapists from the “mid to late 1980s” which, let’s say, is a five-year period. If 3 percent of rapists are imprisoned each year, that’s 35,680 people. Of these, only 10,000 were referred for reinvestigation. 2,000 were found to rule out the perpetrator based on DNA evidence. 2,000 instances out of 35,680 is not 20 percent. It is 5 percent.

In a five-year period, about 1,189,340 people were sexually assaulted. Forty percent, or 475,736, reported the crime to police. Two thousand of these accusations were later overruled by new DNA evidence, which is .4 percent of all rape accusations. In other words, of all the accusations of rape that were made in a five-year period, less than half of 1 percent were found false. The data McElroy uses to support her claim that false rape accusations are common not only fails to support her argument, it actually demonstrates the opposite: DNA evidence shows no statistically significant rate of false rape accusations.

20 to 25 percent of women surviving sexual assault means, if you have four or five close female friends, you will know a survivor. While some may never tell anyone what happened to them, some survivors will. They may even tell you. If you are trusted with that information, remember that the NIJ found less than half of 1 percent of rape accusations to be false. Your friend is not lying. It is up to you to believe her.

— Whitney Russell

UCSD PhD Candidate, Anthropology